Humour and offence

Interesting to read the different takes on what should be allowed and what not acceptable on the ‘best jokes’ thread. There is clearly a strong link between humour and offence - a lot of humour is picking up on particular characteristics and exaggerating for comedic effect, or showing us the daftness of our preconceptions, and these may well upset some people.

I’m not wanting this to be a ‘what sort of medication’ thread, but more a discussion on the relative merits of humour and whether comedy is under threat because of either the concern that people will be overly offended, or the increasingly strong priority given to people’s feelings of being offended and their right not to be.

The does seem to be a view that none of us should ever feel offended, and that it is someone else’s fault if we are and they they need to change their attitudes/ways/approaches. This may be true fo some things - attacking a specific individual in any way, or a group because of an assumed sexuality, etc.

Does shooting aliens in a video game mean I believe in aliens, and that they need to be shot, and that I am happy with casual violence? No to all those - it means that in a video game, it’s ok to kill aliens. So how does that translate to ‘an Englishman, an Irishman, and a Chinese man went into a shop…’ type joke? One could argue it promulgates racial stereotypes to the non-English detriment, or that it’s a structure for a story which we recognise as such.

Interested to hear others’ views…


I personally see it like this:

If a remark or joke relates to a (real) person or group describing something they have no influence over, such as for instance race, gender, mental/physical health etc., then yes care is needed to not offend or negatively stereotype and some censorship might be appropriate.

An Englishman, an Irishman, and a Chinese man went into a shop

Stereotyping in this context is only offensive if it implies that a person or group of people is ‘genetically inferior’ to other groups in certain aspects:

Joke about the Chinese man’s facial features = offensive
Joke about the Chinese man’s eating habits = not offensive

So in general, jokes about behaviour or culture should not be deemed offensive. A lot of human behaviour and culture is quite silly and should be made fun of to show the relativity of adopted social rules and standards.

In all other cases, feeling offended is a personal choice and censorship should be avoided as much as possible. Political preference is a choice, religious affiliation is a choice, etc. You feeling offended about jokes or remarks pertaining to these topics is your choice, it shouldn’t be a valid reason to censor others.


I think the issue is that context seems to no longer be relevant to some people. It’s what you say, taken very literally, any context being irrelevant.

In the case of a joke, even the examples @litemotiv uses as offensive would be allowed as long as it’s clearly a joke and of course serves the purpose of the joke. In the same way the not-offensive example shouldn’t be if it’s clearly meant only to offend. Context can not be ignored IMO.

Of course it’s not always clear cut and there will be situations where things are debatable, but if it’s in a thread called ‘Best jokes’, that already provides plenty of context. The assumption there should be it’s a joke and there would need to be strong arguments that it isn’t before it’s censored if you ask me.


Surely the whole point of a joke is to offend someone? We laugh either at our own misfortunes or at someone else’s, usually thinking there but for the grace of god, go I.

When it becomes offensive is a moot point, but if it characterises a race or group of people to be more likely to be inferior for some ‘jokey’ reason then I find it offensive and should be illegal as a hate crime.


Perhaps it’s more about the line between feeling uncomfortable and actually being offended, and also the idea that censorship is a necessary measure to make sure that no one feels offended (or uncomfortable).

Often times people feel offended by proxy, as an example:

There was a thread on the forums about Lockdown Music, where people posted songs with a funny or coincidental reference to the Covid situation (like “Don’t stand so close to me” by The Police). Some people reacted in that thread: “These jokes may be offensive to people who have lost loved ones due to Covid”.

The question then is, is it really offensive and in what way, or does it only make some people feel uncomfortable because of the casual relationship between the two? And is that an appropriate reason to start censoring?

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I guess a question is, why is it a problem if someone feels offended?

To me that isn’t in principle an issue, someone deliberately trying to offend someone is.


On the Naim forums it’s obviously a problem since they don’t want people to have negative connotations when they are thinking about the brand. So i do understand why they want to avoid making people feel uncomfortable or offended (about any topic) as much as possible…


Sure, but from that pov this discussion is a bit unnecessary.

I see this thread as us expressing our views on where the line should be. You expressed yours, other might disagree, and posts being fine according to your rules will likely still be censored if flagged by those others. In the same way I explained where I see the “line”, which slightly differs from your view (Although I feel we’re largely aligned)

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I think that it is always about timing and context. This forum is not a bleeding edge comedy club and therefore should be moderated according to the sponsors wishes.

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I was about to quote myself with the line about it not being a ‘what sort of moderation’ thread, but realised autocorrect had changed my meaning somewhat :grinning: On moderation, it’s Naim’s site and so they can set the rules, and I can see they don’t want anything to upset others and so taint the brand. This thread is not about that.

As others noted, it’s about where the line is drawn, the value of context, the notions of acceptability, whether offence is a problem, how one draws an appropriate line, etc.

I think the point about context is well-made, but the context of “it’s just a joke” can be used too often to excuse poor attempts at humour, too…


Much of humour is not simply timing but content and judging where the line of acceptability is and just sticking one toe over.

However that line has moved a lot in recent years. So many comedians simply won’t do the Edinburgh Festival anymore because if they misjudge the line today, they will be trolled and [#]Cancelled tomorrow.

The bigger question is, why is the line changing? I’d like to think this is the trade off for a society that is just more enlightened than it used to be. But that would be a load of bollocks. There is a mental tic going around like a plague where people are going out of their way to be offended and find ways to take offense.

I think people always had difference senses of humour but their ability of like minded people to gang up instantly has changed the playing field. When I was growing up, if someone didn’t like a joke they heard on telly, they had to really be outraged and put pen to paper and right a complaint to BBC Point of View or something. Now, 10 seconds after anything goes out, 200 thousand offended people can take to Facebook or Reddit and make their offense a thing.

Another part of humour is that it only gets a laugh if it both goes just a toe over that acceptability line and has a streak of uncomfortable truth in it that we’d rather not face. Generally, if it shies short of the line it gets no laugh. And if it goes over but is divorced from reality (no grain of truth), then it falls flat and doesn’t even cause offense. Offense in humour is so closely tied to things people secretly think are true but feel they shouldn’t and an aspect of that shame gets turned outwards in the form of offense and outrage.


One of the things WemsFest does, as well as our music and our beer festival, is put on live comedy nights. Our friend Jeff, who is in his day job a respected psychiatrist, books the acts and compères the evenings. So I’ve seen loads of acts over the past few years. Many are really funny and some less so. What is very clear is that you can be funny without causing offence. The funniest are when the acts pick on things that they have done, often where things have gone wrong, that we have all done too. I have no issue with language, and have something of a potty mouth myself, but jokes at others’ expense I cannot do with. It’s just not necessary. I find that many of those who rail against sensitivities in these areas simply want to use it as an excuse to air their own nasty, reactionary, discriminatory rhetoric.


I agree that the more offensive a joke, the more funny it needs to be.
Jimmy Carr has told some truly horrendous ones that are equally genuinely hilarious.
The best observational comedy needs to think the unthinkable and say the unsayable.


Jim Jeffries is another one.

I think it’s too simplistic to say that all offensive jokes are simply an excuse for some kind of rhetoric. Especially as no one seem to be able to agree on what’s offensive to begin with.

I remember people like Rowan Atkinson were fighting a bill in parliament which would have restricted the language comedians use. Although I don’t quite agree I can see their point. Used correctly humour can challenge our stereotypes and our prejudices. I also think that people outwardly express their racist, misogynistic and bigoted ideals and defend it under the shadow of ‘It’s comedy’. It is not. I don’t remember who it was that raised concerns about a Prince Harry and Megan caption but I agreed completely with them: The only thing that caption captured was racism and misogyny. I’m glad they raised it and it was removed.

Done correctly humour and comedy can help us confront these stereotypes. Done wrongly, it can express a continuation of the injustices one can see in society.

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The point of the comedians or of whoever fielded the bill?

Could you also, for the sake of this argument, share the caption in question? Then we all know what we’re talking about.

None of the Meghan and Harry stuff I saw on that thread that I would classify as you described it. So I’m curious whether I interpreted it differently or whether I simply didn’t see the one(s) you’re referring to before they were removed.

If it was removed before, why ask for it to be shared again?

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It was removed. So I don’t see how I can share the caption. Someone, not me, raised their concerns about it, I just so happened to agree with their concerns. So I don’t really know how I can share it again. Also, it’s not something I’d ever want to trawl the internet looking for.

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It was removed in the jokes thread as an offensive joke. Here it serves a different purpose. Here we’re debating what is or isn’t offensive to us. In that context it’s been brought up by @Clarkeboy as an example to support his argument, yet I, and likely most, don’t know what he’s talking about. So it’s hard to know where he stands in relation to the rest of us. Possibly he can just describe / share part of it and doesn’t have to share the whole thing to make his argument/position clear.

I thought I had sufficiently explained that by saying “for the sake of argument” and “I’m curious whether I interpreted it differently…”.

Please see my response to @hungryhalibut which tries to explain that it’s not about the joke, but about the example you brought up to explain where you stand.

You’re using it as an example, while no one here knows what it is you’re referring to, making it hard to understand your position. So if you can at least describe it, or perhaps use a different example, people will better understand your contribution which in turn will aid the discussion.