Social Question

wundayatta's avatar

How is humor mean?

Asked by wundayatta (58525points) October 13th, 2011

I don’t think humor is mean all the time, but it is surely mean a significant portion of the time. After all, people “make fun” of each other. Feelings get hurt.

Can you describe ways that humor can be mean, preferably with examples.

I also have a question about a particular kind of humor and I wonder if you would call that mean. I’ll describe it later.

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40 Answers

erichw1504's avatar

Jokes like this…

A black man takes a girl home from a nightclub. She says, “Show me it’s true what they say about black men”. So he stabs her & nicks her purse.

…are offensive, because it picks on people and the stereotypes that are associated with them. That’s the way the world works.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

One word…


And like I always say; “Because intent can’t be proven, we have invented psychiatry, pills and psychics to even out the insincerity experienced in common everyday interactions and the hard feelings we often carry because of it.”

Everybody KNOWS when something was intended to be cruel… Only so few types of people actually ever admit it, or admit that they were in some way offended by it but instead allow it, justify it and make excuses for one another as well as ourselves in order so that we can all BE bastards at our leisure without a conscience effected by anything that is at all otherwise human.

Did you know (not that this is at all credible as advice source considered) But as a valuable axiom, in the Bible it states;

“Do not cause your brother to stumble.” and my favorite verse in the Bible…

“A madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows is a man who deceives his neighbor and says, ‘I was only joking.”

It is one of the most deplorable character traits a man can possess as far as I am concerned. I prefer my bastards to be honest and show the conviction of their own bastardry! <———- completely made up word!

A joke is a joke and an insult is an insult… there is a difference. If it was “mean” it just was.

picante's avatar

I think mean-spirited humor is a human weakness. It often arises from insecurity, jealously, shallowness and many other less-than-desirable human frailties. Because we label something as “funny” or said “just in fun,” we’re doubly guilty. There’s the head-on “Don Rickles” style of insulting humor, there’s our good friend sarcasm, and there are dozens of other types of humor that mask hurtful thinking.

I will say my sense of humor is prized by me (sometimes by others), but I often wonder how many times I’ve wittingly or unwittingly (all puns intended) wounded someone with my rapier wit.

Blackberry's avatar

I guess the intent matters. I can laugh at racist jokes, dead baby jokes etc. Nothing offends me if it is meant in an inoccuous way, I guess.

Mariah's avatar

There are a lot of ways, but this is the one that hits most closely to home for me. I think humor is mean when it makes light of something that is very serious for some people, without considering the effect it might have on those people. For instance, rape jokes. If a rape survivor wants to make some jokes to ease the pain, that’s fine, but in general I don’t think random people should make light of things that are very painful for some people, not without first knowing their audience, anyway.

A few days ago I came across this comic on reddit. A stoma is part of ostomates’ anatomy, and I used to have an ileostomy. The comic hit me hard even though I don’t have a stoma anymore, and I’m just glad that I didn’t get a permanent ileostomy and then see this comic, along with all the unpleasant comments it received, because that would have hurt a lot. Ostomates in general have body image issues that take a lot of mental work to get through and then to have someone basically just say, “wow, that part of your body is so disgusting that I could barely handle looking at a photograph of it” is really, really counterproductive. Sorry for launching into a full blown rant, this is just supposed to be an example of humor gone sorely wrong.

So while I agree that intent is important, I know the person who made that comic didn’t do it with intent to insult ostomates, but his mistake was that he didn’t even think of ostomates. So I think humor is mean when it is made at the expense of a group without considering how that group might feel, even if intentional malevolence is not involved.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

@Mariah That is where we beg to differ… An absence of malice it’s called. If you weren’t thinking, there was no malice it was therefore just stupid… Not mean.

Mean takes craft and intent marks the truth of it.

Ayesha's avatar

Pretty much what @erichw1504 said. Great answer!

Mariah's avatar

@GabrielsLamb You don’t think it’s mean to hurt somebody by making a very ignorant statement? By not bothing to get informed about something before making fun of it? Kinda goes back to another one of @wundayatta‘s recent questions. I think that’s mean, but I can agree to disagree, too.

thorninmud's avatar

The active ingredient in mean humor is hate.

Laughing at human foibles is different; it’s great to be able to step away from our self-importance every now and then and admit what absurd creatures we can all be. We can laugh when we see this absurdity surface in someone, knowing full well that we all have our own versions of that same absurdity. It’s a good-natured bemusement at our common absurdity.

Mean humor, though, being propelled by hate, has separation rather than commonality at its core. It elevates the humorist at the expense of the object of the humor.

Ela's avatar

Humor is mean when it directly is intended to make fun of someone else at their expense. It’s belittling in my opinion. To me, it feels like a kick in the shin when being offered a flower.
My ex-husband jokes meanly all the time often adding “just kidding” or “you know we love you anyways” and whatever stupid ass saying he chooses to cover it over and make it seem okay. Now my youngest son is doing the same thing. I try very hard to not say bad things to them about their dad but damn skippy I jumped on that one when I heard it. I pointed out them that he (my youngest the older two got mad at him when he’d said something mean and that he was just kidding) sounded just like their dad and that sure it was just joking but it was mean joking. That was all I said. My intent was to bring it to their attention, let them process it and decide on their own.
It was difficult to not rant about it because it pisses me off thoroughly.
I was extremely proud of my 13 yr old when I overheard him call his dad out on it after he had poked fun at one of them.

@GabrielsLamb I completely agree.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

@Mariah Intent names the purpose of the hurt. It is far more forgivable a crime when there was no intent to hurt.

I am famous for speaking without thinking and I almost never in my life set out to intentionally hurt anyone ever… *Unless they do something to piss me off… *Then forget about it, all bet’s are off and I can be rather evil

But accidentally on purpose? No, never…

I’m simply not made like that… and when people hurt me on accident, I am far more forgiving then when they mean it, and later attempt to gloss it over or retract it with…

“Oh it’s you, I was just joking.”

I believe it is ALL about intent yes… Absolutely

GabrielsLamb's avatar

@EnchantingEla Thanks!

” Like a kick in the shin when being offered a flower.”

That right there… defines your observation for the entire purpose behind that “darkness” you so knowingly and carefully observed in me.

That is my life on a daily basis because of an evil human being that does INTEND to do collateral damage for his amusement and his own dellusional purposes.

And when and if I react poorly… I get pounced on with revisions of “YOU NEED TO CHANGE.”

WHich would be exactly why I am quite angry most of the time. Because by INTENT… People actually enjoy having that kind of control over the hearts and minds of other people. Which is quite cruel but as long as everyone is doing it, it is perfectly justified by all of them.

CWOTUS's avatar

If you were looking for your lost cat, then this might be considered mean. (But it’s funny as hell.)

Blackberry's avatar

@CWOTUS Oh my god, I’m laughing already.

Mariah's avatar

@GabrielsLamb Sure, if we want to talk about different degrees of “meanness,” of course it is always worse to intentionally harm somebody than to unintentially harm somebody. I just think, either way, somebody is harmed, and it’s kind of mean to not care about avoiding that.

I mean this in no way as a jab at you, I know sometimes it’s nothing more than an accidental faux pas, not willful ignorance of malice.

smilingheart1's avatar

My mother used to have what I un-affectionately call abusive humor. She would make sarcastic jokes, often with quite a sharp and personal needle to them and she would time them at moments that it would be inappropriate to respond in any way. To me, @wundayatta, the point is well taken that sometimes you have to know someone well to detect their subtle humor and that is for intimate humor between friends and inside jokes and all of that. But if one is in any kind of a group setting, I find humor that does not have to be interpreted, that just rolls out, that is welcoming and inviting infectious laughter is the proper use of our great gift of humor.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

Definition for meanness:
Web definitions:

Beastliness: the quality of being deliberately mean.

1. The state of being inferior in quality, character, or value; commonness.
2. The quality or state of being selfish or stingy.
3. A spiteful or malicious act.

I still believe INTENT is EVERYTHING.

And that is not of course to gloss over the event of an act ending up as mean by accident or by ignorance. But it’s not quite as “mean” as where or when there was actual intent to be that.

wundayatta's avatar

@CWOTUS Oh gosh. Is that mean? Is that isn’t? It is funny as hell! It’s a long shaggy dog story. It is a dig at the cat lady and it’s not clear if she ever got that she was being made fun of. Who knows why Dave was making fun of her (unless it was his job). Maybe he doesn’t like cats. I’m not a cat fan, so maybe that increased my appreciation of the humor.

Another interesting thing, for me, anyway, is that it is British humor, which differs from American humor. I do enjoy British humor a bit more than I enjoy American humor. On average, I would say, British humor tends to be more subtle than American humor. British humor sneaks up on you, but American humor is very much in your face.

Mariah's avatar

@GabrielsLamb That’s fine, I already said I can agree to disagree. All I’m trying tosay is that sometimes ignorance is deliberate, or lack of concern for who might be hurt by a joke is deliberate. So while there may not be explicit intent to harm behind a joke, there might be a deliberate lack of regard for the people affected by the joke. Which, in my book, is mean. It’s fine that you disagree.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

@wundayatta I ALWAYS know when I am being made fun of… From duck to cat or soup to nuts, or shit, to whatever else they found to hurt me with on purpose… I know about ALL of it as well as I can spot them in a crowd a mile away. People just like to believe that their illusion of stealth in intent makes them less mean when they believe you can’t tell, or don’t know why they are saying what they are when they do.

If people actually knew how aware I am, they wouldn’t have any more difficulty doing it… Some might actually enjoy it more.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

@Mariah I think it is obvious how you and I are like polar opposites as people in almost every concievable way…

It is actually what I enjoy most about you. It is interesting and engaging and I find yours rather meaningful as far as perspectives go.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

*Don’t mind the all caps… I’m not actually “Yelling” when I do that… I haven’t yet figured out how you guys do the tiny script in contrast so that is my only way of showing emphasis until I actually do figure out how to do it.

Blackberry's avatar

@GabrielsLamb Like this —Text—
Emphasis is _ text _

wundayatta's avatar

Oh boy, @GabrielsLamb! That sounds like a challenge if I ever heard one. I’m going to have to figure out how to poke fun at you without you knowing it. But nice fun, not mean. I don’t want to be mean to you. Still. Look out! It will come! Who knows? Maybe it’s here already?!?

What do you think?

And why?

GabrielsLamb's avatar



Ela's avatar

There all kinds of mean kidding and many different levels…
The mean kidding I (and possibly @GabrielsLamb that’s for me to say) refer to is on a very personal level.

@GabrielsLamb your text doesn’t bother me in slightest way : ) ...but that’s just the way i am

Mariah's avatar

@GabrielsLamb You keep remarking how we are so different; I’m not sure how you’ve come to that conclusion, but I’m glad you don’t see it as a negative thing. I don’t either.

Coloma's avatar

Angry, passive aggressive types often use thinly disguised insults and put downs as “humor.”

I have an ex “friend” who was a very jealous and insecure type and once I was sharing how much fun my daughter and I have together and how she makes me laugh like nobody else can.
Obviously my “friend” was feeling pissy and she was the type of woman that was a real killjoy when she was unhappy, very minimizing and with holding towards anyone elses happy or fortunate moments.

She made a comment about ” well..THAT’S something to be proud of!”

WTF? haha

Yes, it is. :-D

Personally, I don’t trust anyone that basically has NO sense of humor and especially those that can’t laugh at themselves.

I have really noticed that the most screwed up personalities definitely find subtle ways to bring you down and rain on your parade. It’s best to avoid these types like the plague.

“Humor” as veiled hostility is NOT humor, it’s emotional abuse.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

@Mariah Absolutely not… You make me think and challenge myself a lot and you do it in a respectful way so I appreciate it

But we are VERY different.

I’m a bit of a monster at times I’m afraid. LOL

with intent too… *Smiles.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

@Coloma All about the intent! I agree…

Ela's avatar

[edited] coloring outside the lines : )

Coloma's avatar


I don’t believe anyone is blind, I think the majority of people know EXACTLY what they are doing!

Really, what better disguise than ” innocence” and feigning ignorance, these are classic ploys of manipulative types.

The best “test” of all relationship is how someone responds to you addressing their behavior and how it feels to you. The truly “innocent” person will quickly and easily apologize and show interest in correcting their wayward ways. The game players will do their best to shift the blame to you and expect you to buy into their innocent, “who me?” act.

This IS the litmus test for fucked up personalities, they will deny and defend til the bitter end.

Mariah's avatar

I fear I may have come off as a hardass in my previous answers. Let me clarify with another example:

@Blackberry mentioned dead baby jokes. I can find those funny too, but I would never tell one to a woman who had recently had a miscarriage, unless I knew that she liked to use such humor as a way to get past her grief.

Furthermore, if I make a dead baby joke to a crowd of people without knowing whether or not any of them will be upset by it, I’m not purposefully upsetting those people (I simply didn’t know), but I also probably should have taken some time to get to know my audience before making the joke.

We’ve had some threads on Fluther where we’ve posted all the offensive jokes we could think of, but the thread title always warned readers of the content, so nobody had to see them if they didn’t want to. I have no problem with this.

That’s just my opinion.

Ela's avatar

@Mariah I see it as a difference between not knowing and not caring.
In one you take into consideration and acknowledge another’s person’s feelings (either before or after the fact), in the other no consideration is taken for the other person. It is completely self-focused imo.

@GabrielsLamb Do you ever feel trapped because this person you cannot simply sever from your life because he is tied to it via the children?

GabrielsLamb's avatar

@EnchantingEla Every day of my life. He destroyed my credit, took what was left of my youth, let everything fall apart, he destroyed everything… Lost the house, Left me for another woman, and now I can’t go anywhere, or do anything because of it and I am also convieniently enough, the reason why they can’t move on either because he has to take care of his kids so there isn’t enough left for her too.

And I have a seperate stalker too… It’s not just my ex. It’s a lot of things.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

@Mariah That’s my point, you can’t very well live your life not saying anything because you have no realistic way of “getting to know a crowd.” when we barely ever really know the people who are closest to us. We just like to believe we do…

I have spent near decades with people believing I knew them… I didn’t, wasn’t even close.

Mariah's avatar

@GabrielsLamb I’m not saying never say ANYTHING. I’m saying don’t make a potentially offensive joke without knowing your crowd.

Mantralantis's avatar

Personally, I think you, and some others, misunderstand (my) humor. And put too much seriousness into everything that flows through it. My humor might step on some toes. But feelings it shouldn’t. Its all relative to love really. Open up and smell the actuality of those like me. Read between the lines (No? Look much closer then.)

I truly don’t despise you, @wundayatta, but you have to go back and realize that I’ve never really claimed to be a brilliant creative person or that I’m finely skilled in Grammar.

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