One man enters a rooftop bar and sits down next to another. He inquires, “What are you drinking?” of the man.
He calls it “magic beer.”
Oh, right. What makes it so magical?
Then he proves it: He downs a drink, jumps from the roof, soars around the structure, and eventually makes his way back to his seat while beaming triumphantly.
Amazing!” exclaims the man. “Let’s give that a shot!” He seizes the beer. After downing it, he jumps from the roof and lands 15 floors below.
He shakes his head, the bartender. “Superman, you know, you’re a real jerk when you’re wasted.”
For the sake of argument, let’s assume Trampoline Man was waiting for the unfortunate jerk on the ground whether or not he survived his fall. The true query is: Did you laugh at this joke? Sick? A touch of both, perhaps?
Your response can be a good indicator of your intellect, according to a recent study that was published in the journal Cognitive Processing. According to the paper, people who enjoy dark humor—which is defined as “humor that treats sinister subjects like death, disease, deformity, handicap or warfare with bitter amusement and presents such tragic, distressing or morbid topics in humorous terms”—may have higher IQs, exhibit less aggression, and be better at repressing negative emotions than those who disdain it.
Researchers presented 12 depressing cartoons from German artist Uli Stein’s The Black Book to 156 male and female participants to examine the relationship between comedy sense and intelligence. (One of them, which parodies a well-known joke, depicts a mortician sifting through a corpse as a nurse thinks, “The autopsy is over; he is only hunting for his wrist watch. After indicating whether they understood and/or thought each joke amusing, participants did several simple IQ tests and provided information about their mood, violent tendencies, and educational background.
Participants who understood and loved the black humor jokes had higher IQs and indicated less aggressive tendencies than those who did not. The findings were extremely consistent. Interestingly, the people who didn’t enjoy the comedy had the most hostility and the worse attitudes overall. The last statement makes sense when you consider the numerous studies on the health advantages of smiling and laughing; of course you will feel worse if you are unable to respond to negativity with playful optimism.
How about the connection to intellect, though? The researchers claim that processing dark humor jokes requires a little more mental gymnastics than, say, processing a knock-knock joke. They describe it as “a complex information-processing task” that calls for separating out various layers of meaning while also establishing some emotional distance from the material so that it registers as neutral rather than hostile.
Dark humor jokes are different from puns, for example, in that they physically challenge your right and left hemispheres as you digest a single word’s numerous meanings, but puns often don’t push you beyond of your emotional comfort zone. It’s best to dress a male up as an elderly woman and shove her down the stairs if you want to make an audience laugh, as Tina Fey says in her quote that pretty well sums up the differences. Push a real elderly woman down the stairs to make comedy writers laugh.
The lesson is that wordplay-based jokes often make you think; dark humor jokes merely need a little more emotional restraint to make you laugh. Give your head a workout with these jokes that are guaranteed to make anyone sound clever, or if you want to test your understanding of black humor, consider the following gloomy jokes from the Reader’s Digest comic crypt:
• “‘I’m sorry’ and ‘I apologize’ mean the same thing. Except at a funeral.” —Demetri Martin
• Q: What has four legs and one arm?
A: A happy pit bull.
• “Cats have nine lives. Makes them ideal for experimentation.” —Jimmy Carr
• Q: Why don’t cannibals eat clowns?
A: Because they taste funny.
• “I have a vest. If I had my arms cut off, it would be a jacket.” —Mitch Hedberg
• Q: What did Kermit the frog say at Jim Henson’s funeral?
• “If at first you don’t succeed, then skydiving definitely isn’t for you.” —Steven Wright