The Dangers of Being Funny: On Épater Les Bourgeois and Black Humor

épater  (épater les bourgeois)
eɪˈpateɪ, French epate/verb
Meaning: to shock people who have attitudes or views perceived as conventional or complacent.

Black Comedy
A black comedy (or dark comedy) is a comic work that employs farce and morbid humor, which, in its simplest form, is humor that makes light of subject matter usually considered taboo. Black humor corresponds to the earlier concept of gallows humor. Black comedy is often controversial due to its subject matter.

I was just thinking how funny I was being (trying to be might be more accurate) when, to my surprise, a person took great offense at my joke.

It wasn't that they didn't get the joke. They got it. They were just deeply offended by it. But it wasn't a racist, xenophobic, or homophobic joke. It really wasn't even that much of a judgmental joke. It was just a couple of uncommon styles of humor. Although there is room to debate whether these styles of humor are in good taste, but as with all subjective considerations, I'll leave that up to you to decide.

It all began in a Facebook post by a friend of mine talking about natural miscarriages and his take on them being that they were nature's abortion. He asked why would a loving God allow for that sort of thing? He phrased it in a way that called out religious zealots who preach pro-life anti-abortion messages with hyperbolic outrage yet seem to not give one hoot about nature's abortion, which is statistically devastating and would technically denote an evil or indifferent God rather than a loving one.

Just to lighten the mood, I chimed in saying that, as an atheist, I eat babies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So not all babies are being wasted. (My attempt at some black humor)

I even put one of these -->  :p  to let the more dense readers know it was a joke.

What happened next was, well, predictable.

This person's religious relative jumped in going on ad naseum about how abortion was murder and that all aborted fetuses go straight into the arms of Jesus to be with God.

Naturally, I couldn't bite my tongue. But not wanting it to become a political debate, I tried for humor. So, I mentioned something about all this being good news, and that we should abort ALL the babies -- because that way they'd be happier, being with God and all. (My version of épater humor)

Needless to say, my friend and I were cracking up. But his religious relative was deeply offended and assumed we were being callous.

But were we?

I don't think so. Callous would be me telling her to shut it and keep her goddamn religious nonsense to herself. It would be me telling her to go get an education. It would me telling her she was wrong for no other reason that an anti-abortion stance is and anti-woman stance and as a woman she's a bigot without so much as taking the time to explain why that is.

So I decided to go for one more attempt at being funny instead.

It sort of backfired. And she totally didn't get why I thought it was goddamn funny to kill all the babies.

Needless to say, it was a joke.

I don't believe anything of the sort.

But it's funny because it is so outlandish and absurd that anyone who actually took it seriously would have to be either a complete moron or completely insane. Which is also kind of funny.

It's funny because it challenges the religious notion that unborn fetuses have souls and, like all dogs, will go to heaven.

It's funny because it challenges the notion that abortion is murder with the alternative of merciful infanticide, which is also murder (technically speaking), but which makes moral sense under their religious views and is actually a much better option because the fetus would just go straight to heaven to be with God and would never need to suffer a single second while on earth because, technically speaking, the baby was never born in the first place.

It's also funny, because if you think about it, if we did decide to kill all unborn babies before, you know, they were actually born then atheists everywhere would starve to death and the religious would rejoice! (Oops, there I go trying to be funny again.)

It seems to me that black (dark) humor and épater les bourgeois humor are two types of humor many people just don't seem to get nor appreciate very much.

At least, not to the same degree I seem to enjoy them.

Maybe I'm just strange? Or maybe I have learned to appreciate a wider range of styles of humor because I have traveled abroad extensively and experienced the way different cultures and societies have view things and share a wide range of understandings regarding what constitute good and bad humor.

Shows like South Park and Family Guy have used both styles of humor to great effect. But outside of a couple of animated cartoons meant for cheap entertainment, it seems people take grave offense at the usage of épater and black humor.

Personally, I enjoy seeing people squirm with discomfort as they try to process why a joke is offensive or troubling to them.  I don't believe in being mean or offensive simply for the sake of being mean and offensive though, but there is a time and place for these styles of humor, although that too may be a subjective judgement. 


The American stand-up comedian Louis C.K. has thrown in épater humor in many of his comedy shows just to laugh at the discomfort it causes his audience. Always cracks me up.

Louis C.K.'s "But Maybe..." monologue uses épater humor to great effect.


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