3 Types of Jokes That Tend Towards the Less Problematic

I often hear the lament that no one is allowed to be funny or make jokes anymore. As one of the many humorless feminists on this blog network out to ruin all of your fun, I totally agree and look forward to a world free of jokes, especially from men.

That was an example of an Insider Joke. The other two types I’ll be discussing are the Unexpected Reference and Wordplay.

It is possible to take an Insider Joke, Unexpected Reference, or Wordplay and use it in a way that is oppressive. Although you could potentially insult someone using them, they can be made without insulting people. What makes them less likely to err in that way is that they don’t inherently hinge on punching anyone to make them funny.

Punching up is never oppressive, of course, but that’s a topic for another day.

The Insider Joke

The joke I made in my lede relies on awareness of three things.

  1. Re feminists: The stereotype that we are against humor because we aren’t fans of certain types of jokes
  2. Re Freethought Blogs: That most of us here are feminists and one of us, in particular, wryly refers to their role as “Professional Fun-Ruiner
  3. Re me, in particular: That I wrote a piece about how much I hate it when men excuse sexism with the pathetic excuse for a defense known as “it was just a joke”

As long as you have some sort of familiarity with any of those three, you would recognize the facetiousness of my remark, even if you didn’t find it funny. Some might argue that it could reinforce rather than subvert stereotypes. I feel comfortable making it because it’s about me rather than anyone else and fairly well-ensconced in a context that makes what I meant clear. It is possible that someone might read it and take me literally, but I think it is not very probable.

Insider jokes can be even less tricky than the one I made, though. I’ve been known to say things like “Damn, those teeth are whiter than Mormonism.”

The Unexpected Reference

The moment that I realized that people mistake references for humor was a glorious one indeed. I went from sullen-seeming weirdo to less-sullen-seeming weirdo who said funny things sometimes.

I started with song references. I found that the cheesier and more novelty-driven the song is, the better. If you can think up a song lyric that everyone knows but few people think about that relates to the situation at hand, someone will laugh.

“Whiter than Mormonism” is something of an Unexpected Reference, too, in that it brings together two things based on a commonality that isn’t all that obvious at first (whiteness of two kinds).


Finding commonalities between disparate things on the linguistic rather than the conceptual level is at the heart of wordplay, including puns. But all this meta talk is so boring and I’m hungry since I skipped breakfast to write this; let’s talk about pasta instead of this linguinistic stuff.

3 Types of Jokes That Tend Towards the Less Problematic
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8 thoughts on “3 Types of Jokes That Tend Towards the Less Problematic

  1. xyz

    Can I also nominate the joke category of “words that sound like other words”? Not sophisticated, but then again, neither are sexism or racism. A friend of mine recently called Stellen Skarsgard “Stellar Skateboard” and I almost died laughing.

  2. 2

    Neither punching up nor punching down are even remotely funny. Funny jokes about groups of people depend on a balance of power, a situation of equality and reciprocity and frankly, an absence of actual ‘punching’. Which is why, alas, some jokes can be funny within closed circles of family and friends and absolutely appalling if and when they make their way to the general public. Actually, insider jokes are pretty much the same. They often can’t even be recognized as jokes by non-insiders.

  3. 3

    Humor is an illusion. Aside from unexpectedly funny word-play, jokes all have a target and the humor of the joke is the listener’s relief that they aren’t the target. (That’s distinct from pranks, where the target is clearly marked) Many many jokes boil down to “so-and-so is dumb” or “the listener is dumb” and most of the rest are “this (class, stereotype, group) are dumb”

    Oh, hah hah hah.

  4. 5

    It is amusing that the few comments seem to say puns are good because nobody gets hurt, but to most people, puns are the second lowest form of comedy (after physical comedy like the three stooges).

    And, yes, I did notice you put the linguine in the linguistic pun. I’m writing this hours after you posted, so I referred to your comment in the pasta tense.

    1. 5.1

      I consider puns a very sophisticated type of humor. Of course I am part of a family of punsters. In a way, for our family puns are inside humor – the three of us enjoy them and don’t groan. Heina’s type of pun is theamong the best – where it takes noticing.

  5. 6

    “Re me, in particular: That I wrote a piece about how much I hate it when men excuse sexism with the pathetic excuse for a defense known as “it was just a joke” ”
    When women show any discomfort about telling sexist jokes about men, I’ll bother making an excuse about sexist jokes about women.

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