Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/24/12
Primary Language: English
It’s a joke my informant heard in middle school from his brother.
“What’s the worst part about having sex with a dead baby on your porch?”
“Getting blood on your clown suit.”
My informant said dead baby jokes are interesting to him because they’re the epitome of macabre humor. They show how humor has evolved up to where it is now that these are the kinds of things people find funny. He says the jokes are primarily funny because of the shock value because the answers are so unexpected. He also commented that he thinks it’s interesting that the teller often seems to get more out of the joke in these cases because they will get to enjoy shocking someone, whereas with most jokes the audience gets more out of it.
I agree with his analysis. The last part is an especially novel point, and I think it’s true. The audience probably wants to be shocked, but the teller might find it more satisfying to be shocking, since society so often doesn’t want us to be. But in the context of a joke that we heard from someone else, and therefore which we aren’t responsible for, we can be as shocking as we want without guilt or shame.
Dead baby jokes show how we use humor to deal with the things we find most frightening or gruesome in life. These jokes take that to the most extreme point possible by taking the most vulnerable thing in society and subjecting it to the most horrible sexual and violent acts we can think of. Often people will be offended by the question of the joke, but the punchline usually takes it so much further (meaning, is even more offensive) that people can’t help but laugh, because that’s the only way they can deal with something that is so socially unacceptable and sounds so terrible. There are many dead baby jokes and they all seem to function in this way, pushing the limits of what is inappropriate so far and with such a level of self-awareness that they become funny.