Tag Archives: dark humor

Gen Z Proverb

Text: If I shake this ass, this depression will pass.

Context: I would use this when I’m sad or consoling a sad friend. I probably learned it from another friend in like September of senior year. I’ve heard other people use it on Tik Tok. It makes me laugh when I’m depressed. I don’t think a lot of people would have heard it before.

Analysis: This proverb is likely meant to make someone laugh rather than offer serious advice. Still, if the issue trying to be solved is depression or sadness, making someone laugh can be part of the solution. It can be categorized as a proverb parody/metafolklore because it follows similar formatting and style as a traditional proverb, yet its message is quite ridiculous and not meant to be genuinely helpful. In this way, we might see some push back of Gen Z towards the more “serious” older generations whose traditional proverbs can now be seen as “cringy.” Furthermore, this proverb is also a form of dark humor, especially with the rise of mental health issues in Gen Z. As Bill Ellis outlines in chapter 2 of Of Corpse: Death and Humor in Folkore and Popular Culture, dark humor can be used to help people grieve and move forward from tragedy, just as humor was used to help many grieve 9/11. This proverb is an example of how Gen Z is trying to cope with the modern tragedies plaguing their generation.

Dark-Humor at a Funeral

Background: N is an American with part Irish/Norwegian descent. During funerals, he remembers his uncles sharing a compilation of the deceased person’s best jokes and most scandalous stories to garner a few laughs.


N: “When the official funeral ceremony was over, I remember my four great uncles would gather at the reception and start cracking jokes at the dead person’s expense…sort of brutal to be honest. They’d air out all the person’s dirty laundry, but everyone seemed to really enjoy it… I always thought it was super fun as a kid because everyone was laughing… I didn’t understand the profanity much.”

Interviewer: “Did they do this at every funeral?”

N: “Pretty much anyone’s, mostly at each other’s to be honest…maybe because they knew they wouldn’t be offended if someone were cracking jokes over their own deathbed. It sadly got to the point where no one was left to share the jokes…and the tradition sort of died out.”

Interviewer: “Did anyone ever get upset?”

N: “I don’t really remember but I think everyone got pretty used to it. But [the uncles] definitely stayed serious at certain funerals, like if the person were less closely related to the immediate family, if you know what I mean.”


In many western societies, funerals are viewed as a time to mourn and be sorrowful over the passing of a lost loved one. However, others choose to celebrate and reflect upon the life of the deceased by having a bit of fun. Most likely, N’s heritage played a role in the type of traditions involved at funerals. His uncles’ habits of telling jokes at the funeral can also reflect how Irish or Norwegian culture, specifically in America, choose to take a more joyous perspective in the face of mortality. Although someone’s life cycle might come to an end, their impact is remembered and cherished by the family through oral tradition. Notably, N’s uncles refrained from telling the jokes at funerals of people considered outsiders to their immediate family, thus demonstrating how the tradition can be particular to the family as well. While the in-group finds it amusing, they must be cautious of how out-groups perceive the practice.

Plane dead

Q: Ok so do you have the joke or riddle or what is it.

R: Its a riddle

Q: Wait so where did you hear it?

R: I heard it in Southern California at a summer Camp I was at

Q: ok so what is the riddle

R: Ok so there is a cabin in the woods and there are 26 people dead inside. There are no track coming or going from te cabin, what happened?

Q: Um maybe it snowed and the snow melted

R: No

Q: Was it an accident or were they murdered

R: It was an accident

Q: They were there a long time

R: Maybe but that doesnt matter 

Q: I dont know, what happened

R: It was the cabin of a plane and they died in a crash

Context: As the informant said this was collected at summer camp at middle school age in southern California. 

Analysis: This joke definitely came into being after the invention of airplanes and so post 1903 for sure although most likely further after that. As well, this is a joke that makes me think immediately about the genre of dark humor. This is something discussed in great detail in Peter Narvaez in his book Of Corpse. His analysis of the timeline of when it is appropriate to tell a joke like this is interesting to me as I know someone who’s father died in a plane accident and would be highly offended if they heard this joke. On the other hand I know people like Pete Davidson who gets jokes made about his father dying on 9/11 and laughs along. In this regard it would seem to be a personal thing and how each individual deals with trauma.

Self Importance Proverb

Text: “The Cemetery is full of people who couldn’t be replaced” 


My dad told me he remembers hearing this from his father on occasion. He describes it as a reminder that you can always be fired or replaced, and not to take yourself too seriously. He notes that it was essentially a warning about excessive self importance. My dad remembers being met with this phrase if he was being big headed, or cocky. 


This phrase is somewhat of a cross between a proverb and a dark joke. It’s not metaphorical in the typical sense of a proverb, but it uses pre-formulated language to communicate the largely agreed upon idea, that excessive self importance is a bad thing. It’s interesting to note that my grandfather grew up Christian in the Midwest on a farm. This community typically frowns on self importance, so his use of the phrase may reveal rural Christian American beliefs. Then there is the other aspect of this phrase, which is that it makes light of mortality, and the dissolving of identity through death.This phrase falls into the camp of dark humor, which as a genre serves a few societal purposes. It’s possible to apply Peter Narvaez’s idea that in the television age, we are inundated with images of death and destruction while being told that we should mourn for individuals who we have no direct relation to. Dark humor becomes a way of rebelling against the societal pressure to mourn, as well as the institutions that put these tragedies in front of us on a daily basis. In addition, jokes about death such as this one, deal with the inescapable fact that no matter what, death is inevitable. Unlike Narvaez, I also believe that dark humor serves another purpose as a coping mechanism to deal with heavy subjects such as mortality. 

Nun Riddle


Q: “What’s black and white and black and white and black and white and black and white and red all over”

A: “A nun falling down the stairs” 


My aunt describes hearing this on the school bus riding to and from middle school. She mentions that sometimes the joke was preceded with the well known riddle, “what is black and white and red all over”, to which a classmate would answer, a “newspaper”. Then the asker would propose the above question. 


The above text is a cross between a riddle, and a dark joke in my interpretation. Going off of Oring’s argument, riddles question reality, disrupting the rigid categories we use to control the world. They transcend our perception of reality, which is an act of rebellion in itself. This riddle could certainly serve this purpose. An important factor beyond this interpretation, is that the joke/riddle was circulated among children. It’s a widely held folkloric idea that children’s folklore often rejects institutions. This is because children are so highly institutionalized on a day to day basis, especially in a school setting, where this joke/riddle was told. Another societal function that riddles serve in some cultures is to aid in education. Their structure is helpful for practicing memorization, and they provide an exercise in logical thought, as well as language manipulation. Interestingly, this joke subverts a well known riddle, to which the answer is “a newspaper”. I could see this subverted riddle emerging partly as a way of rejecting the institution that is public school, and its education tactics. Additionally, the subject of the joke/riddle is a nun. Nun’s are representative of yet another institution, one of Christianity. Of course there is also the basic factor of this joke being slightly gruesome and dark, referring to blood and injury. This could be an example of Narvaez’s idea of rebelling against societal pressure to mourn foreign tragedies. But it is also likely that children would gravitate towards gruesome or dark humor simply because it is not what the institution deems “school appropriate”.