There’s a new article from Salon asking, essentially, is it okay to joke about suicide? Comedy often tackles many taboos in society, rape being one of the most-talked about recently, but suicide isn’t normally one of them. Suicide in general is a touchy subject, but to joke about it? Yikes.
I remember when I was maybe fifteen or sixteen, my uncle was living with us. At the time, as he self-deprecatingly referred to it, he was the “clown in the basement.” Reason being, along with my brother, we and the rest of the neighborhood thought he was hilarious. What was the source of his comedy? Suicide jokes. He’d joke about slicing his wrists or downing a bottle of pills or hanging himself – you know; suicide. And we played along too, sometimes conjuring up our morbid suicide jokes. It made for some legitimately gut-busting times in that damp, cold basement where the clown resided.
Was it wrong, though? In hindsight, I don’t know because I know at that time I hadn’t discovered my passion for the subject. I just thought it was funny stuff. I wasn’t considering larger implications of, “Well, is this something we should be joking about?” The thing is I still find that kinda dark, morbid humor to be fun to engage in. Of course, with very select audiences, as that’s not typical humor.
I guess, I don’t know, I’m of the mindset that there are no limits to comedy except that, obviously, it has to be funny. If it’s not funny, then what the hell are you doing? You’re not doing comedy – that much seems certain. There’s more to it, though. I like comedy that pushes people and shakes people’s sensibilities. I think people need to be confronted with that which offends them to some degree or that which they don’t want to discuss, like suicide or rape. And comedy can offer that avenue of discussion or at the very least, as comedy should do, it can shed a humorous light on painful subjects.
As the article says, there’s a fine line between laughter and pain. The comedian’s job is to learn how to navigate it therein.