Dead Caterpillar

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Dark humor: some laugh, some cry

Sunday, Dec 19th, 2010

When a man falls to his death off a 30-foot cliff into a river, it’s not funny.

When a man, who happens to own the multi-million dollar Segway Incorporated, falls to his death steering a Segway off a 30-foot cliff and into a river, it’s not funny either.

It’s hilarious.

As if it wasn’t embarrassing enough to die on humanity’s most ridiculous mode of transportation. The man owned Segway Incorporated. At least he’s not alive to feel the humiliation.

At least he died doing something he believed in …


The eulogist will have a fun job spinning that one. To paraphrase one of my favorite lyricists: I’m choking on the irony. That’s what dark humor is: choking. You’re too busy gasping for air to notice anything tragic in the room. Some laugh, some cry. Those who laugh immunize themselves. Those who cry fail to understand. Allow me to illustrate this point.

dark humor

Very recently, I came across a person who failed to understand dark humor. My friend Jon and I were making a purchase at a convenience store. As the cashier was scanning items, we were casually shooting the breeze with your typical, run-of-the-mill, funny-ways-kittens-could-bite-it jokes.

When Jon mentioned that kittens were conveniently sized to fit in blenders, the woman at the register shot us a look of disgust.

“I don’t think that’s very funny,” she said in a disdainful tone.

Jon and I looked at each other and made a tacit exchange of words:

Cat person.

I then took the joke further and remarked that, although kittens were conveniently sized to fit in blenders, it was inconvenient that there was no button on the microwave for kittens.

There’s some background info here …

My kitten Penny has traditionally served as a comedic device for dark humor joke telling in our house. I refer to Penny as a ‘kitten’ even though Penny is a full grown cat because I like how ‘kitten’ sounds in contrast with dangerous objects. For instance: kittens and knives, kittens and bazookas, kittens and bulldozers, et cetera. The word ‘cat’ doesn’t have the same effect. (Try it: cats and knives, cats and bazookas, cats and bulldozers, et cetera. It doesn’t quite have the same effect).

So Penny will always be a kitten in my heart just as every man will forever be a happy smiling little boy in the heart of his mother (It’s a term of endearment, for all the wrong reasons.).

Penny is much like a human child to me. The only difference is that a human child of mine might one day choose my nursing home. In light of this, I discipline Penny differently than I would a human child.

The other day I woke up to find my kitchen floor lined with Purina Cat Chow. The greedy little kitten had somehow gotten on top of the refrigerator and knocked the bag off, spilling heart-shaped morsels of dry cat food all over the linoleum flooring. I’m not one for kitten shenanigans in the morning (which conveniently rhymes with ‘flooring’). So I pick Penny up by the neck skin (as cat mothers often do to their young), look deep into his feline eyes and say:

“Penny, do you know what happens to kittens when they do bad things?”

I pause and let the words permeate. I wait for Penny’s eyes to dilate with fear. They grow huge. Then I whisper very gently into one of his pointed ears:

“They die …”

Relax. The cat can’t understand English.

I wish he did.

Relax. I don’t show my affection for Penny in words, I show it in action.

I very consistently replenish his water and food bowl every other week. I’ve never once forgotten.

Are you relaxed? If you are relaxed, you’re understanding dark humor.

You’re relaxed because hilarity is just beside sorrow on the color wheel of human emotion. It is very easy to make a transition from one to the other. Go too far and you’ve crossed into madness. When you find yourself joking about how the only thing funnier than a dead baby is a dead baby in a clown suit, you’ve gone too far. When your joke involves asking the question:

What is blue and yellow and found at the bottom of a pool?

And then giving the answer:

A baby with slashed floaties.

You’ve gone too far. Or when you begin a joke with:

What’s red and yellow and floats on top of the pool?

And end with:

Floaties with a slashed baby.

Then you’ve gone much too far. As a rule of thumb dead babies, in any context, are too far. Kittens are well within reason. Dogs are off limits. Retarded people are sort of in a gray area.

One Response to “Dark humor: some laugh, some cry”

  1. Molly Rogers says:

    Why would we be relaxed. You are supposed to replace an animals water everyday.

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