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Lights Camera Ashton

Lights, Camera, Ashton: Society sets double standard for dark comedy, films

The line is sometimes blurry between what is OK to joke about in films and what it not

It’s no secret that I have a really dark sense of humor. It’s not as though I enjoy taking amusement in other people’s pain, but rather, I find that there’s an odd satisfaction at laughing at things that normally confuse, terrify or hurt us. Comedy is subjective. Who are you to judge, anyway?

I don’t expect everyone to see what I find humorous to be equally funny. Just as Kevin James fans don’t get mad when I watch one of his “comedies” stone-faced, I don’t take an ill grievance in people being unamused by what I think is hilarious. Still, I find it odd how people reflect certain dark topics as funny, but others are immediately off the radar.

For example, during David Sedaris’ lecture last Monday, asides on death were often warmed with laughs, but a joke about rape received a fairly mixed response. Out of context, this might make some sense, but the joke on rape wasn’t directed toward one select person. In fact, it was actually more of a joke on misunderstanding, it just involved rape fantasies. The idea of someone being raped wasn’t really the context of the joke. Yet people seemed confused as to how to respond.

It was as if they didn’t know they were allowed to laugh. That troubled me a little, especially considering I was the guy laughing the hardest at that moment in my auditorium section.

This was one example of this, though, I noticed another just this month when I saw Gone Girl. In a packed, eager theater, many audience members — and this is, again, just an observation, not an attack — didn’t quite seem to understand how funny of a movie Gone Girl was, and was supposed to be.

At a certain point in the film, David Fincher’s movie — without giving too much away — leaps from being in Zodiac mode to going fully into War of the Roses territory. It’s not a subtle transition, and it damn sure wasn’t supposed to be. Yet the audience didn’t seem to process how the movie could make this jump. Some people laughed at candid moments of dark humor, but every one of them seemed delayed, as if they had to think about whether or not it was OK to laugh.

This is, at its heart, what I don’t get about people’s opinions on dark comedy: it’s social standards. What makes something like prison rape an OK topic for comedy but when I joke about Adrian Peterson, looks of disapproval come my way? What I’m trying to say here is there seems to be acceptance for some forms of dark comedy but not all, and yet there is no rule book for it. There’s no real rhyme or reason as to why one’s OK and the other isn’t.

I guess this all comes down to what circles you hang around with and what you find OK and not OK. But still, I don’t see how people — as a society — can be so confused or disapproving of one form of dark comedy and be so open-minded of others. It just doesn’t make any sense, especially for people like me who infuse dark comedy into their daily speech patterns.

Listen; I get that everything is not always funny. I’m still a firm believer, though, that anything can be funny, at least when handled right. With this double standard type of social thinking, I can understand why this may not translate well. 

I guess, then, what I am asking is this:

Next time I make an off-handed remark about death or finding a way to make light of Robin Williams’ suicide, don’t judge me if you are going to laugh at a Holocaust joke minutes later. There’s not much difference; there’s just time.

Will Ashton is a senior studying journalism and a writer for The Post. Email him at

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