Tag Archives: dark humor

Dead Baby Joke

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 22
Occupation: Unemployed
Residence: San Diego, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 04/24/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Piece:

Informant: What is worse than ten dead babies stapled to one tree?

Collector: I don’t know. What?

Informant: One dead baby stapled to ten trees. 

Context: The piece was collected during a casual interview. I grew up hearing the informant telling dead baby jokes so I asked her to participate in an interview to collect one. 

Background: The informant is my twenty-two year old sister. She learned this piece from friends in high school who shared her self-proclaimed “dark humor.” She both attended high school and currently lives in San Diego, California. She is an avid metal and alternative music fan with a love of body modifications including tattoos and piercings.

Analysis: Dead baby jokes are most common among teenagers and people in their early twenties, coinciding with my sister’s age both when she learned the joke and when it was performed for this collection. I believe my sister particularly enjoys this genre of joke because it is very grim and graphic. She participates in numerous unconventional subcultures that involve bold displays of self expression (including seven face piercings and visible neck and hand tattoos) that may be considered tabooistic. The joke finds humor in infant death, a subject usually not discussed openly or with humor if discussed at all. In doing so, the joke is at odds with social convention in the same way that my sister’s displays of self expression may be.

For more information on dead baby jokes, see:

Dundes, Alan. “The Dead Baby Joke Cycle.” Western folklore 38, no. 3 (January 1, 1979): 145–157. http://search.proquest.com/docview/75040401/.


One Legged Pig Joke

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 22
Occupation: Pastry Chef
Residence: Napa, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 20, 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (AH).

AH: “So I heard this from my dad, but I don’t know where he heard it. There’s this delivery guy and he’s making his normal rounds, but he has to go out to this really rural part of town to deliver this package. It’s a big ranch house and there’s a huge yard, and there’s pigs out and dogs out, it’s just absolutely gorgeous. So he walks up to the house and there’s a pig pen off to the side and he notices that there’s a pig out there with only one leg.”

CB: “Only one leg?”

AH: “Only one leg. And he thought ‘well that’s odd’. So he goes to the door to deliver the package and he asks the guy ‘hey what’s with the pig that has only one leg?’ 

And the guy looks at him and goes ‘See that pig right there! Let me tell you about that pig! THAT pig ran into my house and saved my WHOLE family when it was burning down. And we’ve rebuilt everything now, but he saved my entire family’s life’

And the guy says, ‘that’s cool, but why does he only have one leg?’

And then the man looks at him and he says, ‘Let me tell you about that pig right there. That pig saved my daughter from being eaten by a rattlesnake.’

And he says, ‘That’s awesome, but why does he only have one leg?’

And he says, ‘Let me tell you about THAT pig right THERE. It was the middle of the night and a wolf was coming down the mountains to eat my animals, and THAT pig right there chased that wolf all the way up the mountain saving my entire livestock.’

And he was like, ‘That’s GREAT. But WHY does he only have one leg?’

And the old man looks at him dead in the eye, and he says, ‘Well it’d be a shame to eat him all at once wouldn’t it?’ ”

CB: [Laughs] “Um… That’s great. What do you think the meaning of the joke is?”

AH: “Uh… uh don’t get rid of a good thing”

CB: “What do you think that it’s important to share that joke?”

AH: “Well it’s important because it teaches you how to properly eat a pig without killing it.” [Laughs]

Background:
My informant told me this joke, even though we had both heard one particular member of our family repeat it many times. The joke plays on a dark sense of humor that he is known for, and has become very heavily associated with that relative.

Context:
My informant called me with stories prepared after hearing that I had been interviewing other members of our family for folklore. We had a fun and casual conversation, exchanging versions of stories that we had heard growing up.

Thoughts:

My informant, and her father who told her the joke, grew up in Salinas, CA. Salinas has grown to be a decent sized city, however it is still surrounded by a huge agricultural community. This joke reflects tensions that are common in modern agricultural communities; a separation between the ‘city folk’ and the ‘country folk’. This joke mocks the farmer for their stereotypical behavior, and satirizes his choice to eat his livestock. By having the farmer eat such a clearly intelligent and amazing pig, the joke portrays him as ‘uncivilized’ and out of touch with modernly accepted behaviors. These ideas represent stereotypes for farming communities, and highlight the tension within the community.

For another variation of this joke see Doug Mayo’s post “Friday Funny: The Pig with a Wooden Leg” in University of Florida’s IFAS Extension. https://nwdistrict.ifas.ufl.edu/phag/2016/01/15/friday-funny-the-pig-with-a-wooden-leg/

A Plane Crash Riddle

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 11
Occupation: N/A
Residence: Camarillo, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 03/24/19
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Main Text:

JM: “There was a plane crash. Every single person died, who survived? The answer would be every married couple because every single person died.”

Context: 

This riddle was collected from my 11 year old sister who is currently in fifth grade and about to go to middle school. When I asked her where or when she would tell a riddle/joke like this, she told me that she would usually tell it to her friends on the playground at recess. I also asked her if it was every common for her to tell jokes or riddles in the classroom and she responded that she usually does not because then the teacher would get mad because it is teaching time and not play time.

Analysis:

One reason that children are passing along a riddle with such content can be explained by analyzing the environment that children are faced with at school. In elementary school all the way up to high school, many young kids and young adults are preoccupied with finding a boyfriend or girlfriend and all of the adolescent urges that are associated with this. The riddle plays off of the idea of there being a difference people single people and married people and for this to be a topic of discussion amongst young people is not really surprising. As said in chapter 5 of the book Folk Groups and Folklore Genres An Introduction, Jay Mechling says that people, especially children make jokes or base their folklore off of things that it has been taboo for them to talk about. Kids around 11 years of age are entering puberty and exploring new things about their body that come with puberty. In other words, one reason that this riddle is being passed around by 11 year olds and other kids in elementary school is that it takes about relationship status which kids themselves find as a constant preoccupation at school which is treated as taboo by most parents. It is also important to note that this riddle was collected from an 11 year old fifth grader who understand that this riddle is an example of a play-on-words and this kind of riddle would probably not be passed around by younger children due to its complexity.

Another main part of this riddle that can be analyzed is its focus on dark humor. Although the answer to the riddle has more to do with the play-on-words than on the subject of the plan crash itself, it is important to analyze why a plane crash would be the plot in the riddle in the first place. According to Peter Narvaez, the author of Of Corpse: Death and Humor in Folklore and Popular Culture, many jokes and riddles are made to be dark humor. This means that the plot of the jokes and riddles are centered around many dark aspects of life like genocides, death, rape etc as a means to act as a release to those telling the jokes. People have been made to believe that they can not talk about dark experiences or occurrences, so as sort of a way to fight this oppression of speech per se, these jokes are created.

Coupled together, these analyses produce the idea that this joke was created and told among children as a way as addressing the topics that children have been made to believe that they are unable to talk about as well as a release of people’s beliefs on some things that are considered ‘dark’ in the form of humor. These forbidden topics hidden in the form of a joke/riddle allow this riddle and people to continue addressing these oppressed needs without repercussion from adults or other individuals, allowing the riddle to survive and continued to be told hopefully for years to come.

Swing Jokes

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Mexican-American
Age: 20
Occupation: Program Coordinator
Residence: Arkansas
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/21/17
Primary Language: Spanish
Other Language(s): English

There is a kind of dark joke that has been passed down through Eloisa’s siblings that goes like:

Why did Sarah fall off the swing?

Cause she had no hands!

Knock Knock!

Who is there?

Not Sarah!

The joke has been passed down about 3 generations from her dad’s side. It’s always been used when someone is going through a dark patch to cheer them up.

Eloisa is a Michoacan born lady who has lived in Arkansas since she has been a little girl. She used to be really religious, but after being opened up to human rights, and mostly women rights, she has taken a step back and tried to analyze everything to decide on what she can really identify as part of her.

 

A Ugandan Tall Tale

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 22
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles, California (Originally from Pennsylvania)
Date of Performance/Collection: 5/1/13
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Item:

“I was rafting, on the Nile River in Uganda, we spent the whole day rafting, and we set up camp for the night in this little encampment area on the bank. So we’re sitting there, we’re like cracking beers and stuff, just sitting around this campfire, like the classic storytelling setting, and someone’s like ‘aw man, maybe we should tell ghost stories,” and I’m like ‘oh I don’t know if I know any.’ And we just go around and some people tell some scary stuff that’s happened to them or like various ghost stories that they know, and then this Ugandan guy that’s with us, one of the guides is like ‘I know a ghost story.’ And we’re like ‘okay!’ what could this guy be possibly about to tell us, so we strap in. And he tells us he was just chilling in this village in Uganda, just hanging out, when this man approached him and his friends and was like, ‘I’ll bet you I can drink a whole bottle of Konyagi without throwing up.’ And just to fill you in Konyagi is like the world’s shittiest gin. It is, it comes in plastic bags in like individual serving sizes and it comes in bottles, it’s like turpentine. It’s absolute worst. So, this man, he’s a stranger, comes up to my guide and is like ‘I can drink a whole bottle without throwing up.’ And the guide’s like, ‘ok you’re on, I’ll take you up on this bet, if you throw up, you have to pay me, if you don’t throw up, I owe you the bottle.’ And he’s like ‘ok.’ So they go to the store and the buy the bottle and the man drinks the entire bottle of Konyagi and everyone is just stunned that he was able to do it, then he dies. Of alcohol poisoning, he died because he didn’t throw up. So this man bought the alcohol that killed the stranger so he’s like ‘oh my god, I feel so responsible, I have to at least buy this man a coffin.’ So him and his friends get in this truck and they drive to wherever you go to buy coffins in Uganda and they pick one up for this little village outside theirs. So they’re on the way back and they’re on the road driving along when they see this hitchhiker. They pick him up and he’s like ‘hey are you headed to so-and-so’ and they’re like ‘yeah as a matter of fact, we are, you can hop in the bed of the truck, there’s a coffin back there, don’t worry about it, it’s no big deal,” and he’s like “oh ok no problem.” So the hitchhiker gets in the bed of the truck and they’re cruising along on the road and it starts to rain, and the people inside the truck don’t really notice because they’re sitting inside but the guy in the back is like ‘oh man, I don’t want to get rained on,” so he hits inside the coffee, he’s like “I’ll just hang out inside this coffin until it stops raining.” So he gets in and he closes the door and he’s just waiting there. So they’re driving along the rain eventually stops. The people in the truck no nothing about what’s going on in the back. The guy in the coffin still thinks that it’s raining so he’s just sitting there. And they’re driving along and they see another hitchhiker and he’s like ‘hey are you headed to so-and-so’ and they’re like ‘yeah as a matter of fact, we are, you can hop in the bed of the truck, there’s a coffin back there, don’t worry about it, it’s no big deal,” and he’s like “oh ok no problem;” same thing as before and he sits in the bed of the truck too. So they’re cruising along, and the guy inside the coffin realizes it’s stopped raining. And he didn’t know that this other person is in the bed of the truck as well. So he’s like ‘oh it’s stopped raining, I think I’ll just pop out and take a look.” He opens up the coffin and he’s just like rising out of it. Meanwhile, the guy who was sitting in the back of the truck didn’t know that there was a man in this coffin trying to get out of the rain. So what he sees is a man rising out of a coffin that he thinks is like a zombie, and he’s so horrified at the thought of this man rising out of this coffin to see him, that he jumps out of bed of the truck and dies.”

Context:

The informant heard this story while he was in Africa working to spread HIV prevention and awareness. This rafting excursion was taken as a leisure trip amidst all of the work he was doing.

Analysis:

The way the informant told of this whole ordeal was so engrossing that I wonder just how great it would have been to hear the original story from the Ugandan man. That said, this story is not a ghost story, as he said it was. Even though he related it as if it happened to him, the story and its slapstick comedy is too perfectly paced for it to have actually happened. Or could it? That’s the beauty of legend.

 

Doctor Slang

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Japanese-American
Age: 18
Occupation: Student
Residence: California
Date of Performance/Collection: April 29, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Japanese

I collected these slang terms from a friend who heard it from his older sibling who works at a hospital. These terms are very indicative of the type of humor that medical practitioners have. According to my friend, they receive inordinate amounts of stress. So as to depersonalize the experience or detach themselves from getting too involved, they have to make light of it in almost an offensive way. They came up because we were just talking about unfortunate accidents that happen to people. As I was describing someone getting burned, he called the person a term that is used in hospitals. In asking where that came from, he proceeded to give quite a few terms and their meanings. My friend finds that they are very offensive and doesn’t enjoy that, and even using it for humor makes him feel slightly less human. However, he does believe that in order to maintain their sanity and ensure that they can stay healthy for themselves without being emotionally overwhelmed by anything, doctors do what they have to.

AGA (Acute Gravity Attack) – This term is used when a person falls over.

Beached Whale – This is used to describe an obese patient unable to do much for him/herself except lie there with flailing arms and legs.

Crispy Critter – This describes a patient with severe burns

LMC (Low Marble Count) – This describes a patient with low IQ.

ALS (Absolute Loss of Sanity) – This is used for an insane patient.

Appy – This is a term for a patient who is suspected to have appendicitis

BUNDY – This is an acronym that stands for “But Unfortunately Not Dead Yet.”

Dermaholiday – This is a nickname that is used for the dermatology department, which is supposedly not as busy as the other departments.

Drooler – This is a term for a catatonic patient.

Gorked – This is used to describe a person who is unresponsive and nonverbal either because the patient is sedated or because of a medical condition.

Certainly there are many more terms that are used in the hospital as part of their hospital language. I personally do not find their terms very funny. However, that is part of their job. As they get used to working there and dealing with cases, it probably becomes a part of their culture. It is something that they learn and become accustomed to in order to deal with the pressures of the environment. It also unifies the people in the field together because they speak the same language. People who aren’t inside of that field are not going to understand the terms being spoken because they aren’t acquainted with the culture of the hospital.

The Wife-Beater Vegetable

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 23
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: March 25th, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Mandarin

Informant Background: The informant was born in Los Angeles. His family is originally from Taiwan. He grew up with his parents and grandparents who still speak Chinese, he does too. Many of his relatives are in Los Angeles so they all still practice a lot of Taiwanese/Chinese traditions and celebrate all the Chinese holiday such as: Chinese New Year, Ancestry day, Chinese Ghost day, etc. He said his family still hold many Chinese folk-beliefs and superstitions. He also travels back once in a while to visit his other relatives who are still back in Taiwan.

 

A farmer grows a garden of this very puffy vegetable. He would harvest and give to his wife for cooking. After his wife cooked the vegetable he observed that when he gets to eat the vegetable, it is much smaller after cooked than when harvested. The farmer realized every time he brings his wife the vegetable, he sees less at the dinner table. He thought his wife was stealing from him and beat her for not cooking what he harvested.

In actuality this particular kind of vegetable shrinks once cooked. So the wife did not steal, the vegetable got smaller just because it shrunk down under hot water.

This kind of vegetable has a proper name but also called “the wife-beater vegetable” as a nickname.

The informant stated that the name “wife-beater-vegetable” is a common name for this particular kind of vegetable in China among Mandarin speaker. He said that his parents told the story when they were eating this particular kind of vegetable. It is unknown if the legend is true. According to the informant the name has spread around enough that the name is common and known by many.

 

I think this particular story shows a lot of principles and beliefs in Chinese culture, whether it exists today or not. First, the husband farming and the wife cooking show how male is the dominant gender in that culture. It also shows how women are associated to household chores and the kitchen through cooking. The husband beating the wife because of the misunderstood disloyalty clearly reflects the female submissive role in the culture. It also shows how the kitchen space is a separate female space.

The story also has a dark humor element to it. The misunderstanding made me laugh a little but to think about a small misunderstanding leading to beating is quite harsh.

The Polack who shot his dog

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 65
Occupation: Consultant
Residence: Claremont, California
Date of Performance/Collection: April 2007
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Q: Did you hear about the Polack that shot his dog?

A: He found out his wife had had an affair with his best friend.

My informant first heard this joke in the 1970’s when spending time with friends he had made while working for a Southern Californian electric company.  They were sitting around and decided tell each other all of the Polack jokes they knew.  This joke, like every other Polack jokes, capitalizes on the historical American conception of the Polish as dim-witted and uneducated.  However, currently Polack jokes aren’t used as much anymore.  Today, the Polish are well-educated, democratic leaders in Eastern Europe, and an ally.

Polack jokes are a popular form of Blazon Populaire, a type of humor which is based on the insulting another race of group of people.  This joke is clearly an example of blazon populaire, as it is a typical Polack joke that capitalizes on the belief that all Polish are unintelligent.  The best friend of the Polish man is a dog, and while dogs are traditionally a ‘man’s best friend’, they’re not supposed to be.  This represents that a standard Polish man does not have the capacity to make friends with other people, and that his time is best spent with an animal with a smaller brain and incapacity to communicate.  Also, the Polack must also believe that his wife would choose to have an affair with his dog, which is also dumb on the Polack’s part.

This joke works like many other jokes on the establishment of an appropriate incongruity in the punch line.  The incongruity is that the wife is sleeping with a dog, but it’s appropriate because it’s the Polack’s best friend.

Dead Baby Joke

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Seattle, Washington
Date of Performance/Collection: March 2007
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Q: What do you get when you stab a baby?

A: An Erection.

 

While this joke is gruesome and terrible in every conceivable way, it is my informant’s absolute favorite joke.  He first heard it from one of his friends in high school.  My informant had just told a sexist joke about Helen Keller not being able to drive well because she was a woman. His friend sneered and replied, “You think that joke is bad?”  Then, he continued to tell my informant this joke.

My informant explained that when the question was asked, all he could think of was how terrible it sounded to stab an infant.  Before he could even begin to construct a reasonable response, his friend delivered the punch line.  Of course, such an awful and perverse response is completely unexpected.  My informant “nearly died” from laughter and claims to have never laughed as hard since.

Of course, no one in their right mind would stab a baby.  Also, only the most indecent of all people could receive enough satisfaction from such an act to sexually arouse themselves.  However, in the context of the joke, it makes sense and is humorous (to some) to think that someone would suggest that anyone would feel that way.

The joke works like many others because it delivers an appropriate incongruity. It’s an incongruity because no one expects the answer they receive, and appropriate because it’s funny to think the joke-teller could be that disturbed.  But they’re not, so it’s humorous.  So, in this case, we’re presented with an inappropriate appropriate incongruity.  This joke belongs to a series of similar, equally gruesome ‘dead baby jokes’ that are shared between my informant and his close friends from high school.

Death Joke

--Informant Info--
Nationality:
Age:
Occupation:
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection: April 2007
Primary Language:
Other Language(s):

When I die, I want to go peacefully, like my grandfather.
I do not want to be screaming in terror like the rest of the people in the car.

This death-humor joke, which my informant said he remembers from Saturday Night Live, is a fairly simple one to analyze structurally.  According to folklorist Elliot Oring, the source of humor in jokes is the presence of “appropriate incongruities.”  The joke introduces apparent incongruities – ideas that seem out of place, impossible, obscene, or otherwise wrong in some way – and the punchline delivers appropriateness or creates both appropriateness and incongruity at once.  However, this joke is unique in that it reverses the order of the appearance of appropriateness and incongruity.  Whereas traditionally the incongruity comes first and is justified by the punchline, here the first line (and part of the second) makes sense and the punchline reveals the sad incongruity – the old man fell asleep at the wheel.  If the situation is sad, though, then why is it funny?  Certainly a joke like this would not be funny for someone who has recently lost a loved one in a car accident.  However, humor is a popular outlet in many societies for dealing with the concept of death, particularly societies like America who do not share universal beliefs about death and the afterlife.