Edgy Humor: Don't Even Go There

Seth MacFarlane owns my TV.

My girlfriend usually has Cartoon Network on at night while I'm cooking, eating, reading, walking the dog or watching YouTube videos, and MacFarlane's shows are on all the time. Between Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show, it's amazing how much content this guy's responsible for.

His humor's really edgy and un-PC, too, which is probably why Cartoon Network puts his shows in the later time slots.

When you think of edgy comedy, who are the first creators who come to mind? I wouldn't be surprised if MacFarlane's one of them. Other celebrities you might think of are South Park's Matt Stone and Trey Parker, The Simpsons' Matt Groening, The Daily Show's former host Jon Stewart, and stand-up comedians George Carlin, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, George Lopez and Amy Schumer … among others.

These comedic geniuses are incredibly popular and successful, so it's to be expected that other creators would try to copy them.

It's not that simple, though. The celebrities I mentioned are brilliant people with the courage, talent and work ethic needed to be pioneers in their field. In addition, they made comedy their jobs and the focus of their lives … meaning that they have an incredible amount of knowledge and experience when it comes to humor.

With these special individuals, I'd trust them to handle sensitive topics in a funny, smart and tasteful way. For your typical webcartoonist, though … it's almost always better to avoid these topics.

It's just not worth trying. Most of the time, the joke will be unfunny and end up offending and upsetting some readers. Other times, the joke will just be unfunny but not provoke any reaction, whether good or bad.

The chance of an edgy joke actually being funny is very low. It's just too difficult to do right. A creator has better odds of success with a safer topic, and I'd argue that it might even be better to not post anything than to post something that's almost certainly going to fail and just end up irritating people.

Now, I think offending people is usually okay if the joke's actually funny. A lot of people are oversensitive anyways. But the average webcartoonist is a young person – maybe even a teenager – who has no idea how to write a joke. And these aren't the kinds of creators who should be trying to make cutting-edge jokes about controversial topics.

So if you're a creator who's thinking of writing a comic about one of the following eight topics … don't. Just … don't. Leave it to the professionals. There are a million-billion other topics out there for you to write about instead.

Racism – As a painful issue that people struggle with every day … it's just not that funny to joke about.

Dead babies – This includes abortions, miscarriages and any violence done to babies. Babies are innocent and defenseless, so it just seems horrible when they're harmed. In addition, the ongoing pro-choice versus pro-life debate is one of the most controversial and heated ethical and political topics.

Physical abuse – Cruelty and violence toward women, children and animals is too real and traumatizing to joke about. Also, gags about men beating or hitting women usually come across as being misogynistic.

Male-on-female rape – Women are viewed as being vulnerable because they're generally smaller and weaker than men. On the other hand, male-on-male rape (or even female-on-male rape) can be funny because it seems like it's the man's fault for being weaker or for getting himself into a bad situation.

Suicide – It's just more sad than funny. And it's really insensitive to people who've dealt with suicidal thoughts or have even tried to kill themselves, as well as to the friends and family members of these people.

Mental handicaps – As a society, we feel like these people need to be helped and protected, so making fun of them just seems like bullying. However, in contrast, physical handicaps have gained enough acceptance that they seem fairly normal, so it's OK to joke about them.

Tragedies – The Holocaust, 9/11 and mass shootings are some of the more obvious examples, but any horrific event where people were killed deserves to be recognized respectfully. The people affected by these tragedies are victims, not punchlines.

Islam – Many Muslims get extremely upset when people make fun of their religion – and don't forget that cartoonists have been murdered for joking about Islam. So it's best to stay far away from this topic. The other religions handle jokes much better, though.

I mean, that's really it … just eight off-limits topics out an unlimited amount of material to work with.

And if someone's still just really, really determined to joke about these topics no matter what … then at least be very careful about it. Spend some extra time on writing the joke and thinking about how people might react to it. Maybe even share the joke with your friends and peers first and see if they think it's a good idea.

Still, though … it's fine for amateurs to aspire to be like the greats while recognizing that they're not at that level yet. Greatness is about making gradual, consistent improvements, not about being born with the right qualities or becoming successful overnight.

Do you think one of the topics on my list is OK to joke about … or did I leave out a topic that should be there? If you think so, leave me a comment below.


  1. Actually ANY type of rape isn't funny. It's like arguing that "a man can rape a woman, but a woman can't rape a man, because sex is all man can thing and they subconcously want it even when they say they don't". It's BS on every term. Rape is about violence, not sex.

    1. Hi Anonymous. Thanks for your response. This post is intended to be controversial.

      Rape humor is all about subverting the audience's expectations. The situation we expect is for a man to rape a woman, so it can be funny when a creator switches the roles, either by making the woman the rapist (less common) or by putting a man in the woman's situation (more common).

      Also, violence can be funny. The slapstick genre is built around violence and pain. Rape humor is often directed toward criminals in prison as a form of punishment, humiliation and justice. The sexual angle and gender reversal is what makes the humor work.

      Finally, it's important to keep in mind that this post isn't intended as an endorsement of certain kinds of humor. Rape humor, like any kind of humor, can be funny or unfunny depending on how it's written. All I'm saying is that there's a decent chance that topics such as male-on-male rape will be funny if handled by a competent writer, while topics such as male-on-female rape are much less likely to be funny.

  2. I would be entirely in agreement with you here if it wasn't for your high regard for Seth McFarlane. I think he falls squarely in the edgy for edgy sake department. Think of his oscars hosting gig where he sang a song that reduced every actress to boobs. What's the point of that? McFarlane is also the patron saint of 4chan trolls. They pretty much take his supposedly "ironic" material as gospel. If your audience basically agrees with you then are you even edgy?

    On male rape being funny... most of that humor is derived from the fact that the man is taking on what is considered a female role, therefore making it demeaning, not to the male victim, but to women. It's like calling a guy a "pussy" as an insult. Ha, ha, ha, isn't he feminine?

    1. Video response here: http://www.webcomicpolice.com/2017/03/march-17-q-saanvis-comments.html

  3. I think you may not know what "edgy" humor is. You can have racism be a humorous topic w/o it being "edgy". Especially if you go both ways of it or make it about nothing like the types of food they eat or something

    1. Anything in this list can be funny if handled properly. These topics just have a very high likelihood of being both unfunny and offensive. Your average amateur comedian's judgment might not be as good as you think.

      As for religions, the Charlie Hebdo massacre proves that joking about Islam is dangerous. If I was a publisher, and one of my staff members submitted a cartoon that makes fun of Islam, I'd reject it. It's not worth getting shot over. What would you do in that situation?