Dark humor is a very powerful weapon. When used properly, it can bring pure Joy – because it uses the energy of the Darkness against it.
I Don’t Want To Play Monopoly
It was Christmas Eve 2012. My wife was out of town. We were not yet parents, so I didn’t have children to keep an eye on. With nothing much to do I had decided to take up the invite of a friend of mine and join him and his family for a quick dinner and an evening of cards.
And some drinking. There was definitely some drinking.
We had spent the last hour or two after dinner playing blackjack which, as always, was a riot. Seldom a time was there where I hadn’t laughed myself to tears before we’d gotten through a few rounds.
Nonetheless, the group was interested in moving on to something else. Like a board game.
When a board game is proposed, the first suggestions are almost always going to be Life and Monopoly. You’re probably well aware of this. I would imagine you’ve played board games. And if you’ve played board games you’ve definitely played these two.
So what I’m about to say is probably going to be divisive.
I hate Monopoly.
There. I said it. I absolutely loathe Monopoly.
It’s boring, nothing really happens (and if it does it isn’t until an hour or two into playing the game at all), and it takes an infinitely inordinate amount of time to finish.
So long, in fact, that I don’t think I’ve ever actually completed a game.
I’m going to just basically say Monopoly is the worst. I would sooner play Life. And I kind of hate that game too.
But at least it’s not Monopoly.
Since I knew that Monopoly was going to be one of the first suggestions, and Life potentially the other, I recommended Life in an effort to drown out any suggestions of Monopoly.
But no one really heard my suggestion. In fact, everyone was going on and on about how Monopoly was so fun (absolute crazy talk – who were these people?!) and would be a great way to end the evening… it was really starting to look like I was going to lose this battle before it had even begun.
Fine, I thought. Time to make them earn it.
As we were laying out the board, we each chose our pieces. I genuinely can’t remember which one I grabbed, but as I did so, I gave it a kind of sad look.
“My grandmother and I used to play Monopoly all the time,” I said. “Before I moved down here.”
“Oh,” my friend responded.
“She died last month.”
Everyone stopped what they were doing. The look on my friend’s face was priceless. Like he’d just run over my puppy.
It was perfect, because he knew I was telling the truth – my grandmother had just recently died.
The Monopoly part… not so much true.
“We don’t have to play…” he said.
I waited. They waited.
And then I burst out laughing.
“What’s wrong with you?!” my friend said, relaxing as he shook his head with a chuckle.
“Probably far too much,” I said between breaths.
Everyone got a pretty good – if somewhat uncomfortable – laugh out of it, and went back to preparing the board.
“But,” I said, “I really don’t want to play Monopoly.”
We live at a time where dark humor is often viewed as tasteless or sometimes even “politically incorrect”. Truthfully, it’s always had a questionable existence at best, but now it’s becoming entirely uncouth to joke about death or poke fun at life’s more sobering moments and harrowing circumstances.
“Too soon” is often a reaction to bits that fall in this category.
And don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of humor I have personally found tasteless, or just plain mean or unfair.
But that’s subjective. That’s me talking about my personal tastes.
From an objective point of view, a joke is a joke regardless of whether or not it hits its mark. Just because a joke doesn’t work for a lot of people doesn’t mean it’s tasteless. So who gets to decide whether or not a joke is or is not “okay”?
To paraphrase the Gospel of South Park, “either it’s all okay, or none of it’s okay.”
But is it? And who decides?
And what does that say about humor? These days I feel more and more as though people don’t remember what it’s like to laugh at themselves. Sure, it’s okay to laugh at others. It’s okay for that comedian to point out that other person’s shortcomings – you don’t like that other person or what he or she stands for, after all.
But woe be he who dares to pick on you!
And as a result, comedy in general is beginning to censor itself. If you want to see most where human beings are losing their sense of humor, just look at the reaction to most political or cultural satire. If you tried to make a joke about something on social media over a decade ago – of the kind of subject matter that wouldn’t be appreciated today – well… I hope you don’t have any enemies.
If we lose our ability to laugh, even at the hard stuff – even at stuff that’s wrong – how are we ever to express Joy? If we can’t express it, will we find ourselves without a need for it?
To me, the purpose of laughter is to bring Joy – which can be experienced on an infinite number of levels. I’m certainly not the type who wants a laugh at other peoples’ expense. If I’m going to go dark, I’m usually the butt of my own jokes there (kind of like with my grandmother).
If I know a person’s serious shortcomings, I’m not about to make light of them. If I know, say, that their grandmother has just died, I’m not going to pick at that deep cut. I want to bring Joy – not remind people of their pain. I want to relieve them from that pain.
Which, interestingly enough, is exactly why, when I’m faced with something terrible – even the death of a loved one – dark humor is how I attack it.
Beating The Darkness At Its Own Game
When something terrible happens to you – something that causes great pain or great emotional distress – you naturally pull within yourself. As a result, you’re not defending yourself from the inevitable sadness, fear, and general anxiety that seeks to destroy you.
That sadness, fear and general anxiety is exactly what the darkness latches onto. It’s the ride it hitches into your soul.
In small doses the darkness is good for you. It causes you to reflect; humbles you to a certain degree.
But just like any medicine, you’re prone to overdose.
This is why dark humor is especially important. It uses the energy of the darkness against it.
So while it may seem as though I’m focusing on the death of my grandmother, or even making fun of it in the example above (in a sense, disrespecting her life and legacy), what I’m really doing is acknowledging the existence of that darkness (the sadness, the pain, etc) and poking holes in it.
Where the darkness wants to overpower me and make me cry, to make me curl up in a little ball and hide in my bed for several days, I’m hijacking its weaponry and laughing in its face.
“You can’t hurt me, darkness,” is what I’m actually saying.
Humor, in my opinion, is a very, very powerful weapon. When used properly, it can bring pure Joy. Not just in every day life but in the shadow of ultimate despair.
The beautiful thing about dark humor is that, in a way, you are being honest with yourself and your pain – it’s that honesty that makes the humor work. That’s what makes it funny, even if you don’t want it to be.
It also provides you with a little bit of that humility I was talking about.
That’s why I’m a big fan of it, personally. I don’t use it much around people I don’t know, but around people I do (like in the above story) I can use it quite a bit. It truly tickles me.
So the next time you’ve experienced something very painful – the death of a loved one, loss of employment, loss of money, loss of hair (I know that one well) – make fun of it.
You’ll be surprised how much better you feel.
When have you used dark humor as a means of defending yourself from that oncoming darkness? Did it work? Share your story!