can I use dark humor at work?

A reader writes:

I have a dark sense of humor. I now realize that my boss does not. During a standard “how was your day off” conversation between my supervisor, manager, and a few peers, my manager mentioned that he was a chaperone for one of his kid’s field trips to Gatorland. Naturally, I asked if any of the kids on the trip got eaten by an alligator. When the response was no, I followed up with a “darn, you should get a refund” joke that everyone laughed at and then the conversation and the morning carried on.

Being the day after Mardi Gras, someone from our office brought in king cake, and our manager asked if anyone found the baby. The coworker who brought it in stated she didn’t hide the baby in the cake because of the chance of someone choking on it. I then followed up with a joke that using a piece of real baby would avoid this issue, provided it’s deboned. Most of my immediate work group found this hilarious, but my manager nervously laughed and had the most concerned look on his face. I then realized the timing of this joke was just a bit later in the morning following the previous joke, and now there’s a chance my boss thinks I’m a kid-cannibal.

My question is: Any tips for navigating humor in the office? Obviously everything was said and understood to be all in a joking manner, but I’m concerned he was a bit weirded out by it. While I’m sure it’s a fine line between what’s hilarious and what’s not okay in an office setting joke-wise, I’d appreciate any help (or even just any good stories) regarding this.

A good guideline at work is to stay away from jokes about harm coming to things that people around you are likely to hold dear — like kids and animals — or jokes that feel mean-spirited.

Dark humor at work is tricky. I don’t want to say “it’s best avoided” because I hate the idea of work stamping all individuality out of people, and often the ways that people deviate from the bland norm are what makes them interesting and likable. But the truth is … yeah, maybe it’s best avoided at work, or confined to really small quantities. (Tell one dark joke at work every few months, and you have an amusing sense of humor, provided it’s the right joke. Tell two in a single day, and you risk being the person who’s not reading the room and is making people uncomfortable.)

Another thing to keep in mind at work is that you don’t know what’s going on in people’s personal lives in the way that you would with close friends. If you make a macabre joke about a baby, you don’t know if you’re saying that to someone who might have lost a child or is dealing with other struggles that will make it land really differently than you intended.

And yes, some of the funniest humor is risky in some way. But you’re not really being asked to bring that kind of sharp edge to work, where your job is to get along with other people, not to entertain.

Dark humor can also drag a team’s mood down. It can be exhausting to hear a lot of it if that’s not your own style (and you’ve got to assume that in any work group, there’s going to be a mix of humor styles — so some people aren’t going to like it, and are going to find it cynical/off-putting/wearying).

None of this means that you have totally bland yourself down and only tell dad jokes from now on. But there’s a lot of room in between.

{ 681 comments… read them below }

  1. No Mercy Percy*

    OP, I have a similar sense of humor and thought both of those jokes were hilarious (and might make similar ones myself). I think Alison is right though, and I personally keep my dark jokes for outside the office.

    1. Colette*

      And to me, they don’t even read as jokes. I mean, I’d recognize that the OP probably meant them to be funny, but I wouldn’t laugh, and I’d mostly think “what an odd thing to say”.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        Same. I have a pretty risque sense of humor but…baby parts in a cake? I am sorry to say this, but it sounds weird and gross. I’m not trying to pick on you – I just think it was a bit much.

        1. Belle8bete*

          I think it’s funny. I’m also a teacher. I feel like those two things relate. I’d probably follow up with a Sweeney Todd joke.

          1. Belle8bete*

            I meant, if I was in the room I’d follow up.

            Obviously if someone is freaked stop with the jokes. Especially if it’s superior!

              1. Doubleblankie*

                Oo I disagree with ‘especially a superior’ – surely it’s important to get on with all your colleagues, whatever level, to maintain a happy workplace. I don’t mean being besties necessarily but being a bit sensitive to people’s possible experiences.

                OP-At points during the last year that baby joke would have made me burst into tears (due to a series of fairly traumatic personal events). I know you mean well but I think Alison’s advice is really good.

                1. Lance*

                  Yes, of course it is important… but the base point there is that the ones higher-up are the ones who functionally set the culture, and what’s appropriate or not for the workplace. That’s why the ‘especially if it’s a superior’ point; because you might be in trouble if a co-worker is offended, but you’ll almost certainly be in trouble if a superior is.

              2. TootsNYC*

                I agree SO MUCH with Doubleblankie.

                You should worry more about whether you’re making people of LOWER rank uncomfortable. Because they won’t feel that they can say anything.

                1. Totally Minnie*

                  This is exactly correct. I’ve been the boss, and I’ve been the newbie at the bottom of the food chain. As the boss, if somebody says something inappropriate, I have the standing to talk to them about it. As the newbie with no political capital to spend, I didn’t feel like I could call out the higher ups for similar jokes or comments.

        2. PB*

          Yeah, it was the “properly de-boned” part that crossed the line for me. It’s just a little too real and visceral, especially given that this made two cannibalism jokes in two days. Humor is incredibly personal, and walking that line at work is hard. I find it better to err on the side of caution.

          1. Thursday Next*

            Exactly—that’s a level of detail that suggests the OP has given this idea a lot more thought than someone would give to a casual joke.

            1. Artemesia*

              I like dark humor and was trying to think why this one seemed so ‘off’ to me and I think that is it. It feels when you make two jokes about killing and eating children in a day that you are fantasizing about that and how to do it — and that is really creepy.

              1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                It was not two jokes about killing and eating children, the first joke was about a child getting eaten by an alligator.

                Personally I think both jokes were funny, I have a similar sense of humor. But I would not have said them in the workplace.

                1. Chinookwind*

                  I also saw those as two legitimately funny jokes, but I also admit that I grew up in a family that had my grandmother joke about wondering if she would find a condom in my (presumably faithful) grandfather’s wallet the night after he died. The rest of the family all laughed. The priest (who was also my grandfather’s boss) looked like he didn’t know how to react and that he though we were all crazy.

                  I agree with AAM that the true art to telling these jokes is reading the room and knowing your audience. I could see myself bouncing over someone’s comfort line, apologizing once I saw their reaction and then dialing it way back next time they are within ear shot.

                1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

                  Yep–my own sense of humor skews sarcastic, and my response would have been: “That was hilarious. I’m going to share it with every middle-school boy I know.”

                2. Fiddlesticks*

                  I had to look up “edgelord” because I’m middle-aged and out of touch. Aka, definitely not an edgelord myself!

                  It’s a perfect description for the LW. Deboned baby parts as an appropriate joke for work, seriously, WTF??

                3. Jess*

                  I agree. The first joke was kind of funny, but the second would have seemed waaaay off to me.

                4. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

                  It reads as funny as heck to me. I’m a 52 year old disabled woman, no edgelords here.

              2. Busy*

                Yeah. I mean I like dark human. I mean, I really enjoy it. I’m talking Last Podcast on the Left dark humor. But that’s the thing. Context, people!

                If, say someone during a comedy routine goes as deep as talking about de-boning a child, we all know it is satirical and that the person is “playing a character” by being extreme and ridiculous.

                If a person during the staff party goes that deep, it is disturbing. Context.

                Also, it is not uncommon for your coworkers to know you on a more personal level, so they may laugh at your “character” you create surrounding this type of humor. Your boss does not! Context, please lol.

                1. Chinookwind*

                  “If, say someone during a comedy routine goes as deep as talking about de-boning a child, we all know it is satirical and that the person is “playing a character” by being extreme and ridiculous”

                  Considering that Jonathan Swift’s best satire outside of Gulliver’s Travels consisted of using Irish babies for food and their skin for “kid” gloves, this also has a long tradition of hyperbole because of course everyone knows no one eats babies for dinner (they are more of a breakfast snack). :)

                2. c-*

                  “Yeah. I mean I like dark human. I mean, I really enjoy it.”
                  Well, you have something in common with the OP, then. Cannibals unite? ;)

          2. Cat Fan*

            Yeah, this kind of stuff is funny, but it can also get old quick. I don’t think you want to be known as the person who’s constantly making jokes like that at every opportunity.

            1. Busy*

              Well, I like dark humor. But if I knew someone who was casually making jokes like this on the reg, I’d be side-eyeing pretty heavily.

          3. BananaPants*

            Yeah, dead baby/kid jokes really aren’t funny to me – I have friends and family who have actually had babies and young children die, and I’m a parent myself. I’d probably laugh at the first joke, but the second joke was definitely darker and followed *way* too soon after the first one.

            LW, your boss doesn’t think you’re a wannabe cannibal, but I’d bet he thinks you have poor taste/can’t read the room. It’s not a career-enhancing move to become the office edgelord.

        3. Lady Jay*

          Yeah . . . that one felt a little off to me. (That said, the “eaten by an alligator” joke does read as hilarious; I think it’s the addition of cannibalism with the second king cake “joke” that makes it not work.)

        4. Ann Perkins*

          It’s interesting to me how different people respond and a good example of why these jokes should be avoided at work. The gator joke bothered me more since that did happen at Disney World recently.

          1. motherofdragons*

            I’m with you on the gator joke. I mentioned this below as well. I still get a bit upset thinking about that poor boy and his family.

          2. Move Over Thrawn - Florian Munteanu is BIGGER than you!*

            I’m on the side of Don’t. I don’t think these were funny, and if I were his/her co worker I’d be wanting to avoid them now.

          3. Anne (with an “e”)*

            I immediately thought of the Disney tragedy when I read this. I think both jokes are definitely “not for work.”

        5. I Work on a Hellmouth*

          I gotta say, I hear all sorts of weird baby jokes where king cakes are concerned–but I also live in a place where king cake is a VERY REGULAR part of the office experience (also the high school experience, the middle school experience, and the elementary school experience). Someone saying something like “Organic baby is so much more eco-friendly than the plastic babies, anyway” wouldn’t really have me personally batting an eye, although I certainly agree that it could wind up being an unintentionally really insensitive joke to make. Probably best to keep humor pretty “general audience” friendly at work (which doesn’t rule out ALL darker humor, but does mean thinking for a sec before deadpanning a one liner).

          1. anon today and tomorrow*

            For me, it was the mention of de-boning. That’s such a visceral, creepy image and not really something I want brought up at all, but also around food. I think you could make jokes that are tame, but the de-boning is a step too far imo.

            1. wittyrepartee*

              And for me, that would be what makes it extra funny. However, given the reception it seems that it’s upsetting to some people and should be avoided.

            2. boo bot*

              Yeah, I think it’s the de-boning detail that pushed it too far as well. There’s something about extreme specificity (especially visceral, creepy specificity) that can have the effect of pushing a joke too far into “wait, is this really a joke?” territory, even if we all know rationally that the person probably doesn’t actually eat babies.

              Like, there’s a difference between, “You took my donut? I’m going to kill you!” and “You took my donut? I’m going to cut you open with nail scissors, and take it back!” One’s all in good fun, if a little intense; the other… crosses a line.

              FWIW I would have been amused by the OP, but I wouldn’t have made those jokes myself, unless I really knew my audience.

              1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*


                If someone told me “You took my donut? I’m going to kill you!” it might actually really freak me out, because I might not be able to gauge whether it was a joke or a verbal expression of a violent or dangerous temperament.

                If someone told me “You took my donut? I’m going to cut you open with nail scissors and take it back!” I would laugh uproariously, because the extreme hyperbole and improbability of it would be like a flashing neon sign saying THIS IS A JOKE, making it obvious that they were being extreme to provoke a laugh.

                Interesting how people’s viewpoints can vary so widely.

            3. ActualCannibalAnon*

              Yeah, I, personally, would find any cannibalism joke hard to take, especially one so visceral. I’ve participated in cannibalism (in a very extreme situation and not by choice), and I tend to find any mention of the topic extremely upsetting, because to me it’s not such an outlandish subject that it seems funny. That joke, in particular, would have made me gag.

              While I doubt there are a large number of traumatised cannibals at OP’s workplace, it’s also true that she literally does not know the life situations of any of her coworkers. Certainly no one I’ve ever worked for or with has been aware of that aspect of my life. I think joking about very severe violence at work is always a bad idea, and is likely to make at least one or two people uncomfortable.

        6. WellRed*

          I found that one gross, but would have recognized it as a joke. I have a coworker who definitely doesn’t have the same sense of humor as I. I do not joke with her.

        7. Traffic_Spiral*

          yeah. One alligator joke – ok, kinda random and funny. But the cake joke is sorta “um, I’m trying to eat here…” plus, as other people have said, now you’re becoming Dead Baby Joke Guy – which is even more annoying than That’s What She Said Guy.

          1. Airy*

            If another joke about a dead/eaten child or baby followed, I would be thinking it was something of an obsession with that person and either they really hate kids and dwell on it so much that it spills over in unrelated conversations like this (and I don’t expect everyone to like children or to never dislike an individual child but people who actively and intensely dislike them as a group are, in my experience, not kind or reasonable people), or that there was some kind of vore kink thing going on with them that I’d rather they kept out of work.

        8. PMP*

          Also same. 1st one I would have found some humor in, I think it’s fine, but talking about de-boned babies? Eh…that’s just weird.

        9. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I’m a big fan of the “dead baby” jokes genre, but only if the baby is dead throughout the entire joke and there’s no cannibalism. But as I get older and have more friends who have experienced the loss of their children, I am even more reserved about using any of those jokes. I would never use them at work (I hardly ever tell them even with close close friends)—they’re just too far out there for mixed company.

          1. Don P.*

            “I’m a big fan of the ‘dead baby’ jokes genre, but only if the baby is dead throughout the entire joke and there’s no cannibalism.”

            It’s an ethos.

          2. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

            I still remember every dead baby joke I learned in middle school, and that was forty years ago (and I still think they are funny!)

            But yes, I know I have an unusual sense of humor, and not everything I think is funny is shareable with everyone.

        10. Someone Else*

          To me, it’s basically the “are they made with real Girl Scouts” joke from the Addams Family movie, but King Caek.

        11. elemenohp*

          Agreed. I also have a pretty sarcastic/dark sense of humor, but the baby joke rubs me the wrong way.

          It reminds me of the dead baby-style jokes that were popular with teenage boys in the early 2000s. I was incredibly offended by those at the time (when I was also a teenager), got told that I was being too uptight, and was further tormented with more dead-baby jokes until I’d break down in tears.

          So, umm, yeah. When you make a risque joke, you never know who has what kind of baggage attached to it… and do you really want to risk upsetting a superior for a chuckle? Probably not.

          1. Very Australian*

            I had forgotten all about those awful jokes, I had the same experience as a teen in the later 2000s as well. There were times when I would almost be sick from some of the so called jokes which boys seemed to find hilarious. In my opinion, there is a very very specific audience for that humour and you probably won’t find it at work.

          2. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

            Those jokes were around when I was in grade school/middle school in the 1970s. And it wasn’t just the boys that told them!
            I still remember all of them and they still make me laugh (I am female.)
            Different strokes for different folks.

            1. teclatrans*

              But the point here — and the value in hearing from people who find the jokes upsetting — is that the LW and others should understand how their jokes might land.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          That’s how I feel, but as Psyche said, everybody finds different things funny. I have a pretty dark sense of humor but I didn’t find either of these jokes amusing, and was surprised to see how many commenters thought they were hilarious.

          1. Dragoning*

            I agree. What the heck is funny about a real baby in a cake, I wonder, even disturbing aside, that’s just gross.

        2. LJay*

          Yeah, I find that a lot of times dark humor winds up being an excuse to be inappropriate or bigoted or just plain crude without being actually funny in any way.

          I enjoy dark humor when it’s actually funny. Not when it’s a way to advertise that you’re an edgelord or used to just rile up the normies or whatever.

          1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

            Just because you don’t care for certain types of jokes doesn’t mean that the teller is “advertising [they] are an edgelord” or trying to “just rule up the normies” or whatever uncharitable spin you want to put on it.
            I’ve seen that attitude multiple times in this single thread and it’s incredibly annoying.
            Have you ever considered the possibility that a person is telling that joke you think is distasteful simply because THEY think it is funny? I mean, isn’t that the reason MOST joke tellers like to pass on their jokes?

        3. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

          As these jokes most definitely were!
          I LOL’d, anyway.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        They don’t read as jokes to me, either. More like snappy, clever patter or comebacks, which could be hilarious or off-putting depending on the audience.

        OP, I have a pretty dry sense of humor and I get it. Some people call me witty, others call me…well, other things. I think the term ‘There’s a time and place for everything,’ is a good rule to live by in general, but especially at work. Doesn’t mean you have to tell ‘dad jokes’ or avoid humor at all costs. But now that you know your boss isn’t in sync with your humor, please find another way to express humorous comments. I dial back my, um, wittiness at work and it serves me well.

        1. Lana Kane*

          Yes, same here – they definitely read to me as attempts at clever banter. Sometimes it lands, sometimes it doesn’t. For me, neither would have landed. But clearly it landed with some since you had some laughter. When there’s so much variation in reception, best to err on the side of caution when at work. Or, read the room – in certain professions, that kind of humor can be very normal and accepted as a coping mechanism.

          1. Ice and Indigo*

            Yeah. I think the thing about banter is, it depends on everyone bantering being on the same wavelength; otherwise it’s one person being a PITA to everyone else – especially if it’s the same kind of banter all the time (and two dead-baby jokes in one day is going to feel pretty constant). Dark jokes are fine if nobody gets genuinely upset by them, but the whole point of darkness is that some people will, so save it for environments where you know everyone’s a willing participant.

            Which, realistically, is more likely to be in your social life than at work, because friends bond over shared tastes while workmates are just people thrown together by a shared task.

      3. Portrait vs Landscape*

        Alligator joke was ok, not particularly original, but one joke was enough. The baby joke was just creepy and gross, and could be hurtful to someone going through baby issues. Your dark humor isn’t as cool and edgy as you think it is, and gets old really quick.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Your dark humor isn’t as cool and edgy as you think it is, and gets old really quick.

          There’s edgy and funny, and there’s edgy and not that funny, but if anyone doesn’t laugh I’ll say it’s because they’re not edgy enough. You don’t want to be that person.

        2. Scarlet2*

          Yeah, that’s where I stand too. I have a pretty dark sense of humour as well (and I’ve made jokes similar to the alligator one), but I know I really have to read the room before I make that kind of joke. Honestly, I reserve that type of humour to people who I know for a fact will like it and find it funny.

          And I do believe that 2 dead baby jokes in a row is one too many. You don’t want to flog a dead baby.

          1. smoke tree*

            I knew someone in high school who had a thing for making one dead baby joke after another, and it got annoying pretty fast. I kind of sympathize with this LW because I also have a somewhat niche sense of humour (absurdism rather than dark humour) and most people don’t really get it so I tone it down at work. But at least in my case, coworkers probably just think I’m weird. The problem with dark humour is that it has the potential to really upset someone, particularly if you don’t know them very well.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              I knew someone in high school whose personality was described as “so boring, the only jokes he makes are dead baby jokes.”

            2. MayLou*

              I had a “friend” who wouldn’t stop making dead baby jokes, even after I specifically asked and said that it was making me really uncomfortable. Others were joining in too (although to their credit they did stop after I objected). I got the feeling that my distress became part of the joke to the instigator. Horrible.

              1. Chinookwind*

                I apologize now for the discomfort I caused and promise to dial back future comments, though I think I just inadvertently proved my first comment. Honest – it wasn’t on purpose.

            3. LJay*


              Like, my boyfriend thinks he’s funny a lot of the time when he’s really not. But when his jokes don’t land, it’s more of the eye-rolling, groan inducing type of thing. Nobody is going to be offended or upset when his pun or Star Wars reference doesn’t land.

              But a dead baby or your mom joke has a lot more potential to be hurtful if it doesn’t land right with the audience. (And it could even get you fired if it’s a bad enough misjudgment. I mean there was a letter here about someone telling a 9/11 joke in an inappropriate context that I think resulted in the person being fired.)

                1. OhBehave*

                  I wonder if there was an update to this letter. Also wondering if the intern ever ‘got it’.

            4. ThatHat*

              For some reason, Dead Baby Jokes were a whole Thing when I was in high school. Like, it was our Aristocrats, practically. Everyone trying to out-do each other.

              Then they just pretty much…stopped?

              I dunno, to me they’re cringy, but cringy in a “that was awkward and childish” way. They always read as a little edgelordish and tiresome.

              (The alligator joke I wouldn’t classify as a Dead Baby Joke tho)

            5. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

              Did you go to high school in the early 1980s? Because that definitely could have been me! :-D

        3. Salamander*

          This is where I land with this, too. OP, I think you gotta save this humor for your friends and put on your work hat and tone it down in the office.

        4. Ellex*

          Not everyone who has a darker sense of humor is trying to be “cool and edgy”, some people just have a different notion of what’s funny. I would have found both jokes hilarious. The baby in the cake joke may be more amusing to people who are familiar with Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”, but understandably not so funny to anyone who has had any personal issues involving actual infants.

          But I know my sense of humor is not like most, and I’ve met people whose sense of humor I didn’t get, either.

          1. Ice and Indigo*

            I’m familiar with ‘A Modest Proposal’, as in I’ve read every word of it, and I didn’t think the cake joke was funny. And I’ve encountered real baby deaths, and that’s not particularly why I didn’t like it either. I just thought it was icky and kind of obvious.

            I don’t think it’s a lack of familiarity with the Great Works Of Satirical Literature that turns people off, any more than it’s being ‘too sensitive’ or ‘not edgy enough’. It’s just, as you say, a different notion of what’s funny.

            1. One of the Sarahs*

              I read ‘A Modest Proposal’ and other works by Swift when I was 16 in school, and I’d still just roll my eyes at dead baby jokes. On the other hand, someone suggesting I just didn’t get it because I wasn’t as well read as them would make them plummet in my estimation, because wow, that’s condescending.

          2. smoke tree*

            Eh, I think with any kind of “edgy” humour, for every truly funny person who knows how to deploy it well, there are a hundred not-so-funny people who use it to shore up tired jokes. I’m fine with macabre jokes and swearing if they are genuinely clever or the timing is right, but often the “joke” is just that you’re willing to say something relatively taboo.

            1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

              I’d say that with any kind of humor AT ALL, for every truly funny person you have 100 that can’t pull it off. I don’t think that kind of thing is limited only to dark humor, it’s universal.

              Sturgeon’s Law: Ninety percent of everything is crap.

        5. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

          It really blows my mind that so many people think that people tell dark humor jokes to be “cool and edgy”, as opposed to just telling dark humor jokes because they enjoy them and think they are genuinely funny.

      4. nnn*

        Yeah, I do have a dark sense of humour, but to me they read as really try-hard, like the speaker felt it was necessary to insert some attempt at humour at that point in the conversation and was frantically trying to come up with some quip, but what came out wasn’t A-grade material.

      5. Sir Freelancelot*

        Same. They both make me a bit uncomfortable. Especially the alligator one, that made me think about that tragedy happened in a Disney Park. I have a colleague that has this type of humor, but he decided was safer to keep it for his group of friends and not for us colleagues.

      6. motherofdragons*

        Same. I’m the mom of two toddlers, so if someone made a baby parts joke to/in front of me, I don’t think I could help picturing MY babies. I also was really affected by the story of that small child in Florida who was taken by an alligator, because again I easily imagined that happening to me and how heartbreaking it would be. I wouldn’t think of reporting them or anything extreme, but depending on our relationship I would probably request they cool it with that particular joke topic around me.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          I would have given either of these jokes a ‘euw, not amused’ face (bcs, yeah, I remember the kid in FL too) or cried, and at the second one, would have had to talk to OP about ‘not ok for a workplace’. Like Alison says, ‘harm coming to some person or thing that your audience may value’ is just not ok for a workplace.

      7. A.*

        I would be creeped out by my coworker for making those type of jokes. I wouldn’t say anything or complain but it would be something I make a mental note of, especially the part about deboning the baby.

        1. Totally Minnie*

          Same. I’d be keeping my distance from a coworker who made that many jokes of this kind. I don’t say this to make the OP feel bad about themself. I just think they should do some thinking about the way these kinds of jokes are going to land for people who are not them.

          1. LJay*

            Yeah I got into a discussion about this on Reddit the other day.

            Basically, someone made an offensive “joke” (a rhyming couplet or a sports metaphor) stating “I would have sex with a pubescent child.” Then they got offended when the parent of a pubescent child didn’t want them in their home or around their kid anymore.

            My take on it is, “Why say something like that that you don’t mean? There’s no possible upside other than giving someone a small chuckle maybe. And a huge downside if someone takes you at your word, or even if they get that it’s a joke but feel uncomfortable that you find that a joking matter.”

            Also, jokes are funny. I don’t find the above funny in any way, therefore don’t classify them as jokes. But that’s neither here nor there.

            1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

              If someone made jokes about killing people, no matter how unfunny or tasteless, I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that they must be a murderer, and the same with making horrible jokes about having sex with children, I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion they were a pedophile.
              Both of those reactions would be ludicrous.
              If the parents had other reasons to be wary of this person, then I can understand them avoiding the person, but if they are basing it one single bit of crappy doggerel, they are ridiculously overreacting. They have the right to react however they wish, but I grew up with parents who were so terrified of molesters, they restricted my sibling and I from having a normal social life. Which, by the way, didn’t actually work, because I ended up getting molested by the Trusted Family Member who was the good and upright person that no one would have ever dreamed would do something like that in a million years (because that’s almost always how it goes.)
              I hope these parents are just as wary of people who seem good and upright and like they would never molest a kid in a million years, since the vast majority of child predators are very careful not to do anything to out themselves- like publicly post dumb rhyming couplets about sex with children.

          2. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*


            Having a dark sense of humor doesn’t signify anything deeper than having a dark sense of humor. People who make dead baby jokes are not secret psychopaths or axe murderers or cannibals or puppy stompers.

            Here’s a fact: people who work in medical professions (including veterinary!) quite often have VERY dark, morbid, sick senses of humor. It’s an outlet (and a harmless one) for all the blood, guts, trauma, and death they deal with on a daily basis.

            Does that make you feel differently about your doctors and nurses to know they are most likely cracking jokes that make the ones LW told sound like light comedy? Are you going to start avoiding your pets veterinarian knowing that the techs are making sick jokes about animal parts in the treatment area? Are you suddenly going to suspect them all of being hidden psycho killers?

            I cannot BELIEVE some of the responses in this thread.
            People with a dark sense of humor just want to be edgelords. People with a dark sense of humor are suspect and to be avoided. Just…how do you people come up with this ridiculous judgemental crap? What TAF is wrong with all of you? You don’t have to like or appreciate their sense of humor, but to act like they are all either monsters or immature attention seekers is beyond al comprehension.

      8. Decima Dewey*

        I like dark humor, but you have to know your audience. Save your darker jokes for those you know will get it. Don’t assume that laughter means the joke is okay with the group. Be especially cautious around superiors or your own direct reports.

      9. Elaine*

        Counting on a sense of humor to predict how others will react is risky. I can’t tell you how many times on this very site other commenters have said something is hilarious and I think, “That wasn’t funny. It was downright mean/cruel/nasty/ignorant.” And yet I thought the baby joke was very funny. (Probably someone is thinking that is downright mean/cruel/nasty/ignorant.)

        I think it’s best to avoid making jokes unless you know everyone involved very well. Otherwise some are bound to land wrong and perhaps negatively affect your reputation at work, as well as potentially hurt or insult a coworker.

      10. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Your mileage may vary — in case you want yet another perspective. I have a dark streak, and this got away from me.
        1. The alligator, it’s just too soon since it really happened. I also have a friend who had a part of a toe bit off when he broke rules and went swimming in the inland waterways — could have been big fish, could have been small alligator. Doesn’t really matter…just too visceral a memory.
        2. The baby cake bit? It started funny then tanked. Thinking it over now, it has two levels. First, assume someone would or could replace a plastic baby with real baby. Funny — because obviously you’re putting a baby into a cooked cake and OY! what a mess, and the baby would love it. Funny. Second level, specify it’s not a live baby. Not funny, made me cringe like the horrible Helen Keller jokes my much-older family members tried to get me to laugh at.

        1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

          Ok, I keep seeing people talking about the ‘recent’ alligator attack, etc but the all I can find is the one that happened at Disney World three years ago, and three years is not recent.

      11. MeepMeep*

        Yeah, same here. It’s not that I’m offended or hurt or anything – I just don’t find these funny. The “humor” here just appears to be that you’re willing to say an offensive thing. If a coworker made such a joke, I’d just think that he was a bit socially awkward.

      12. Kisses*

        That’s how I feel and I tend to love dark jokes and humor. But yeah- baby parts in a cake? What if someone had just had a D and C? Like Allison said, leave kids and animals out of it. It’s very off-putting.

      13. RUKiddingMe*

        Me either. I have a very sarcastic, cynical sense of humor (thanks Dad!) but baby parts (or any human parts) in a cake…nope. I don’t even like the idea of the doll in the cake TBH. Alligators eating a kid? I get it..haha, but really it’s way out of place at work, and anywhere really unless one knows one’s audience is likeminded.

      14. Tyrion*

        I agree–I don’t find them offensive, but they’re just not funny. It’s try-hard edgelord humor.

        1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

          Are you always this judgemental about things that just don’t happen to appeal to your personal taste?
          Just because you dislike something doesn’t make it objectively bad.

    2. AMT*

      I think it’s important to read the room. I work in healthcare and the humor tends toward the morbid and sometimes scatological. Jokes that land spectacularly here might be horrifying in a normal office setting. Staying away from topics that might hurt or demean someone is obvious (e.g. people’s bodies, grief, sexuality), but I wouldn’t say dark humor is otherwise off limits in all work settings.

      1. Third username*

        I agree with you. My husband is a firefighter and dark humor is a coping mechanism for him and many of his colleagues. I’m sure it’s similar for you AMT.

        I agree that OP should back off a bit. Once in awhile is fine but so frequently could be off-putting. (It can be difficult to find the balance)

        1. NotACannibal*

          AMT and Third username – I appreciate your comments. While I recognize that this series of jokes strung together was a mistake, most of the intent of the question has been to seek out additional input on how to find that balance.

          1. Observer*

            Well, in your situation, that should be pretty obvious. Your boss apparently finds this off-putting, so you need to highly dial it back.

            Skip dead baby jokes, and keep the dark jokes to rare occasions.

            1. Ice and Indigo*

              And if you do tell them:

              1. Make sure they’re your absolute comedy gold. No offence, but I don’t think either of the examples you gave were funny or original enough to be worth it. (I mean, maybe you have amazing comic delivery or something, I’m just going on the words.) If you want to be dark, you’d better be hilarious.

              2. Make sure that they’re not ignorant, or based on an assumption your listeners won’t necessarily share. (Which includes ‘Being transgressive is automatically amusing.’) Someone joked about Contrapoints below, but her recent video on dark humour is actually really relevant here:

              3. Make sure there’s a grain of kindness in there somewhere. I like certain kinds of dark humour myself – there are gallows humour jokes I don’t dare make around a general audience – but dark, not nasty. I don’t think it’s as simple as ‘always punch down’, but you need to be very sure that you’re either clearly bringing some warmth along with the darkness, or else very sure that everyone will know you aren’t actually just being mean-spirited. You can’t count on the latter in a workplace scenario, so it has to be the former.

              1. Ice and Indigo*

                And by ‘punch down’, I of course mean ‘punch up’.

                This may be why I boogie out of bed every morning. My partner tells me it’s time to get up, so I get down. I was wondering why that kept happening.

          2. Busy*

            As a dark joke-lover, I can give some advice specifically to what you are asking here. Think of something in your life you love tremendously and hold at the highest value (family member, pet, plant, online avatar lol, whatever – just as long as its LOVE). And then think how you would feel if something happened to that LOVED thing. Pretty sad, right? So like dads don’t want to think about their small children being eaten by gators while telling a story about a field trip. Grandmothers don’t want to picture their grandkids baked in their cakes. And fosterers don’t want to think about nailing puppy paws to a floor. So just take all those things people really value (family, friends, pets) and don’t make violent jokes about them.

            Some people can hear a joke and not picture it happening to themselves or those they love. Most people, my experience, cannot do this. They picture their LOVE.

            That said, violence in general is not something you should really reference at work either. It can make some people feel very unsafe.

            So, just no dark humor about violence or death with coworkers in large groups. And then ONLY with coworkers you know really well, and even then? You can still and probably will cross the line at some point.

            1. SarahTheEntwife*

              I would modify that slightly and say that people can and do make jokes about horrible things happening to people/things that they love, but usually as a coping mechanism or other whistling-in-the-graveyard kind of thing, and usually with people who have the same emotional attachment to whatever they’re joking about. Making morbid jokes about your own kids with your spouse who shares your sense of humor — cool. Making morbid jokes about generic kids to people you don’t know super well and who have not signed up for your dark humor comedy sketch — usually not funny.

            2. BananaPants*

              Yup, I don’t want to envision my kids dead, deboned, and in a cake, and I question the mental health of someone who apparently thinks it’s hilarious. We have friends and family members who have been through the trauma of stillbirth and death of an infant or young child – it was the opposite of funny.

              1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

                That’s both insulting and ableist to equate dark humor with questionable mental health.

        2. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

          I used to be a vet tech on the emergency shift of a 24 hr animal hospital. Dark & morbid humor abounded in that environment!

      2. Batgirl*

        Same with reporters and cops. Meetings filled with people wiping their eyes and saying ‘oh if the public ever heard this stuff’.
        But I can’t tell those types of jokes now I’m in education.

      3. Oxford Comma*

        Exactly. It’s a know your audience approach. OP: it sounds like you just realized you didn’t know your audience as well as you thought you did. The second joke reads creepy to me. I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way, but it comes off as if you’ve given thought to deboning babies.

        I would probably dial it back at work.

    3. Fortitude Jones*

      See, this is why I miss being a liability claims adjuster – macabre jokes is what we do. I too thought the jokes were funny.

    4. Akl all*

      I once told a dead baby joke to a stranger in a bar. He replied with he had a child still born – learned my lesson for sure.

    5. Tulip*

      I found them hilarious too, but I concur with everyone saying that this risky type of humor is best avoided at work — save it for drinks with friends who you know will appreciate it!

    6. Shad*

      My office is a little different on the dark humor front—I came in to a group who already bonded over true crime podcasts so I think a little more dark humor would be acceptable. But I still keep it relatively light and tend towards what I’d call self effacing dark humor—things like calling my allergy shots my monthly stabbing.

    7. Gymmie*

      The first part about questioning if a gator ate a kid is lighthearted fun, the second part of the gator joke..not so much. The thing about the baby part is really gross and not funny at all – neither in or outside work. I would just find someone to not have good decision making abilities to not be able to keep that stuff under wraps. There are lots of “weird” people I would not hang out with outside of work, but I don’t question their abilities as a coworker or not respect them. If I had someone at work making these kinds of jokes, I really would want to steer clear. I know this might reads as very harsh – but baking dead baby parts into a cake?

    8. Margali*

      This is a good place for the quote from author John Scalzi, “The failure mode of clever is a**hole.” Risking that failure mode when you are out with friends is one thing, but it could have more consequences for you in a work situation.”

    9. Essess*

      I found the first one amusing but I was bothered by the second one. I think it was the fact that it caused a mental image of dead baby parts in the food I was about to eat.

      1. Autumnheart*

        Yeah. It’s like making poop jokes while someone’s about to eat chocolate pudding or Tootsie Rolls, except with cannibalism included. Don’t make gross jokes about people’s food when they’re trying to eat it!

  2. Anonymous Poster*

    Yeah. Some dark humor can be really great, but limited quantities. It’s not just dark humor that should be in limited quantities too though, so don’t feel singled out by that. At the end of the day too much of any humor gets tiring.

    I’d steer clear of baby jokes altogether though. The gator attack one I thought would be fine, but not baby jokes generally. But that’s because I think the gator one is more in the line of being ridiculous than really dark, and absurdity in humor is generally ok.

    1. Kathleen_A*

      I agree with those assessments as well. I mean, the baby one isn’t just dark – it’s also gross (at least to me). So to be successful with it, you have to tell it to people who like their humor both dark *and* gross. Those people are out there, OP, but there probably not that many of them are right there in your department.

      I like the alligator one a lot, BTW.

    2. Snark*

      Yeah. I’ve been in offices where there’s that one guy who’s constantly going for the sitcom laugh track, and it comes off antic and attention-seeky and a little exhausting, even if any one joke would be funny and appropriate in context. As someone who has been that guy on occasion, I feel like there’s huge value in letting most of your impulses to tell a joke die on the vine, and wait for the one that’s actually going to slay.

      1. ursula*

        God, this. It is not necessary to get laughs in every office conversation and this tendency absolutely can get exhausting for coworkers. I have had to curb a bit of this tendency in myself, too, so I get it. But like… you don’t have to make these people like you like that. You were hired for other qualities. (Unless you are a pro comedian, I guess?)

      2. NotACannibal*

        Point taken. When I first started working in an office setting, I came across as very quiet and fairly reserved. (I also was extremely nervous at all times.) Part of the way I was able to become more friendly with co-workers and feel more at ease was by sprinkling in small amounts of humor (of course, much more benign jokes that would garner the occasional chuckle). My work group is small and our sense of humor is fairly aligned. However, I do recognize the occasional instance of being “that guy” as something to be more aware of.

        1. Portrait vs Landscape*

          I wouldn’t count on all your work group being aligned on sense of humor. Even if someone is uncomfortable by hamfisted unfunny jokes they laugh anyway because they rather be uncomfortable than be known as “that killjoy co-worker”. Just knock it off with the jokes.

        2. Lucille2*

          Humor can be a great way to break the ice or ease some of the tension when used well. I think you hit the nail on the head with “small amounts of humor.” I mean, we’re all here over analyzing your letter without really understanding the context, but you really should reflect on whether or not you’re trying too hard at this point. Maybe the boss is a killjoy, maybe you touched a nerve, or maybe he’s just getting tired of the constant zingers. The point is that your boss is giving you the cue to adjust, and if you don’t, the next step is going to be a conversation about it. Alison’s advice is great. The comments are pretty mixed about whether or not the jokes are funny, and most workplaces will be similar.

      3. Doug Judy*

        My best friends brother is “that guy” Any conversation he tries to make joke and usually as shocking and gross as possible. Rarely is it actually funny or clever. It wasn’t so bad because I only saw him a handful of times a year but then came social media. I wasn’t Facebook friends with him but on anything she would post he would make like 10 comments trying to out joke himself. Like a picture of her kids eating dinner would cause him to post five jokes about child abuse and such. Sometimes she’d tell him to knock it off, but usually she let it go. I ended up blocking him because it was so annoying.

      4. Zap Rowsdower*

        I have a sarcastic sense of humor and love my one-liners. Even though I don’t try to go for the sitcom laugh track, I sometimes get typecast as the “funny one” if I’m not careful. Let me tell you, it gets annoying to have your co-workers think your perfectly serious comment is a joke.

        Ever see an actor or comedian on a talk show and they make a perfectly bland statement that’s clearly not intended as a joke and the audience/host starts laughing away at it? (HA HA HA, Funny Guy says funny things! Say something funny, Funny Guy!!!) Then the guest looks at the audience like they’ve gone insane? Yeah, it’s like that.

        My advice to the OP and other funny people: tone it down a bit. Be known for good work and not for being the funny one.

    3. Zona the Great*

      Yes. My partner used to love to tell “dead baby jokes” which usually ended with weird punchlines of babies in blenders or other really twisted things. I asked him never to tell them again. He never has. Dead babies are not funny.

      1. Jennifer*

        If a kid eaten by a gator is funny, why can’t a dead baby be? Not trying to be snarky, but both things would be pretty horrific if they happened IRL. I don’t understand why people think there is such a big difference between the two.

        1. ChimericalOne*

          Both types of jokes are reliant on you not actually picturing the scenario, with its accompanying tragedy.

          The “eating baby parts” joke is just a little more visceral.

          It’s also less funny, IMO, because it’s more of a stretch — you don’t hide fake baby *parts* in the cake, you hide a fake baby. So to jump from that to “hide a real baby in the cake” would be more funny, to me (both dark & absurdly impossibly), whereas “cut a baby into parts and hide part of it in the cake instead” is … like, trying too hard? Especially when you add in the “oh, you’d have to debone it, too, or it doesn’t work.” Like, it’s still a choking hazard if it’s real baby parts, so…

          Anyway, sorry for dissecting (no pun intended) a fairly-gross-to-start-with joke! But I definitely *do* do dark humor, and I’m with those saying, “Too dark & not funny — avoid” on this. (Also, it just highlights that dark humor is riskier when it falls flat than normal humor — if it’s not funny, people do start to wonder why you’re reaching for it.)

          1. Scarlet2*

            Yeah, I guess it’s the reason why I thought the first one was generally fine, but the second one was overkill (pun sort-of intended).

          2. boo bot*

            It’s the two-step problem: you can’t expect a casual audience to follow more than one cognitive leap per witty quip.

        2. Anonyna*

          I think it has to do with a child being eaten by an alligator is probably going to be accidental but a baby in a cake is probably not. FWIW, I didn’t find either joke funny or offensive, just something that would make me say “well that was bizarre” to myself.

        3. LawLady*

          I would argue that the distinction is that one is absurd, while the other is realistic. Babies are fragile and lots of people lose pregnancies or infants. General dead baby imagery may disturb them. Alligator attacks, meanwhile, are infrequent. So it’s unlikely to remind anyone of something horrific that has happened to them personally.

          That said, if you do happen to know that, say, your coworker’s father was eaten by an alligator, don’t make that joke either. I think it’s mostly about gauging statistics. With dead babies, a non-trivial portion of the population may have had something horrific and dead baby-related happen to them.

          1. Emi.*

            The alligator joke immediately reminded me of that news story about the child who was eaten by an alligator in Florida while I was pregnant, actually, so even when it’s not personal it’s not absurd.

          2. Jennifer*

            Alligator attacks really aren’t that infrequent for people that live in Florida or Louisiana, but I do take your point.

          3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I agree that the distinction is about absurdism v. realism (although I recognize that it is not absurd to think a gator will eat a child, but outside of the Gulf, I don’t think most folks have experience with that reality). But also, as ChimericalOne notes, the baby-in-a-cake joke was also trying way too hard. The more graphic it became, the less funny it became.

            1. Ice and Indigo*

              I think that for people not used to alligators being a genuine threat, it worked as absurd because it was an inversion of expectations. Expectation: you go to an alligator place so the kids will have fun watching the gators. Inversion: you go to an alligator place so the alligators will have fun eating the kids. It’s a fairly basic flip, and if you live in a world where it’s an improbable thing to happen, you get silliness. It’s like pretending you think Disney’s Animal Kingdom has an actual animal king, or something like that.

              The baby-in-a-cake flips ‘baby doll’ to ‘actual baby’, which is less of a change, which is probably why people find it less funny – at least if they’re looking for inverted-expectation humour rather than gross-out humour or the sheer pleasure of transgression.

              Okay, shutting up now.

            2. Phrunicus*

              “The more graphic it became, the less funny it became.”

              Yeah, the quip above, something like “Yeah, organic baby would be more eco-friendly than plastic anyway” IMO would’ve gone better, because it keeps it more abstract and absurdist.

              I mean, there’s a time an place and delivery for a joke about boned/deboned dead things, and it’s Monty Python’s “Crunchy Frog” sketch…

        4. Jennn*

          I get what you mean, it makes sense logically, but I think making jokes about older kids vs. babies does differ, feeling-wise.

          Babies possess this extra layer of fragility/helplessness that I don’t think older kids do anymore. Babies are much more physically/medically vulnerable when they’re so tiny (or they at least feel that way to shell shocked new parents). Both kids and babies can be very difficult, needy and annoying, and I think that’s where a lot of jokes about kids comes from (we love them, but my god, it’s so much work sometimes). But babies can’t help being so needy and that makes joking about them getting hurt feel more icky, IMO.

          Also, the OP’s two jokes differ in who is doing the eating. The alligator is an animal, a third party, and doing what it is meant to do in its nature (eating other creatures to sustain itself, or maybe protect its territory). A person eating a kid, OTOH, violates pretty much any social norm that could possibly exist. There is no distance from the scenario, either, since the OP is the cannibal and not a hypothetical third person.

          1. LawBee*

            And they were talking about a cake that was in the room right there in front of them.

            I’m not generally grossed out, but I would have had to throw that cake away.

        5. Double A*

          I have to say that as a new mother (my baby is about 5 months), I have a really hard time letting dead baby jokes roll off right now. I’m tired and hormonal and maybe fighting some postpartum depression, so even thinking about a baby dying is quite upsetting, and having a coworker joke about dead babies would throw me off and make it harder to do my (already very difficult) job right now. Also, I know a LOT of people who have lost pregnancies, and a few who have lost babies, so the likelihood that your audience has experienced something like that is high. It’s a lot less likely your audience has known a kid that’s been eaten by a gator, though if anyone does it’s gonna be a pretty bleak joke.

          (That being said, as a teacher I have often joked about losing kids of field trips–like before going telling the kids they need to be at the meeting place on time, because we’re required to bring back at least 90% of them. Or if they are refusing to stop doing something unsafe like tipping back in their chair, is that I don’t want them to hurt themselves because then I have to fill out a lot of paperwork).

          1. Perpal*

            Yeah when I became a mom (Well, really, when I started WANTING to be a mom) suddenly babies in distress really bothered me where they hadn’t before. I can’t even watch/read anything fiction with babies being seriously sick, hurt or killed because it generally makes me upset and wonder why I’m reading/watching this “for fun”. And I used to have a really dark sense of humor and be totally down with horror movies etc with that kind of stuff.

          2. New (working) mom*

            Same. I can’t handle dead baby jokes since becoming a parent. I had a pregnancy with a heightened risk of late term still birth, so I spent months worrying about an actual dead baby and the thought of it still freaks me out. I’m fine with a lot of dark humor (my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer years ago and his doctors were regularly weirded out by the jokes we’d make during appointments) but dead baby jokes make me feel physically ill. Miscarriages are common enough that I think you shouldn’t risk a dead baby joke in any professional setting because you could easily alienate a coworker/manager.

            1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

              Yeah, I didn’t get nausea with my pregnancy but I got debilitating panic attacks and anxiety about losing my son (we had a chemical pregnancy prior to him but those were our only two in 10 years of marriage so we were both on edge). Then instead of PPD I got PPA and would jerk awake any time I started to sleep just certain that he had stopped breathing. I spent six months unable to sleep unless I was touching him, but also as soon as I would sleep I would wake up sure he was dead. I still honestly have PTSD about it.

              Now, in my edge lord days, I watched marathons of criminal minds or law and order. I actually love A Modest Proposal and used to teach it in my writing class when we covered satire. Now? I can’t.

              Op’s first joke probably would have amused me as long as the implication was clear he meant a general ‘imaginary’ some kid, not my kid or a real specific kid got eaten. I have a twisted sense of humor. The second one I probably would have responded, though in a way that derailed things, bc through my 20s I had that group of guy friends who used to like to try to shock or gross each other out so I learned either to have no reaction or to come up with a weird nonsequitor. (for example, this joke might have had me say something like ‘but choking on a plastic baby is my favorite part about eating cake! I like to sprinkle them in my deserts and live on the wild side!’)

          3. Lucille2*

            I’m in this camp too. Before kids, I might have found OP’s jokes funny or at worst, just awkward and not funny. After becoming a parent, things of this nature just touch a nerve for me. There are so many movies and tv shows I used to love but cannot stomach anymore. I can hardly watch the news anymore.

            1. Obelia*

              Same here. It’s been a few years now and my reactions have calmed down a bit (in the first few months after the baby was born I used to get emotional singing “Five Little Ducks” imagining how worried the mummy duck must have been) but anything to do with kids being hurt or distressed still freaks me out.

        6. Jules the 3rd*

          Kid eaten by gator’s not really funny either. Nor is it ridiculous – it happened this decade.

          I really like Alison’s suggestion – avoid jokes about harm coming to people or things your audience is likely to value. Gators eating dogs or cats aren’t funny either, they are distressing. (My sense of humor is absurdist)

      2. nodramalama*

        They’re not funny to you. Not all humour has to be everyone’s humour, and you try pick your audience. But i’d hardly say that’s a hard and fast rule. I personally am not offended by dead baby jokes

    4. Smithy*

      I agree with this. Dark humor – along with dry, sarcastic, vulgar, bodily function etc. humor not only demands reading the room well but at work, it can also be a shift for your coworkers to go from working brain to socializing brain. And if your coworkers don’t have families or social groups that often use that kind of humor – the shift is harder.

      I think the plus side for the OP is that after one day, the OP did notice that it might not the right humor for the manager. If the jokes were largely received well and told in an appropriate place (i.e. not in front of clients or senior leadership), then it likely will do no lasting damage. And going forward the OP can be more mindful both of the other jokes coworkers are telling but also of how the manager responds.

  3. Bagpuss*

    I think it’s also a case of learning from experience. If you know that your manager’s sense of humour is different from yours, maybe reduce the number of jokes you make around that person. I think that would probably apply even if your jokes weren’t on the macabre side.

    Making others uncomfortable isn’t generally a great idea, and making yuour manager uncomfortable is probably a particualrly bad idea!

    1. Anonym*

      I think this gets to the heart of the broader trickiness with humor – just not feeling/getting someone’s jokes of any kind causes discomfort and disconnection. I say this as someone whose humor is more absurd than dark (thank you, childhood of Monty Python), and I’ve felt people get uncomfortable when I say something strange that just one or two other colleagues laugh at. It can make people feel excluded, or suddenly on the wrong foot. And I don’t want my colleagues to feel that way – it’s a bummer.

      I try to save the humor for one on one situations and slowly feel people out over time.

      1. NotACannibal*

        I’ve never had a good explanation for my sense of humor, but “thank you, childhood of Monty Python” is my new catchphrase.

        On a more serious note, +1 to your entire comment.

        1. Ice and Indigo*

          Though if you have an impulse to quote Python all the time, do resist it. Either people won’t get the reference and think you’re being needlessly weird, or they will and they’ll have heard it a million times before and don’t need co-workers making it a million and one. Python gets quoted to death; I like the original sketches but I don’t at all like opportunistic re-enactors, and I doubt I’m alone in that.

      2. TootsNYC*

        If your joke is a Dad joke kind of pun and I don’t think it’s funny, what’s the downside?

        But if your joke is about dismembering babies, or children being eaten by alligators, and I don’t think it’s funny, then you look mean or gross.

      3. Le Sigh*

        Agreed, this is another reason it’s good to be mindful of humor in the workplace. Group dynamics can quickly turn so snarky or in-jokey that people feel excluded, which is not good for a workplace (and not what I think the OP intended, it’s just a good thing to keep in mind).

        I worked with a group of bro-skis who spent all day telling in-jokes–not necessarily dark or absurd or even clever, just stupid in-jokes–and, besides it just being obnoxious, it really messed up the dynamics and felt almost deliberate.

      4. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I was going to quip “childhood of Monty Python & Douglas Adams” and then remembered I’d just learned that Douglas Adams worked *WITH* some of the Pythons. So childhood of Python AND Adams for me.
        And M*A*S*H, which went into the ridiculous and the dark alike.

    2. Lucille2*

      It’s not necessarily only the manager OP is making uncomfortable. It’s possible the manager knows of someone else in the room who could be triggered or disturbed by OP’s jokes. Have you ever been in the room with an ill-timed joke knowing someone else in the room is likely the butt of that joke? Even if the joke teller is unaware? Lots of nervous laughs and shifty looks. This isn’t just, clean things up in front of manager, it’s be aware of your surroundings.

  4. Ali G*

    OK I lol’ed at both of those jokes! But yeah, maybe 2x in one day is too much for your boss.

      1. Not Patricia*

        Same- I enjoy dark humor. Sounds like everyone else laughed at the joke, too, so she probably read the room well enough (other than the manager for the second joke).

        1. LawBee*

          Not necessarily. People could have been laughing out of surprise, because they didn’t know how else to react, out of discomfort, etc. Maybe they all thought it was hilarious, maybe not.

          But it’s a risky move to tell repeated jokes about dead children in one day.

      2. Sarah*

        Right?! The detail of “properly de-boned” had me rolling. I probably wouldn’t make those jokes in my office (or around any of my friends with kids) but with people that I know share my sense of humour…oh man. That joke would kill! (Ba-dum chhh!)

  5. I'm A Little Teapot*

    While I enjoy some dark humor, in general you need to limit it. In my view: the alligator joke – ok; the cake joke – not ok; both together – way too much. If you are talking with someone who you know appreciates that kind of humor, you can use a bit more, but I would keep it more restrained around others. Too many people won’t find it funny, and in an office, you need to be cognizant of that.

    1. Delta Delta*

      That’s how this struck me, too. The alligator joke felt more like good comedic timing, which probably added to the laughs it got. I have sort of a dry sense of humor that I know people don’t always get. I try to parcel out my dry jokes in little bits so that it doesn’t become too much. I do a joke maybe every other or every third time. Less fun for me, but also probably more appropriate than every time.

    2. DataGirl*

      Agreed. The alligator joke was funny. I’m not sure if I can say why, maybe because it’s ridiculous? And I think many parents would agree that chaperoning school field trips is one of the circles from hell and there’s always at least one kid you’d hope would be eaten by an alligator. But dead babies and cannibalism, no. That’s too emotionally loaded.

      1. Oh So Anon*

        There’s a bit of in-group vs. out-group stuff going on with the alligator one, though. Like it’s okay to make a “field trips are the seventh circle of hell” joke if you’re a parent, but it can come across differently if you don’t have children.

        1. Jennifer*

          I don’t have kids but I understood it. Maybe parents would get it on a different level, but I don’t think you have to have kids to get any joke that references kids. Plus many people who are childless spend a lot of time with kids and understand how stressful a field trip with a bunch of little ones would be.

          1. Oh So Anon*

            I don’t have kids either, and I got the joke – I’d expect most people without children to get the joke because most people know what kids on field trips are like. What I meant is that telling the joke to a group of people that includes parents if you don’t have kids could have a bit of an snarky “haha lol breeders” connotation whereas if a parent tells that joke in a group of other parents there’s more of a “we’re all in this together” vibe.

            1. your favorite person*

              Yeah, exactly. I’m kind of in-between life stage right now where I’m currently pregnant but don’t have any other kids. If someone who doesn’t have kids says both of these in two days, I might think they have some extreme opinions about kids/parenting in general. Now, of course, if they are otherwise lovely, considerate people I would brush it off, but edgy humor is edgy for a reason.
              I have one friend who, when we told them we were pregnant (after 7 years of marriage, two houses, etc) said to us, “you know, some of us are trying to actively avoid that.” OK, and?? The correct response would be ‘congrats.’ So, for example, I would side-eye two kid harming jokes from him whereas, I wouldn’t from other friends.

    3. Holly*

      Yes, I did think there was a line with the taste level there – the alligator joke, fine, but the visual of a baby being deboned and baked is a little too visceral for the workplace. I’d keep it to alligator joke level.

    4. The Cosmic Avenger*

      I agree; I was thinking that most people I know would have appreciated the first joke, but I would have only told the king cake joke among people I knew well enough to appreciate a joke like that. It’s rather explicit, although personally I love it, I can see how it would be pretty disturbing to some people.

    5. Jack Be Nimble*

      Agreed! A theme park offering refunds if kids don’t get eaten by alligators feels very absurd, but the joke about baby cannibalism is just gruesome. I’d laugh at the first and not at the second, and it might color my opinion of my colleague, if it wasn’t just a one-off.

      Slightly off-topic, but worth mentioning: I used to use macabre humor as a coping mechanism during a really dark period of my life, and I think on some level, it was a veiled cry for help and a pretty transparent attempt to get a rise out of people by pushing boundaries. It got me into some trouble at work, which should have been a warning sign that I wasn’t just being dark, I was being aggressive and making others uncomfortable.

      This is not to say that all dark humor is always inappropriate or maladaptive, but if 90% of your humor is relentlessly grim and you’re alienating people or getting odd looks at work, it’s worth checking in with yourself and asking why you’re drawn to such dark topics.

      1. Safetykats*

        I think the alligator joke wouldn’t have been funnier, and more quirk appropriate, if turned around a bit. Maybe not a refund if no kids eaten, by since your boss chaperoned, he was clearly successful if no kids were eaten (or bitten, to tone down a little.) Along those lines, my 10-year old niece is a traffic safety office this year. When I asked her how her first week went, she said she doesn’t have too many kids crossing at her intersection, but none of them were hit by cars. So, success.

    6. Bulbasaur*

      Agreed. The first one was well timed, funny and didn’t conjure up any disturbing mental images (although I would probably still avoid it if I lived in Florida, for example, or anywhere alligator attacks were actually a thing). The baby joke, not so much.

      Perhaps a good rule of thumb would be whether you can mentally picture it in a humorous PG-style cartoon format. I can definitely do that with the alligator, but there is no way to make it work with the other one.

  6. Lyra Silvertongue*

    I actually think the tone of the first joke is way different to the second one, because the second one is of this ‘dead baby’ dark humour genre that a lot of people really don’t like. That specific jokes doesn’t bother me personally (though may for other people as Alison stated) but I would associate it with a genre of humour that is often used by people trying to be edgy, and often found on corners of the internet where a lot of other unsavoury stuff passes for humour as well (specifically racist, homophobic, and sexist jokes). That is what would make me uncomfortable, more than the joke itself.

    1. Rebekah*

      I agree the second joke seems on a completely different level for some reason, maybe the visceral details involved?

      1. KHB*

        To me, the first joke has an element of “unexpected twist” type humor to it, whereas the second one is “funny” based on its sheer offensiveness. That may be a distinction to draw: Dead-baby jokes of the form “Dead babies! Hahahahaha!” are a no-go at work (or really, anywhere else), whereas jokes that have dark themes but don’t rely on the idea that offensiveness = inherently funny are maybe OK in very limited amounts.

        1. Thursday Next*

          “A Modest Proposal” took this on. It’s a horrifying read in service of a worthy point. It wasn’t shock for shock’s sake, or a “joke.”

          I doubt OP is Jonathan Swift. Sorry to be harsh, but OP, you need to stay away from saying anything about dead children.

              1. Thursday Next*

                Sorry, got cut off—the full point of AMP wasn’t to make a joke, as the OP’s point is.

            1. Dragoning*

              Yes, and I’ve read that a couple times in classes. I can’t remember anyone actually finding the entire thing all that funny. Certainly no one laughed at any of it.

              1. Dankar*

                That’s so opposite my experience. I remember it being a sort of uproarious read in high school and college, though I know at least some of it was nervous laughter. They were certainly in the minority, though.

              2. boo bot*

                I think that’s the nature of satire, though – it’s rare that a piece of political satire will be as funny almost 300 years later, because it’s a commentary on the specific time and place it was written.

                Which I think just goes back to knowing your audience.

              3. Seeking Second Childhood*

                It wasn’t funny at the time either — it was satirical. It took an assumption to an absurd conclusion to point out how awful is the original assumption.
                Apologies to OP & Alison because I’m digressing.

            2. Observer*

              Sure. But it wasn’t actually meant to be funny. It was meant to highlight the cruelty of certain policies and attitudes.

              Essentially he was saying “Do you holy people realize that what you are doing is not morally better than cannibalism?”

      2. ggg*

        I don’t like it either, but then I thought, hey, this was probably the one situation where joke about eating a baby could flow naturally from a conversation about accidentally eating a (pretend) baby.

    2. OhNo*

      I think ‘dead baby’ jokes in general not only is off-putting to many people, but has some connotations of… well, what I can best describe as ‘teenage edgelord’, which are not flattering.

      I’d suggest steering clear of them at work, not only out of respect for your coworkers, but also to manage your own image. Go ahead and share them with coworkers that you know share the same sense of humor, but avoiding them in mixed company is probably best.

    3. Prarie*

      Agree. and would like to add that even if some people in a group do find them funny, it is not worth how much it could upset some listeners.
      Cautionary tale for the letter writer: One of my friends told a dead baby joke at a seasonal job. No one expressed any concern at the time but someone filed a complaint. He is not eligible for re-hire because of it.

  7. Anonymous36*

    I think OP sort of answered their own question when they said that their manager “nervously laughed and had the most concerned look on his face.” If you’re worried that your dark humor isn’t being received in a good way, then that’s your cue to tone it down. I have a pretty dark sense of humor myself so I definitely know the struggle, but in this case you’ve just gotta listen to your gut and hold back.

  8. Armchair Analyst*

    Dark Humor is visiting the OP at work.
    OP: I’ll see you later… Alligator! Wait, that’s not even funny….
    Dark Humor: I’ll see myself out.

  9. Sean*

    I share your sense of humor, and in my experience, the smaller the crowd the better to avoid the chances of it landing with a thud. But Allison is right – you don’t know what’s going on in someone’s life and how a joke might be interpreted, so you have to be really cautious.

  10. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    A lot of this also depends on your profession/sector, OP. For example, ER doctors and lawyers are infamous for gallows humor. But most of us try to moderate it in other settings. (I say this as someone who really loves a specific subtopic of “completely inappropriate in almost all settings,” macabre jokes.)

    I’d also be cautious about sarcastic humor. Sometimes it’s more caustic than sarcastic, and it can often sound like passive-aggressive griping in the workplace. But if you steer clear of death, animals, and babies/kids (and of course sex jokes, dark or not dark) you should be mostly ok.

    1. starsaphire*

      Came here to say this very thing. :)

      Safety officers too — a lot of cops and EMTs and such that I know have this sort of sense of humor. A lot of times, it’s a survival mechanism.

      It’s all about knowing the right situation and the right audience.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I was thinking this–jobs where people deal with actual dead or dismembered kids often have a line of very dark humor as a way of coping. Part of that coping mechanism is that the jokes you tell in the operating room are not the jokes you tell with a general gathering of diverse people over brunch.

      When I left the Peace Corps, part of the exit seminar was to explicitly spell out that you needed to not tell people the exact consistency, smell, and color of your last bowel movement. Even though you were in a narrow context where that was totally normal conversation following on “Hey, hi, haven’t seen you in a while”–when you were not among your fellow volunteers encountered on a rare trip to the central office, this was going to be weird. (We all automatically knew not to do this in regular conversation with locals at our work or home–it was specifically ex-pat conversation cued by being surrounded by people of the same background as yourself, like our feelings about hamburgers. We were about to transition to being always surrounded by that type of person, rather than rarely.)

    3. Sarah*

      Our old company lawyer was a dry, sarcastic (and completely hilarious) jerk who nevertheless warned us about using sarcasm in emails. We had a tendency to joke back and forth and he said, “Look, you know I can be as sarcastic a jerk as anybody, but 6 months or a year or two years down the line if this is read in a deposition, the humour won’t come out. I promise. It’ll look like you mean what you say, so try to only ever put things you mean into writing, mmmkay?”

      1. Mystery Bookworm*

        I’ve worked in medical/hospital settings, and in many cases, while happy hour conversations could be quite sarcastic and humorous, people tended to have sort of a ‘game face’ on during work hours, which meant that relatively little dark humor was employed.

        (That said, I’ve always been in a clinical setting where there is the possibility that users could overhear, but I think it’s also a mindset thing. It’s easier to have the work mindset, where you’re sincere in your efforts to connect with and help people, and then an after-work mindset, where you’re allowing yourself the space to process everything that just happened and be human.)

        I’m sure this varies a lot by workplace though.

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          Interesting — I’ve found that as a patient, dark humor tends to fall completely flat with doctors which is annoying since it’s one of my major coping strategies when dealing with health stuff. I wonder if it’s throwing them out of work-headspace.

    4. Batgirl*

      I know a teacher who uses sarcasm with low ability kids. Even though its a genuine attempt at humour, it’s so much no. They hate her to her bones.

    5. hbc*

      Yeah, I think some of it is about whether you expect to have your brain taken in that direction. I like dark humor but I have to be in the mindset to not be grossed out or feel empathy. If I was already cutting people open or dealing with weeping wounds, no problem. About to have some delicious cake that might have a plastic doll in it? Uh, not prepared.

    6. Flower*

      Yeah I’m a grad student.
      I research pain.
      We use animal models.

      Dark humor about those situations is a given. We all think our work is important and value what we’ll learn from it, and we also all feel bad about what we do to our animal subjects.

  11. ten-four*

    This may be my favorite piece of advice from this site (well, at least today): “And yes, some of the funniest humor is risky in some way. But you’re not really being asked to bring that kind of sharp edge to work, where your job is to get along with other people, not to entertain.”

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Yes. I think it’s like fashion–if you’re working at Vogue, taking wild fashion risks lands very differently than it does at an insurance agency.

    2. motherofdragons*

      This is definitely some A++ advice! I appreciate that she really emphasizes that the solution is NOT to make yourself bland and vanilla, but to recognize that there’s a time and place that may or may not be your work setting.

  12. StressedButOkay*

    While my sense of humor isn’t dark humor, it is very much sarcastic/self-deprecating. And it’s all very much about reading the room and pulling back a little bit at work – which I do find hard to do because I use humor to deflect a lot. But I’ve come to learn that not everyone can read sarcasm well, especially when I’m targeting myself, and that while we spend most of our time at work, it’s really not the place sometimes for that kind of humor.

    It’s hard self-editing humor but it’s probably a good idea when it’s edgy or hard to read. Your boss gave you a signal, whether they were meaning to do it or not, and it’s a good one to listen to.

    1. knitter*

      Definitely agree that not everyone can read sarcasm. I unintentionally offended a coworker last week with my use of sarcasm, so I definitely need to check myself.

      A coworker (who I supervise but don’t manage), a supervisor and I were discussing a training and I said something that I thought would land as sarcastic about not training her. The intent was to help reinforce her boundaries around certain responsibilities I knew she didn’t want to get roped into, but it did not land that way. She checked in later and said she always assumes the best but wanted to know what I meant. So… lesson learned and I need to clarify the comment with the supervisor.

    2. Nonny*

      Depending on the person, self-deprecating humor can also get exhausting to listen to– especially if it’s someone you don’t know as well, and may therefore be more inclined to wonder every time if they really mean it or what kind of response they’re fishing for or don’t want to laugh even if you are pretty sure it’s a joke because then it’ll seem like you’re agreeing.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        People you constantly have to reassure are exhausting, and self-deprecating humor can definitely land this way.

        1. OhNo*

          Agreed. My humor tends toward self-deprecating, and I really have to rein it in at work because it’s not only exhausting for others, but can really affect your professional reputation. If you joke about how you suck all the time, eventually others will start believing it.

          1. MeMeMe*

            This is so painfully true.

            Me: “Ha ha, I’m such a dummy!”
            [Also me: “I know I’m not really a dummy, and I have the rest of my life experience to prove it.”]

            Them, eventually: “Ha ha, you’re such a dummy!”
            [Also them: “I don’t know her beyond the 28 minutes I see her in total every week, and she spends half of the time telling me she’s dumb, so…welp, she seems pretty dumb to me!”]

            Me: “WTF, why are these assholes treating me like I’m a dummy? I can handle things! I’m smart! Not like everybody says, like I’m dumb. I’m smart and I want respect!”

            1. Autumnheart*

              Totally. I’ve made an effort to change self-deprecating humor into subtle propaganda.

              Me, after a mistake: “Yikes! I’m clearly a genius this morning.” Self-deprecating in the moment according to the tone, but the overall estimation of my intelligence is still a positive one.

      2. Mystery Bookworm*

        Honestly, depending on the setting, any kind of knee-jerk humor (dark, self-deprecating, bland ‘Office Space’) gets exhausting.

        I find it can be work checking in with myself to make sure the humor isn’t being deployed thoughtlessly as a kind of conversational support.

    3. Mimi Me*

      Self-editing is hard, but it is doable. My 13 year old is the most sarcastic creature on this planet (product of two super sarcastic parents!). I’ve had three teachers in the last year tell me that they’re often not sure if she’s joking or serious to her dead-pan delivery. Another teacher told me that she was intimidated by how quick and sarcastic my daughter’s humor is and how sometimes the comments don’t land as “jokes” with some of the students. We had to have a sit down talk about how not everyone understands sarcasm or dark humor and that while teachers are legally obligated to continue teaching her, a future employer may not be under those same obligations so it was best to rein it in now before she started working. So far, so good. Now if I could only do something about the sighing and eye rolling.

      1. beckysuz*

        Are we sister wives ? This sounds exactly like my 13 yo old daughter. Also a product of sarcastic parents. I’m still trying to teach her that there is a difference sometimes between sarcastic burn and just being an asshole;)

        1. Mimi Me*

          OMG yes! I tell my kid that she needs to be careful because someday, someone is going to react negatively to something she says and there won’t be a teacher or adult there to de-escalate the situation.

    4. The Cleaner*

      I’d add an important corollary to “not everyone can read sarcasm well,” and that is “not everyone can deliver sarcasm well.”

      1. Totally Minnie*

        This. A friend of a friend was a person who thought she was sarcastic but really just came off as an insulting jerk. It’s a fine line and if you ever too far, people are not going to appreciate it.

    5. MeMeMe*

      I used to make fun of myself constantly until I noticed other people were taking me at my word, and it hurt. Then I’d get upset that they thought of me in such a negative light, and then I’d have to admit to myself that I was the one who started shining that negative light onto myself in the first place. They prooooobably wouldn’t be calling me a clumsy oaf to my face if I hadn’t been the one to do it first. So, yes, they’re being rude, but I gave them the stick to beat me with, so to speak.

      At some point I thought, This is a whole cycle of shame I really don’t need in my life, so I’m just going to opt out. No more self-deprecating jokes for no reason. Sometimes they can be useful at easing tension in a room, for example, so they do have their place, but I’ve mostly stopped making myself the butt of my own jokes out of habit.

  13. Wing Leader*

    Like others said, I chucked a bit at the first joke. The second one made me grimace and I thought it was a bit too much. Mostly because cannibalism grosses me the heck out.

    I think you have to be in the right kind of crowd to make these jokes, or you risk coming off as insensitive and obnoxious, and the office is not the right kind of crowd. So, personally, I’d keep it to a minimum.

  14. Three Flowers*

    Yeah, I’d moderate this (though I’m speaking as someone who worked in youth education; OP would have gotten an immediate and serious talking-to). It’s worth noting, though, that some people have *no* sense of milder forms of sarcasm that are hard to construe as offensive. I was once told by a supervisor that my humor (not client or student-facing) was negative, which was delivered as sort of a value judgment on me, not a “not everyone gets this, be aware”. (In my family sarcastic humor is typical and we are not negative about it—no derogatory jokes, disrespect, black humor, mocking others, etc.) In a touchy-feely field people can get really, well, touchy about encroachments on their straightforward optimism and respond in guilt-tripping ways. tl;dr don’t let people make you feel like you’re messed up, but be conscious of your environment.

    1. Oh So Anon*

      Haha, are we twins?

      Not all sarcasm is “punching down”, but some people will struggle with any form of sarcasm. As managers, it’s easier for them to crack down on anything that’s not 100% earnest because they don’t quite know how to figure out the nuances in a way that would help them to focus on actual bad behaviour.

      Hopefully your supervisor didn’t really intend it as a value judgement! That said, someone who can’t tell that all sarcasm isn’t necessarily negative may also struggle to communicate “don’t be snarky” without making it personal…

    2. NotACannibal*

      “don’t let people make you feel like you’re messed up, but be conscious of your environment.”

      Tbh I really appreciated Alison’s post, especially her advice on toning it back without completely blanding yourself down. I felt that this left some room for individuality, but after reading through the comments – it’s been, well, discouraging to say the least. I totally agree with and really appreciate your comment.

    3. Samwise*

      In general, I think it’s best not to be sarcastic because (1) the listener has to recognize that it’s sarcastic and (2) sarcasm often (not always) has a mean streak to it. My family is pretty sarcastic, so I know how hard it is to stop doing it! I had to be really attentive to what I was saying and how to root it out.

      Dark humor: I laughed at both of those jokes and would tell them myself — at home or with my friends. Not at work.

      It’s completely possible to be quirky, interesting, and funny, without getting macabre…

      1. Det. Charles Boyle*

        I really loathe sarcasm. To me, it always has an element of contempt. Just not comfortable with that at all, especially in the workplace.

        1. Jake Peralta*

          You can’t have the username Detective Charles Boyle and not like sarcasm when B99 is literally dripping with it.

      2. Totally Minnie*

        I think the key is that sarcasm should be consensual. The person you’re joking with needs to opt in. If you don’t know the other person’s opinion on sarcasm, just don’t go there. But when you know somebody’s into it, joke away.

  15. Roscoe*

    Really to me it is a “know your audience” type thing. I typically reserve that stuff for people I know fairly well at work, not at like an entire department meeting or something. Also, this will vary widely among offices. But I would try to avoid being the ONLY one making those types of jokes. If everyone kind of gets in on it at different times, its one thing, if you are the only one then it comes off differently, even if it is only occasionally

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I was going to say the same thing. I am fluent in sarcasm, and an outsider may think I’m being mean. But I hold back until I get to know new people, especially at work, because I don’t want to offend people.

  16. Anon JIC*

    Yeah, dead kids/baby humor is too far. You never know what’s happening in people’s personal lives: I had a boss that delivered his still born child in his living room, and almost lost his wife. He is the kindest, most empathetic person I’ve ever met– but you have been canned before the uncomfortable laughter faded.

    Unless it’s a Wednesday Adams Girl Scout Cookie joke, stay away.

    1. Wing Leader*

      What a horrible thing for your boss to go through, but this is a really great example of why you don’t make jokes like that. I had a coworker from a previous job that had lost a child shortly after birth, and she was really sensitive to the topic of babies. You just have to be careful or you could really hurt someone.

      1. Haniver*

        Yeah, I’ve gone through something like this. If some lame try-hard colleague who was impressed by how edgy and transgressive he thought he was made a dead baby joke in front of me, I would absolutely murder him in front of everyone and then be like, “Whoops! Excuse me! I just have a dark sense of humor!”

    2. Alaska Roll*

      That is so horrible, I am so sorry your boss experienced that. I just experienced a drawn-out miscarriage that involved some potentially scary health stuff. The whole topic is still super raw for me, and nobody except my closest friends and family know. If my coworker made a dead baby joke, 50% chance I would have given them the iciest glare and stalked into the bathroom to cry, and 50% chance I would have forced a laugh and just silently hated them (and went to the bathroom to cry).

      Pregnancy loss is so common that if you’re telling a dead baby joke to a small group you can pretty much guarantee you’re going to hit someone who has experienced it directly or who has someone close to them who did. It might not hit everyone viscerally but it’s probably going to sting.

  17. Guacamole Bob*

    One thing I’m surprised that Alison didn’t touch on is that some industries are well-known for dark humor that’s related to the work – things like emergency services, where the work is super-stressful and there’s a shared camaraderie about the difficulty of it that’s expressed through dark humor.

    I sometimes make cynical jokes and comments about our industry – we’re in an underfunded government agency where the political process around our work is completely ridiculous – and I think it’s kind of the same thing. We laugh about some of the more difficult aspects of our jobs that are out of our control as a way to bond with our coworkers. Since my immediate colleagues and I really do believe in the work we’re doing, small amounts of dark humor can be a stress valve. Too much can be toxic, though.

    1. Jennifer*

      Yes, sometimes it’s almost necessary for people who see death and dismemberment day in day out. You’ll lose it if you don’t release some tension.

    2. SignalLost*

      I agree to an extent; while there are industries that are really prone to dark humor, I don’t think OP’s boss would be so humorless about it. But definitely every job I’ve ever had, in very diverse industries and sectors, has had its share of gallows humor to get through the day. I think one piece for OP’s consideration is the target of the joke. It’s pretty routine for my workplaces to read and participate in statements that target oneself – “if this doesn’t print correctly I am going to kill myself” – but dead baby jokes are a bridge way too far in the work world. The gator joke is great because it’s so implausible, I think. I mean, yes, you risk telling it to someone who’s lost a relative to a gator attack, but statistically that’s not on the level of risk as that intern who told the 9/11 joke.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        The gator joke is great because it’s so implausible

        Not really, considering that a young child was killed by a gator at Disneyworld not very long ago.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          And got a lot of attention. While gator attacks are rare, I think most people are aware there was a recent ‘kid eaten by gator’.

          I’m actually surprised that people are finding either joke funny. Air speed of a swallow? Trojan horse that you forget to get inside? Kratu at Crufts? Those are funny. Dead children just… aren’t.

      2. Jennifer*

        Yeah, depending on what part of the US you’re in, it’s not that implausible. Gator attacks happen quite a bit.

        1. Oof*

          They are pretty rare – I just double-checked to make sure. Sure, it’s not implausible, but by no means common.

          1. Jennifer*

            “Quite a bit” may be overstating it, but it may seem that way by how they are reported in the news in those parts of the country.

          2. Jayne*

            According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, between 1948-2018, there were 410 unprovoked alligator bites, with 25 fatalities in Florida. From other stats, it looks like there was one fatality in Georgia.

            But I do agree that you need to know your audience and also how exposed the target is if you are joking at someone. For example, I was just at a series of meeting with vendors. In one meeting, a colleague joked about me not having a brain. I laughed and joked right back about setting myself up for that burn. In the same meeting, a co-worker who has no filter said the same thing about a different colleague and the only reaction was a gasp from the audience. And later retaliation from the targeted colleague.

            The difference? In my case, the colleague said it sotto-voice so only I could hear and the vendor wasn’t involved. So only the two of us, who have known each other for many years, were involved and he did not pitch it to embarrass me in front of a crowd.

            In my colleagues case, the co-worker said it very loud, so that the entire room and the vendor heard, thus involving outsiders. Her reputation is of an arse who has not filters, who does not know who is in the room when she “jokes”.

    3. lazuli*

      Too much can be toxic, though.

      Yeah, I think this is important to remember. I work in an industry where a lot of people use dark humor about our work and clientele, and it brings down team morale a lot. I’ve worked on a couple different teams now and through some staff turnover, and the teams where such humor was limited were much more pleasant, and served our clients much better, than the teams where such humor was more common. It can really signal a certain type of burnout, and that burnout can be contagious.

      1. TootsNYC*

        pondering the chicken-and-egg question.

        Does the excessive dark humor signal burnout–or does it help to create it?

        I’ve never worked in a job like EMT, fire fighter, etc., but I can see that I might be OK w/ some dark humor. But I also know that if it was very prevalent, it would actually make my much less hopeful about my work.

  18. Rachel in NYC*

    I think a lot depends on your office and your audience (whether its a joke, a story or a news headline.)

    With my supervisor- basically anything goes but I work in a really casual office. Plus my supervisor and I share an office space so we’ll discuss the news, politics, family, anything and everything. I would not suggest most of those topics in most offices- and have said that to friends, the fact that I’ve had a conversation about male rape during office hours doesn’t mean its office appropriate.

  19. Naomi*

    Two related principles that come into play here: comedy is often about knowing your audience, and appropriate behavior at work is often about knowing your office culture. So if you’re getting vibes that your manager or others in the office are uncomfortable with this brand of humor, then yes, you probably need to tone it down a little.

  20. Win*

    A lot of people think they like dark humor. I think I was one of those people. Read the title and though “right on… go for it” Read the joke about baking deboned baby parts into a cake and thought “Hell no!”

    No way to know when that line will be crossed, but it most likely will be crossed at some point. I would avoid.

    1. Archie Goodwin*

      Yeah, I’d go with this. I have a fairly dark sense of humor, but the baby bit was a bit too much even for me. (In a work environment, at least. I have a few friends with whom, once in a great while, I might be able to trade such jokes. And even then, the timing would have to be right…it’s not something we do every time we get together.)

    2. BRR*

      As someone who has crossed the line more times than I can count or care to remember, that’s a really good point. Dark humor falls on a spectrum. It’s like if someone says they like spicy food. They might think they like super spicy food but it’s really only moderately spicy.

      1. Mystery Bookworm*

        It also depends on the accompaniment. Something spicy can go down much more easily with a yogurt sauce.

        I’ve laughed at some pretty dark jokes in an ICU ward with my family…I don’t think I would have responded to them as well in a brightly lit office space.

    3. aebhel*

      I mean… it’s not even really a joke. It’s just a sort of weird macabre comment; the only humor is the gross-out aspect. Dark humor should still be, you know, humorous.

  21. Jennifer*

    I think you’re hilarious.

    I agree that it’s best to space those kinds of jokes out. Two referencing children in harm (lol!) in the same morning might be a bit off-putting to those who don’t know you well. And yes, if you always are making dark, cynical jokes then it can drag down team morale. But I think everyone needs a good laugh now and then at a dark joke, especially if you have a stressful job. It’s cathartic.

    1. Lady Phoenix*

      It might also give the inpression OP has something against children, a very big something against kids.

    2. aebhel*

      I do not ever need a good laugh at the thought of little kids being murdered, actually, thanks anyway. (:

        1. Totally Minnie*

          Nobody’s accusing OP of that. But those jokes create a certain imagery and association in the minds of the people who hear them.

        2. aebhel*

          I’m not sure where you got the impression I thought they were. They think it’s funny to joke about, though. And everybody is welcome to their own sense of humor in like-minded company, but ‘lol, everybody could use a good laugh at this really dark humor that not everybody finds funny’ is dismissive and gross.

  22. LQ*

    I’m also going to say that as someone who is endlessly amused by my own jokes that no one else seems to enjoy, you can still make and enjoy them inside your head. I’ve definitely laughed at a joke I made that was an inside joke with just me at work…today. And basically every other day. I’ve made enough jokes aloud that people know I’m not laughing AT someone else which I think is the real hurdle to get over.

    This absolutely feels like having and using my humor style at work, I just mostly keep the jokes to myself and only share a small sliver of them.

    1. LQ*

      Also, I think it’s really important to welcome other humor if you have a brand of comedy that isn’t going over well. If you never chuckle at a dad joke at work or chuckle at a pun but laugh uproariously at a dead baby joke it’s going to make you seem less funny/good sense of humor and more mean. If you laugh at both you’re going be more good sense of humor and I think more likely to get away with the darker humor.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        ditto – I laugh at myself All The Time, but from years of experience, I know that this stuff only registers as ‘weird’ to other people, not ‘funny’.

        1. LQ*

          That seems like a them problem. I figure as long as I’m only smiling or laughing to myself I do not care. And if someone is perturbed by my smiling that’s DEFINITELY a them problem.

    2. Totally Minnie*

      Or, if you have a friend with a similar sense of humor, text them all your best jokes throughout the day.

  23. KR*

    Hi OP – I’d stay clear of any joke involving dead babies. Issues conceiving children and carrying them to term are very common and you have no way of knowing which of your coworkers are dealing with them or may have had a child pass due to SIDS.

  24. Emily S.*

    As a somewhat sensitive (and also rather serious) person, I probably would have been offended, at least inwardly, by the jokes mentioned specifically in the letter.

    IMHO, light jokes at work are welcome, but I have to agree with Alison that this sort of “dark humor” is probably best avoided, for reasons she stated.

  25. Rebekah*

    I think this is another example of the importance of remembering that you don’t necessarily know where your coworkers are coming from on this kind of thing, and in a work situation if you strike a nerve they’re less likely to be direct about it.

  26. Amber Rose*

    From the other side: Someone I work with has a very macabre sense of humor that I don’t share. It’s sort of awkward for me when she cracks these weird jokes because I feel like I’m supposed to laugh, but while I’m not offended or anything, I also don’t really find them funny. They also shut me down, because I lack the skill to banter with that kind of humor so I have no idea what to say in response. The whole thing just becomes very uncomfortable.

    My advice: if you don’t get a response, change the subject.

    Generally I would also say that jokes about death and gross out humor in general at work are not ideal.

    1. TheRedCoat*

      or even: Someone I work with has a pretty dark sense of humor. Usually I pretend a small chuckle and move along, but today they told TWO jokes about children dying and/or being eaten. Ever since I lost my own kid, I’ve been pretty sensitive to jokes like that. Any advice on how I should respond to the (inevitable) next dead baby joke?

      1. Amber Rose*

        I’d probably just be up front about it. “Hey, jokes about children dying or being hurt really bother me, could you please stop telling them? Thanks.”

      2. your favorite person*

        I would have a really hard time not being blunt and saying, “since I lost my child, I haven’t found jokes like that funny. Could you cut it out around me?” Sometimes people need to be reminded of WHY dark humor isn’t always appropriate.

    2. Purrsnikitty*

      I don’t know if it qualifies as “dark humor” but I’ve had a colleague recently pretend he was mugging me (I’m also a guy, to put things in perspective). No actual violence but the typical soft threatening and “cornering”. Another colleague who saw it happen actually asked if I was okay afterwards, thinking it was someone from outside the company (happened in the parking lot).

      That guy had been regularly bothering me with extremely dry humor and creepy behavior so that one even was the last straw. The next day he came to say hello and joked about me having been mugged by some unknown person, to which I snapped that it had not been funny at all. He apologized and assured me there was no ill intent, which I believe. He’s left me alone since and I can greet him again without the anguish of an upsetting joke coming my way.

      Some humor types are just too edgey to be thrown carelessly about, I think.

  27. Ladylike*

    The gator joke, I kinda get, but I probably would have steered it away from kids being eaten by a gator and made it more general, like “Did the kids get to watch a gator eat someone?”

    The piece of the baby in the cake though…just no. Babies dying is just never, ever funny and joking about it at work is high risk, IMO.

    1. Amber Rose*

      I actually find a lot of dead baby jokes hilarious. I would never tell them at work though, that’s just asking for trouble.

  28. Phx Acct, now with dragons*

    I have a dark sense of humor, but if you’d made either of those jokes while I was pregnant, you would have had a full-blown hormonal/scared meltdown on your hands. ESPECIALLY before 12 weeks, before I’d told anyone, for fear of miscarriage.

  29. Autumnheart*

    Dark humor should be applied in such a way that you sound like someone who can roll with even the hardest of punches. It should not make you sound like a serial killer. There’s also the factor about colleagues who may have experienced a related recent tragedy (e.g. loss of a child) that you didn’t know about, and you don’t want to put yourself in a position where you’re making it harder for them to be productive in their work environment.

    And do you really want to be known throughout the company, not for your skills and expertise and leadership qualities, but for your dead baby jokes? Really?

    There’s a time and a place for dark humor, and even fields where it’s very normal (like emergency services), but in a regular office setting, things like being an edgelord and using loads of profanity are not going to enhance one’s professional reputation.

    1. motherofdragons*

      “Dark humor should be applied in such a way that you sound like someone who can roll with even the hardest of punches. It should not make you sound like a serial killer.” Great advice!

  30. AnotherJill*

    I usually like dark humor, but didn’t think either of these jokes was funny. Dead children jokes are definitely a know your crowd kind of thing.

    1. Snark*

      And it has to be a legitimately hysterical dead baby joke. That’s one of those genres of humor where if you’re not bringing a legit A-game, it’s going to go over like a lead baloon.

    2. Win*

      Absolutely. I didn’t realize how many of the people I work with have had miscarriages (most of them, it seems) until my wife had one. You never know what someone is carrying with them, but that particular sensitive subject might be more common that most.

    3. Jersey's mom*

      Yeah, it depends on the crowd. I probably would gave given the baby joke a slight grimace of a smile, but the “deboned” comment would have made me do an abrupt turn for a minute or two of deep calming breaths.

      See, I live in WI and a friend of mine had a younger brother who was a victim of Jeffrey Dahmer (may he rot in hell).

  31. just trying to help*

    Know your audience and read the room. If you know someone does not share your dark sense of humor, keep it light and professional around them.

    1. Archie Goodwin*

      Absolutely. And if you don’t know someone’s tastes in humor, then tread cautiously.

      That said, things can also change over time; I can make jokes with some of my current team that I wouldn’t have dared try when I first started, now that I’ve been here for two-and-a-half years. Nothing overly dark, but I do have a blackly cynical heart which I have allowed to show more and more.

      So…know your audience, but give them time to get to know YOU, too.

    2. Richard*

      Also, actually read the room. I’ve been rewatching some episodes of the Office, and it’s a good reminder of how often people tell jokes that they think are hilarious and misread other people’s politeness as enthusiastic enjoyment.

  32. Recovering Journalist*

    My daughter was stillborn last year. I would not have found this funny. I would have found it cruel and awful and it would have ruined my day and changed how I saw you going forward.

    Don’t assume others thought it was funny because they laughed. People often laugh because they are uncomfortable or they laugh because they can tell someone made a joke and feel obligated to laugh.

    Avoid jokes like this at work.

    1. fposte*

      I really like your point that you can’t judge just by people laughing–I had the same thought.

    2. Thursday Next*

      Such an important point: laughter often masks discomfort.

      I’m so sorry for your loss.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      Another Peace Corps example–where we lived, laughing was a routine way to deflect tension. When my husband was trying to get my extremely sick self loaded into a vehicle to go to the mission hospital, and the people around us all broke into uproarious laughter, the fact that he technically understood the coping mechanism on display didn’t actually keep his temper much in check. (And he’s usually extremely patient and calm.)

      Laughter can mean “hey funny” or “wow uncomfortable ha ha quick someone distraction.”

    4. Tuppence*

      Agreed. I used to feel that I was being rude by not laughing at a joke even if I didn’t think it was funny. But that just encourages people to keep telling inappropriate and unfunny jokes. Now I don’t say anything and let the awkwardness hang there for a second before changing the subject.

      1. aebhel*

        Yeah, I’ve been the mean humorless b*** at the office before, and there’s something so freeing about not feeling like I need to laugh at jokes that I find offensive or cruel.

        (Also, ironically, it’s pretty funny to watch a tryhard edgelord wilt after failing to get the reaction they wanted, but I never claimed to be a saint.)

    5. Mimi Me*

      I think a good rule of thumb is to avoid telling jokes at work that you wouldn’t feel comfortable telling to your grandmother (or other person who makes you self-edit before speaking). I have a friend who is very old-fashioned. She doesn’t curse, she doesn’t tell dirty jokes, and she gets uncomfortable discussing sex, religion, and politics. If I won’t tell her the joke, I’m not telling someone at work. And yeah…she’s the type of person who would smile and laugh uncomfortably while changing the way she thought about me if I were to tell her an inappropriate joke.

      1. Even Steven*

        And I would add, also keep in mind that even if she were offended, your Grandma wouldn’t stop being your Grandma and release you from the family because of a comment you made. But a boss is another story – they don’t have family ties with you, and consequently could release you from your job.

        And I concur with others here – know your audience, but keep in mind that they are NOT your audience because you are not doing stand-up comedy. You are at work. They are your colleagues, who like you, are paid to do work but are also paid to be agreeable and cooperative and considerate of each other. I would save the dark humor for outside of work.

    6. motherofdragons*

      Super agree with you about judging the “success” of a joke by laughter. I totally awkward-laugh even if I’m cringing or furious inside.

      I’m very sorry for your loss.

    7. beckysuz*

      I’m so sorry for your loss. Definitely a good reminder that we never know what other people are dealing with

    8. Fish Microwaver*

      I’m sorry for your loss.
      You make a good point about seemingly insignificant things changing the way we see someone. I have recently because more aware of how the way I feel about someone has changed after an I’ll considered comment, opinion or joke. Not necessarily to the point of leaving the friendship, but I definitely feel a loss of respect for the person, which makes me feel disappointed.

  33. Snark*

    I feel like dark humor is kind of like profanity and sarcasm: everyone can do them badly when they want to seem like an edgelord, and very few can do them with the kind of elan needed to a) stand out from the amateurs and b) actually be funny. So there’s that.

    But frankly, OP, if we’re being brutally honest, both your jokes (at least as related here, in text) seem a little tryhard, a little class clown, a little effortful and performative. In addition to Alison’s advice to avoid dark humor most of the time, I think it’s also not a bad idea to critically evaluate how many laughs you’re going for in general, and whether you’re crossing the line from “witty person” to “office cut-up” and whether you want to be that person. Because if you’re constantly trying to squeeze laughter out of everyone around you, chances are you’re being a little exhausting.

    1. Lady Phoenix*

      So true on the edgelords. They are purposefully unfunny just to get a rise out of people and be an jagoff because they think they can’t get hurt by it. And this isn’t a case of “so bad it is good”, these scumbags are truly the worse.

    2. Samwise*

      This reminds me of a wonderful novel I read as a teenager — Jessamyn West’s *Cress Delahanty*; in the chapter titled “Thirteen: winter”, Cress tries to stand out and become popular at school by being funny. A lovely and painful story…I couldn’t tell you much about the rest of the book, but that chapter has been with me for almost fifty years.

    3. Jule*

      Yeah, I agree. I am a VERY easy laugh outside of work. At work, I think this communicates…too many traits other than sense of humor.

  34. Fiveguys*

    At a gathering at my sisters house, one of her coworkers told a dead baby joke. My baby had died no less than three months prior. I didn’t hold it against him, or think he was a terrible person. I knew it was a joke and he would have had no way of knowing, but I was in a terrible head space for the rest of the evening. It would have been difficult to hear it at the office and get back to business as usual. Just a gentle suggestion that the office might not be the best place for that if you don’t know the room.

    1. blackcat*

      I think people forget how common infant mortality and stillbirth are (let alone miscarriages, which are like 1/3rd of known pregnancies). Dead baby jokes are never appropriate, IMO.

      1. Ice and Indigo*

        And you know, that’s another thing: because of those statisitics, dead baby jokes in a work context are likely to make you look … kinda immature? (Heads up, I’m about to emphasise why, so if this is a raw subject for you, consider yourself warned. Also, my condolences.)

        Live long enough and be trusted by enough people, and the odds are that you’ll find out that dead babies aren’t always a cheeky taboo, they’re also the reason why Jane is going to cry every March 22nd for the rest of her life. You hear stories, or you live them. You find out just how small they can make a coffin. You find out that funeral services keep a list of poems about the briefest moments of light. You find out that there are whole businesses based on memorial trinkets, and they make a profit.

        You may still have a dark sense of humour; heck, you might even end up cracking jokes in the support group that would make you sound like a psychopath outside it.

        But you’ll know the odds.

        Cracking dead baby jokes in a non-intimate group makes you sound like you lack life experience, or worse, that you’re the kind of person friends don’t trust with painful information. The latter may not be true, but it is an assumption that may be made of you. It can make you look very bad, for reasons that aren’t about humour.

        Key rule of dark jokes: don’t just know your audience. Know your subject.

    2. Auburn*

      I’m sorry for your loss. And was coming here to say that many people do not share infant or late pregnancy loss widely. Even when you clearly intend no harm those kinds of comments can hurt people and make you look really clueless and crass. Don’t put people in an awkward position of having to explain that to you.

    3. Dons Anon Cloak*

      When our mid-20s nephew died suddenly, several people my husband worked with shared similar stories from their own families. So did a couple of people on a volunteer committee with me. We’d worked with these people for many years during which they’d never mentioned this painful history.

    4. motherofdragons*

      I bet that was so uncomfortable and awful. Totally agree that the office is just not the place for that particular topic. I’m sorry for your loss.

  35. Elizabeth Proctor*

    Also consider the fact that maybe it’s not just your boss who is uncomfortable, he was just the only one showing it.

    1. Polymer Phil*

      That comment thread was ridiculous. The intern was immediately thrown out of the meeting and fired. The commenters weren’t satisfied with that – they wanted the company to go out of business as a sign of contrition, or the OP to flagellate herself with a rusty bicycle chain, or something along those lines.

      1. Myrna Minkoff*

        I was blown away by that comment thread too, and the frothing calls for blood. Yeah, it was a bad joke, but the responses were really bizarrely disproportionate.

  36. Peridot*

    I grew up in New Orleans, and I don’t remember any king cake jokes about the actual flesh of a baby, and you would think grade-school kids would work their way through all available jokes. Add in the Catholic concept of transubstantiation, and I definitely think that was a bridge too far.

    I definitely tend to be very sarcastic, but in a work context, that can easily come across as complaining or being difficult to work with. Sometimes, it’s just easier to stay away from the line instead of wondering exactly where it is.

        1. Peridot*

          Capitalism is ruining king cakes! They’re available for all sorts of holidays now, which entirely defeats the purpose. And don’t get me started on filled king cakes.

      1. I'm not even Catholic and I know better*

        Periodot – that’s what I came here to say!!! King cake on Ash Wednesday – the nerve!!!

      2. Mockingdragon*

        If they’re observing Lent. I’m with Rusty, all about cheap cake day!

        I’m surprised that king cake baby jokes aren’t common, actually. If it had been any other kind of cake I’d agree with the joke being weird, but that’s the thing that makes it a King Cake, is there’s a baby in it. The mental leap from plastic baby to actual baby isn’t that far. The idea is already there….and as you said yourself, the transubstatiation idea is already right there.

  37. Jessica*

    The dead baby joke definitely went too far. Statistically, it’s almost guaranteed that somebody in the room had dealt with miscarriage, abortion, stillbirth, or infant loss, and you don’t know if your “joke” was bringing back traumatic memories for them. (I’m not saying that abortion is always traumatic, but I can imagine that even someone who was confident in choosing to have an abortion wouldn’t want to hear their co-workers joking about dismembering babies shortly thereafter.) The alligator joke doesn’t strike me as quite so bad because people are far less likely to have experienced the death of a child, especially being eaten by an alligator. But if, for example, your workplace was at all connected to that family whose child was killed by an alligator at Disneyworld last year, it wouldn’t have been appropriate.
    (I’m one of those people who is deeply affected by dead baby jokes, to the point that I actually would have appreciated a content warning at the top of this post. It brings back memories of seeing my mom miscarry at 13 weeks pregnant and deliver an intact fetus at home, and puts me in a negative head space that’s hard for me to get out of.)

    1. blackcat*

      Yeah, if I heard dismembered baby joke, all I’d be thinking about is my dear friend who once had a D&X (what people call “partial birth abortion”) for a very wanted pregnancy. The fetal abnormalities were such that there was no way it could have passed through the birth canal and she didn’t want to have major surgery (a c-section) for a baby who could never live.
      That didn’t even happen to me, but I tear up thinking about it.

    2. Observer*

      I’m not saying that abortion is always traumatic, but I can imagine that even someone who was confident in choosing to have an abortion wouldn’t want to hear their co-workers joking about dismembering babies shortly thereafter

      There is a very big difference between being confident in the decision and it not being traumatic. It’s very rare that the decision to have an abortion is not associated with some trauma. Best case situation, you’re dealing with a failure of birth control in a good relationship with both partners on the same page. Even that’s hard. Add any of the other factors that crop up? Yeah, not a good memory.

      1. Grapey*

        Best case is a feeling of relief and gratitude for not being forced to give birth against your will.

        1. Observer*

          Actually, no. Even what that’s true, it’s aligned with all of the other negative stuff. In fact, when that’s how a woman is seeing it, the situation is going to be even more stressful. The relief would probably be overwhelming, but it wouldn’t wipe out the stress that came before.

  38. CheeryO*

    “It can be exhausting to hear a lot of it if that’s not your own style (and you’ve got to assume that in any work group, there’s going to be a mix of humor styles — so some people aren’t going to like it, and are going to find it cynical/off-putting/wearying).”

    This is so true, and it’s something I’ve never really put into words in my head before. I think this can also apply to a lot of workplace personality differences, whether it’s style of humor or conversation topics or whatever. We’re all stuck with a group of people that we didn’t choose for 40-ish hours per week, so I think there is a certain responsibility to be someone who’s easy to get along with. It doesn’t have to mean leaving your personality at the door, but toning down this kind of humor also isn’t the hill to die on if it’s making someone uncomfortable. Just know your audience – I’m sure you kill at happy hour!

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Honestly, this is true of almost any form of humor. I had a friend whose signature comeback was “that’s what she said” and, dude, after awhile I wanted to throat-punch him, I was so tired of hearing it.

      My dad’s style is goofball, which may very well be the thing that pushes my mother to kill him because he uses it to derail serious conversations (or at least to make mundane discussions take up far too much time and energy).

      Humor and fashion at work: You don’t need to be Your Full Self all the time. Save it for weekends.

      1. Snark*

        Deployed correctly, after a truly egregious double entendre, just as the humorous tension starts to rise , a very quiet, deadpan “that’s what she said,” can absolutely destroy a room. But I’ve had like two of those in my entire life. Making that your signature comeback? I’m taking aim at your larynx.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            This is true. My dad has a lot of signature comebacks and they all amount to him needing new material. And also learning that he doesn’t need to vocalize every one-liner that pops into his head.

            I love him, but he’s exhausting.

          2. hbc*

            It’s bad practice in general. Apologies to anyone who likes comics who do this, but man, there’s nothing lazier than having a catchphrase–there are just not that many situations where it applies, shy of being an actual character on a sitcom, and even then it gets tiring.

            1. Snark*

              There’s a commenter who apparently feels called to post a hot take on every story my local newspaper publishes, then conclude it with “…..oh snap!” His screen name is OhSnap. I hate him beyond all reasonable bounds.

      2. Camellia*

        “My dad’s style is goofball, which may very well be the thing that pushes my mother to kill him because he uses it to derail serious conversations (or at least to make mundane discussions take up far too much time and energy).”

        My husband does this, especially in doctor’s offices of which we see many due to some chronic issues. I can only let it go on for so long and then I kindly but firmly say, “You are derailing the process.” and he knows he needs to shut up and let the nurse/doctor/whoever do their stuff and get on with it.

    2. SheLooksFamiliar*

      CheeryO – this, so very much! I used to work with a guy who just HAD to have a comeback, no matter what the discussion topic was. If he couldn’t think f something on his own, he defaulted to, ‘That’s what SHE said,’ or some equally inane response. It was exhausting to listen to him even when he wasn’t cracking wise; we had become trained to expect a smart comment and it was just a matter of time until he delivered one. Argh.

      I silently applauded a co-worker who finally snapped, ‘Did you ever have a thought so big it DIDN’T fit in your mouth?!’

      1. Budgie Lover*

        “Did you ever have a thought so big it didn’t fit in your mouth?”

        Subtle and brilliant.

  39. Liz*

    Two of the funniest people I know, both of whom can get gleefully dark sometimes, both told me that their tolerance for jokes about dead kids absolutely PLUMMETED after they had children of their own. They were both surprised by this – never would have thought they’d be sensitive to that kind of thing – but it just stopped being funny to them afterwards.

    Since you can’t know how people might take your jokes, even if they’re meant to be lighthearted, you really do need to be more careful at work than in other contexts, since you can’t assume people have the same life experiences as you and you can’t know what might be painful for them to hear. Remember that letter about the intern who got fired for making a 9/11 joke when it turned out a victim’s sibling was in the same meeting? You do not want to wind up being That Guy.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I mean, I censored DREAMS when I was pregnant–the pirates would show up, and my hormones would say “danger to the baby, wake up NOW!” I don’t think you need the hormones to have this switch, but they pack a wallop.

      It’s not all crying at really sad burrito commercials.

    2. motherofdragons*

      This absolutely was true for me, as well. Those jokes just get a big “Nope” from me these days.

    3. hbc*

      Yup, the baby being deboned in that joke is not some vague hypothetical baby in my imagination, it is my actual little child that I’m irrationally devoted to having his flesh carved. I know this is my brain being weird, but still, it may affect my day and my interactions with the joke teller for a bit.

      1. aebhel*

        Same. I have a pretty dark sense of humor, but after I had kids dead baby jokes just completely stopped being funny.

        (Although I never would have found it appropriate to tell them at work because, seriously, come on. If you know better than to swear at coworkers or make explicit sex jokes, you know better than to make dead baby jokes. And if you don’t, well, you’re going to have a hard time in a lot of professional environments.)

    4. Lilysparrow*

      Yes, and it’s not just jokes. I used to be able to enjoy Tarantino movies, crime shows, all kinds of edgy stuff.

      Now, anything with kid-jeop, sexual assault, or too much gore gets this visceral NOPE, and if I don’t bug out fast enough sometimes I get nightmares.

      Other weird stuff, too – from seeing a couple of relatives through Hospice. Like, I had to kick my husband out of the room when he was watching the near-suffocation episode in the new “Lost In Space,” because the ragged breathing was way too real. I could even hear it through his headphones.


      1. TheRedCoat*

        Yep. Major trigger for my PPA, to the point where someone made a very similar joke and I couldn’t get my brain to stop fixating. Had to call the daycare to check on him. (Thankfully, my kiddo’s daycare teachers are just /fantastic/ and texted me a picture of him being cute.)

        1. TheRedCoat*

          But yeah. I haven’t rewatched Crimes of Grindelwald because of the scene at the beginning, which was exceptionally fresh as kiddo was a month old when the movie came out.

          1. Lirael*

            I was so upset at that scene in Crimes of Grindelwald as well, and you’re the first person I’ve seen mention it, TheRedCoat. I’m glad to know it’s not just me. It’s one thing if there’s a legitimate plot point – I may still decide that I just can’t handle harm to babies/children in my entertainment – but if it’s just there as a generic “this villain is really evil” intensifier, it makes me angry.

            OP, to your question, I completely agree with Alison’s response. I don’t think you’ve been so egregious that your reputation is forever tarnished or anything extreme like that, but I would stay completely away from dead baby jokes at work in the future. If you were my coworker and we were friendly, I would have said something about that kind of humor being upsetting because of my stillborn baby, and it would impact our working relationship if it kept up.

            1. Thursday Next*

              V late and somewhat OT, but while I also found that scene in Crimes really difficult to watch, I think it plays an important role in establishing Grindelwald, at his prime, as being every bit as evil as Voldemort (who didn’t actually succeed in killing baby Harry).

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        Yeah. I have post partum OCD. The two biggest Os are harm to my kid and someone drowning in a car – either of these jokes would have gotten a very bad reaction from me. I didn’t mention before, because I figured that my experience was extreme, but it looks like the subset of ‘had kids, become more vulnerable to danger and trauma’ is larger than I thought.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          I had postpartum anxiety with intrusive thoughts. It’s a special kind of hell. I hope you start to get better soon – it’s awful. I won’t tell you what my particular fear was because you sure as shit don’t need that image in your head!

    5. Katie the Fed*

      I doubt anyone will see this because I’m so late to the thread, but I haven’t watched Law and Order: SVU since I had my first baby. I just can’t handle depictions of horrible things happening to children. Titanic was on TV a few weeks ago and that scene with the Irish mother tucking her kids in bed and telling them a story as the water comes it – I started crying so hard (I’m also pregnant again, so…hormones).

      But yeah, having kids really changes you in ways you can’t anticipate.

  40. Autumnheart*

    “Sometimes, it’s just easier to stay away from the line instead of wondering exactly where it is.” A cross-stitch waiting to happen.

  41. We all scream for ice cream*

    These jokes didn’t seem that dark to me…the alligator one seemed kinda corny. The baby one just didn’t seem funny.

  42. ThinMint*

    Since I’m not a dark humor person, those jokes land as the person trying to shock me. That’s not something I want to deal too much with at work. But that could be the wrong read on it.

  43. Dolce*

    When I’m horribly uncomfortable — or sometimes outright offended — I tend to laugh as a coping mechanism. It makes it feel less awkward to me, and is a sort of reflexive action.

    I would have laughed at both of your jokes, but inside I would be cringing. And seeing as a child WAS eaten by a gator just a few miles from GatorLand at Disney, I would have been blown away by your callousness. I know that’s not how you meant it–it’s just a joke — but it would affect my perception of you.

      1. michelenyc*

        I think a lot of people had the same reaction. I have dark/sarcastic/dry sense of humor and I thought both of the “jokes” were not even remotely funny. As someone up post noted they both read as trying way too hard.

    1. Darcy Pennell*

      Me as well. I’m surprised by the number of comments that the alligator joke is fine because it’s so implausible. It literally just happened last year.

  44. Celeste*

    Both jokes fell flat with me; they struck me as aggressive, because I’m not one for dark humor. You got a valuable lesson in reading the room. How you handle humor at work with this boss from now on is going to be how he sees you. Either you’re the guy who can self-correct before he has to say something to you about it, or you’re not. I think writing in here to ask for advice shows that you have sensitivity to others’ feelings, and this is what you should demonstrate with this boss going forward.

  45. Dust Bunny*

    I’m going to go with 95% of the time, this is a “no”. And that’s from somebody who likes dark humor.

    In general, if a joke is the kind that “needs to be somebody’s style” to be appreciated, it’s probably a bad idea at work. Dark humor, super-edgy pop-culture references, cultural inside jokes, etc.; lots of things that are funny, or at least acceptable, in a specific group are really not in front of a wider audience.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      For the record: I’d be OK with the alligator joke, but the baby joke was a) gross and b) really tired, since it’s just a riff on the old “are Girl Scout cookies made with real Girl Scouts?” line. Don’t do dead-kid jokes, period, and don’t use stale material unless the staleness is somehow part of the humor.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      My daughter had an insight into the blandness of dorm food, that it had to be generic enough to appeal to everyone. Fine for one meal, boring as the ongoing diet. Restaurants could focus on just one type of food, like fabulous tacos, and the people who didn’t like that subgenre of food would just eat elsewhere–but the campus meal options had to generic enough to be okay for lots of people.

      Sometimes you need to be bland rather than edgy.

      1. Dust Bunny*


        (Side note: Literally. I’m from Texas and went to college in a small town in the Midwest (20 years ago). Taco Bell *was* the good Mexican food, y’all. But my brother discovered through trial and error that inexperienced Minnesotans have zero tolerance for even pickled jalapeños, so bland food it was. And our dorm food was actually not bad. It just wasn’t even remotely spicy.)

        1. Autumnheart*

          You’ll be delighted to know that in the intervening decades, Minnesota has discovered flavor and done fabulous things with it (thanks in no small part to the Hispanic, Hmong, and East African communities that have developed here). Although the Thai and Indian restaurants are where the heat is in these parts.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          Heh. My daughter went to school in Texas, and I was picturing the excellent cheap taco place in college town where I would have been happy to eat three spicy meals a day.

    3. Mystery Bookworm*

      I’m with you. There’s actually no topic that I feel should be 100% off the table for humor, but work is not the place to be testing these out.

      Another issue is that, frankly, the occasional well-timed joke can really lighten a room, but someone who repeatedly makes jokes in a workplace setting can be a little exhausting, even if they’re not being offensive. It’s a really fine line, particularly since a lot of it depends on your office culture.

      And this is perhaps another thread in the tapestry of ways ‘office culture’ can be supportive to diversity or alienating, depending on what sort of humor is accepted and promoted. I have a vivid memory of laughing politely as a ‘wife-beating’ joke when I was an entry-level woman, brand new to the corporate world. While it wasn’t a joke that I found offensive per se, the fact that it was so accepted in that setting did send a message, whether the teller intended it that way or not.

  46. Me*

    I’m pretty dry/sarcastic/dark humored myself. I absolutely do not say the same things I say at work as I might in other company.

    Work rule – if it can be perceived as gross, tasteless, or a loaded topic it’s not a good choice. This pretty well applies to all sorts of things at work – humor, conversation, clothes, hygiene, etc. As with most things it varies based on work environment, but I think you’ve gotten some non-verbal feedback that you’re making at least one person uncomfortable. Also, don’t rely on the fact that people laughed as a sign it was well received or thought to be funny. Sometimes people laugh at a joke because they are uncomfortable and aren’t quite sure how to react.

  47. Cautionary tail*

    I have a deep biting sarcastic sense of humor but I don’t share it at work and my coworkers probably do not think I know how to laugh. I keep my joke thoughts to myself and momentarily smile but everything I say at work is only work related.

    I think that with some companies’ big-happy-family talk, employees blur the line between home and office. Getting laid off right after one of these we are all family speeches will disabuse you of this notion.

  48. Kheldarson*

    Ugh. Now I’m just thinking of a comedian who told a “blow up kids trespassing in my yard” set at an event advertised for families to come.

    The gator joke would’ve gotten a smile, but the king cake crack would make me wonder at the OP. Knowing your audience is as important to comedy as timing.

    I agree with Allison here.

  49. LGC*

    Naturally, I asked if any of the kids on the trip got eaten by an alligator.

    …I’d like to dispute that assessment.

    I’ll be honest, LW, I wouldn’t have thought you were a baby eater, but I probably would have reacted very similarly to your boss, for reasons Alison stated. In addition, your boss might have felt uncomfortable laughing at an inappropriate joke in front of employees that report to him because of the signal that would send.

    There have been MANY times where I’ve walked in to conversations at work that I’d have found hilarious if I were with friends – but since I’m at work and I’m (nominally) supposed to be the one in charge, I can’t really laugh even if I want to. I joke about having to be the “no-fun police,” but sometimes I have to be – simply because I don’t want to see things get out of hand and people get offended.

    (And look, I’m not the most appropriate person myself. I’ve been reprimanded on multiple occasions about stuff I say at work. So I feel like if I think it’s inappropriate, it probably is.)

    Basically, you want to tone it down, especially in mixed company. And I’d consider mixing up your jokes – just because you can go to a dead kid joke doesn’t mean you need to (or even that it’s the logical progression)!

    1. Observer*

      Naturally, I asked if any of the kids on the trip got eaten by an alligator.

      …I’d like to dispute that assessment.

      I agree. That’s really part of the problem. There is nothing “naturally” about the joke. Probably the first rule that any adult in the working world should learn is that just because I think something is smart, funny or witty, doesn’t mean it has to come out of my mouth.

      Even before seeing your manager’s reaction, you knew that your humor is dark and that some people really don’t share that sense of humor. That alone should have taken it from the realm of “naturally”. I’m not saying that it was a terrible, horrible, very bad, no good joke. But it’s not something that is so universally funny that it should be a natural reaction.

      That starting point makes it much harder to see where you need to stop.

    1. blackcat*

      OK, I’m on team no-dead-baby-jokes-ever, but I see what you did there and laughed.

      So here’s the test:
      Is your boss Hannibal Lector?
      If yes, proceed with dead baby joke.
      If no, shut your mouth.

        1. Mystery Bookworm*

          Hi Alison,

          Thank you so much for your blog. It’s helped me land this wonderful job as an assistant to a psychiatrist. Prior to this, I’ve only had short 6-month stays as a temp. Unfortunately, I’ve recently realized that my new boss often kills and eats people — sometimes simply because he finds them annoying! I sometimes make silly jokes about “hump day” and I’m worried I might be next.

          I’ve only been here four months. How can I justify my job-hopping in an interview?

          1. Autumnheart*

            Tell them that you found the company culture too cutthroat to be a good fit for you.

            1. Ice and Indigo*

              And that you felt it’d be better to leave before you had too much skin in the game.

  50. Not Today Satan*

    First and foremost, people make jokes that don’t land well all the time, so don’t take what I’m about to say as a suggestion that you need to feel shame, or start a new life, or whatever.

    But personally both of those jokes to me read as trying way too hard to insert a joke where one wasn’t needed. IMO, the best jokes start with an assist from someone else, and then you dunk. (As an example of what I mean–with the cake situation, after she made the comment about choking, you could have said, “it’s okay, I know the Heimlech.” It’s a direct response to the previous comment, has an element of absurdity to it, and doesn’t require further set up from the joker.) In these cases, you provided both the set up *and* the joke.

    For me, that type of “I need to take every opportunity ever to make a joke!” joking can be really exhausting and cringe-worthy. Adding the “dead kids/babies” element on top of that makes it even more off-putting. Again, I’m not trying to shame you, but reading the room is really important.

    1. BethDH*

      This was exactly how I felt about it. I agree with others that the second joke was questionable for all the reasons mentioned (too many in one day, more graphic, intentional violence, etc.) but it also struck me as being less part of a conversational exchange. The first joke came in two parts with some response from the boss in the middle to help indicate the group’s willingness to go with it. With the king cake thing, someone took the effort to share a cake for everyone to eat and then OP started cracking jokes that distract from that and can ruin the mood/appetite. Both felt kind of attention-seeking, but the second one in particular seemed to lack the back and forth that I think is the positive, relationship-building part of office jokes.

    2. LGC*

      You nailed what I was thinking!

      The more I think about it, the less it seems like the biggest issue is the joke material in and of itself. I dinged the LW for it a little upthread, but it seems like the bigger problem is that they feel like they need to slip jokes into conversation often. Even if the jokes weren’t about sensitive material, you’re right that it can be tiresome to deal with someone trying to be funny when all you want to do is get stuff done.

      The LW might be more successful if they DON’T always go for the joke.

    3. ClumsyCharisma*

      That’s exactly what I thought. They weren’t great one-liners. There are certain people I know who also set up their own jokes and none of them are nearly as funny as they think they are.
      Just asking if a kid got eaten by an alligator, fine I suppose but definitely not original.
      Dead baby – as many have already commented can be very painful to many people.

    4. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      “I need to take every opportunity ever to make a joke!” Ugh, this. I usually start to hear everything as “people weren’t paying attention to me and so I’ve decided they should pay attention to me.” Exhausting is the word.

  51. Karen from Finance*

    > and now there’s a chance my boss thinks I’m a kid-cannibal.

    Damn I love this site.

  52. Scarlet Magnolias*

    HI, I work in a library, sometimes after a long day of tantrumming children and entitled parents, I’ll stroll casually by the Circulation desk and ask “have the lambs stopped screaming, Clarisse?”
    Always gets a laugh

    1. Interviewer*

      I got to this point in the comment section and couldn’t stop laughing. Had to say thank you so much for sharing this line.

  53. LawBee*

    TIL dead baby jokes are a thing. Kind of wish I didn’t know that now.

    OP, leave kids and animals out of your jokes, and you’ll probably be ok.

    1. CheeryO*

      Really graphic dead baby jokes were huge when I was in high school and college 10-15 years ago. I didn’t really find them that funny then, and I’d be a little weirded out if I heard one in 2019 (sorry OP!).

  54. Administrative Manager*

    FWIW, I worked in news for a decade — an industry notorious for gallows humor; where else will you joke that a holiday weekend means shootings and crimes so, hey, we’ll have news to fill the page!

    I found both of those hokes to be tasteless, not funny, and generally…weird. You’re wishing a kid would get eaten by an alligator? You’re joking about eating real babies?

    There are ways to have dark humor without being tasteless and tacky.

  55. Half-Caf Latte*

    So I’ve been there. I have made jokes, although self-deprecating rather than dark, that everyone else found hysterical and while grand-boss offered a forced laugh, but it was clear from that and subsequent observations- she actually has zero sense of humor.

    It was awkward, and the fallout was that then I was stressed that she had a more negative view of me.

    This tiger can’t change it’s stripes, but I definitely lean towards a way more buttoned-up style when she’s around. I see it as in the same category of needing to wear slacks and not leggings, because that’s what’s expected at this workplace.

  56. Lily*

    The alligator joke – funny. A bit risky, but depending on your audience/mood in the room, fine.
    The other joke – honestly, I don’t get what would be funny about it: the dead baby? They fact that it was dismembered and cooked? Is there some hidden reference in it that I don’t know?
    Because if not… look, I’m in a field where strange humour is the norm (medical field) and have definitly done a lot of strange jokes at work, including babies and blood and shit and body parts and bad Stuff happening to people.
    And I don’t find your second joke funny. It sounds like something someone says to shock other people, deliberately. That’s not humour. That’s closer to bullying.

    1. Lily*

      To elaborate: I think the butt of the second joke isn’t exactly the dead baby but the fact that people will be uncomfortable about it. Your uncomfortable-feeling boss is basically the joke. No wonder that they aren’t up for it.

      1. Det. Charles Boyle*

        I think this is spot on. The “jokes” were aggressive and more of a power play than an attempt to be funny. True humor brings people together. These weren’t humorous at all.

    2. NoOneInvitesTheSafetyOfficerToParties*

      I’m in the medical field too. Dark humor is one of those things where you have to laugh at a situation because your only other option is to cry. I once set up the medications in the home of a gentleman who died. I didn’t realize it at the time – I was rarin’ up to give him a lengthy lecture on skipping his meds 10 days straight. Then I found him in the bathtub, where he had died from a fall, and also, well, water. It does things.

      To this day, I still want to cry over what happened, a decade later. So all I can do instead is laugh, and make a bad joke if I have to use this situation in an example on safety/job hazards for patients and workers. (“And that was when I learned that due to utterly lacking a sense of smell, I would be very successful in my job.”)

      Gallows humor can get you hung out to dry with the wrong audience. (Pun intended.)

    3. Mockingdragon*

      I mean, the context of the dead baby is that a king cake has a plastic baby toy baked into it. (Whoever finds the baby is lucky.) It’s a small step from plastic baby to real baby.

  57. Ella Vader*

    Those two comments were the same day? At first I thought maybe they were months apart, and it was only after the second joke seemed to land wrong that you thought back and remembered the previous evidence. Yeah, two dead-kids jokes in one day is too many. Even the first one – in a work context I’d probably have laughed at the first line “did anyone get eaten?” and felt uncomfortable if you prolonged it by saying “you should have gotten a refund then”. If something is funny enough and appropriate enough to merit more than one comment, let someone else make the second one. (Like the commenter Snark mentioned, trying-too-hard-to-be-funny is not a good look.)

    While it’s unlikely that your boss really does think you’re a kid-cannibal, it is more likely that he thinks you don’t like kids and that you assume other people will laugh at/welcome hostile-to-kids comments. Don’t make it worse by apologizing, but definitely work on editing your impulses for a while, and save the more edgy comments for smaller groups of non-work friends.

    Things I don’t like facetious comments about at work where I don’t feel comfortable opting out of the conversation or asking people to stop include: My religion, other people’s religions, the gender spectrum, sexualities and relationship choices, babies, pregnancy, pets, party politics, murder and assault, death of elderly relatives, people getting laid off or fired, workplace harassment, intentional weight loss and eating choices.

  58. 1.2 years until retirement*

    I had to look up what a King Cake was. and got this “Mardi Gras isn’t complete without a sweet and colorful king cake, filled with cinnamon, sugar, pecans, and maybe even a plastic baby.”

    So, now I know where the baby jokes came from :)

  59. yikes*

    the baby “joke” made me physically cringe when i read it…. i’d say stay away from baby jokes in general

  60. Lady Phoenix*

    This is a serious case of “know the audience” and “read the room”.

    The first, eh, maybe corny.

    The second? Absolutely gross and unfunny, especially if you said right AFTER the cake was finished.

    Also doesn’t help that it sounds like you made these 2 jokes on the same day and both jokes are about violence happening to children. Some might think you might have something against kids if all your jokes consists of stuff towards kiddies.

  61. BRR*

    I’m not going to judge whether it’s funny or not, I only want to share what I’ve learned as someone who loves cracking jokes and has a dark sense of humor. I’ve found that restraint only works in my favor. I don’t have to abandon my personality, just filter or adjust some things while at work. It’s like other topics that are fine to discuss with friends, but aren’t workplace conversations. I know for me, even with people who are ok with it I still filter because if I get wound up I could say something that’s too much.

  62. KayEss*

    I think the alligator joke works because, while the wrong delivery could still kill it, you could add canned sitcom laughter and it wouldn’t seem out of place. There’s no way to add a laugh track to a “deboned baby” punchline without sounding like a serial killer.

    (What’s funny to me in thinking about this is that how I feel about the joke-teller would definitely influence how I felt about the joke… my dad telling the alligator joke: groan-worthy, and on-brand for him. My BEC sexist former coworker who often referenced “babysitting” his own children telling it: FLAMES ON THE SIDES OF MY FACE, because it would be playing into an ongoing narrative that his children were an inconvenience he shouldn’t have to expend any time or effort on which he constantly used to get a rise out of me.)

    1. Lady Phoenix*

      It’s not “baby sitting” when they’re your own children. It’s called parenting, @55hole.

      (This is to your former coworker. Not to you, KayEss. You sound wonderful and I am glad you are no longer working with this boor.)

      1. KayEss*

        He was very much a class clown type who never grew up, and his impulses were never curbed because it was a small business with no HR and an encouraged “we’re all friends” environment. I haaaaaated him, so so much. There are many stories.

        He once told a joke-joke (most of his “jokes” were unbelievably awkward and inappropriate questions, but this was a genuine, properly-formatted joke with a punchline, not just him asking the mailman if he ever peed in the shower) about a dog drinking gasoline, running around at top speed for a while, and then falling over dead… because it “ran out of gas.” (Ba-dum tssh.) I actually found that one kind of funny, but it went over like a lead balloon in an office of intense dog-lovers.

        OP: DON’T BE THAT GUY.

    2. BethDH*

      Also the (main) punchline of the alligator joke hinges on the kid NOT getting eaten, while the second one the joke is entirely about the actual dead baby. That’s maybe why the girl scout cookie joke is generally more accepted — if you imagine the setup as someone who wants a refund because there wasn’t a real baby in their king cake, that doesn’t seem as dark to me.

      1. KayEss*

        Yeah, I think that does make a difference. Also, as others in the thread have pointed out: don’t make even the “and then Mrs. Donner went back for a refund because there wasn’t a real baby in the king cake” joke WHILE EVERYONE’S EATING KING CAKE. It amounts to including the listeners as part of the punchline in a way that comes across as tone-deaf at best and mean-spirited at worst.

  63. Lucyloo*

    This is why threads on other forums that ask things like, “What was a really hilarious joke you told?” or “What was your best one-liner?” just fall flat. Everyone’s humor is so different. I read examples that people give and I’m like, “Oooo-kay, that doesn’t strike me as very funny.” I’m not a particularly humor-impaired person—some of my friends even tell me I’m funny—but the OP’s first joke was mildly amusing and the second was just a weird and graphic thing to say, IN MY OPINION.

    It’s very subjective and knowing your audience is 99% of the battle. The good thing is, you know your audience now, based on your boss’ reaction. Your job is to tailor how you use humor in the workplace appropriately.

    1. Lucy*

      If I am put on the spot to tell a joke, it needs to be absolutely PG. Cheese jokes are suitable. “What do you call a donkey with three legs? Wonky.” That kind of thing. You could tell the joke in a third grade class or a church social and not everyone would laugh but nobody would be offended. In the UK we have jokes in Christmas crackers that are always that level of corny but inoffensive. That’s a workplace-safe joke.

      1. Lucy*

        What cheese could you use to hide a little horse?

        What cheese is made backwards?

        What cheese belongs to someone else?
        Nacho cheese.

  64. Kimmybear*

    I actually heard a speaker at a conference last week on using humor at work. Basically, Audience, Medium and Purpose of humor are important. As others have said, might be that your boss is the wrong audience for this type of humor. I do recommend checking out Andrew Tarvin and his website Humor that Works for info on using humor appropriately at work. (I have no connection other than hearing him speak last week.)

  65. Oh So Anon*

    My take? The first joke, on its own, isn’t that tasteless. The second joke is a straight-up dead baby joke. As a lot of other people have said, both of them in the same day can come across as really offputting.

    Dark humor that involves children can play particularly poorly if you don’t have children and your colleagues do. You may risk playing into some ugly stereotypes about childfree people when you make those kind of jokes.

    Also, it may not be the best idea to use dark humor or sarcasm around people who aren’t native English language speakers. You may work with people who are fully comfortable with sarcasm and pragmatic language in their native language/culture and seem fully fluent in English, but they don’t get it in English 100% and may misinterpret you very negatively. Then there are all sorts of other reasons someone may have trouble interpreting sarcasm. In a very diverse workplace sometimes it’s easier to be as earnest as possible.

    I have a pretty dry sense of humor but at work I only whip it out around people who I know are comfortable with my sense of humor, and even so, only sparingly. Note that dry doesn’t include jokes about dead or dismembered children, though.

    1. Sarah*

      Not going to lie, your second paragraph is a) exactly why I find the baby joke hilarious and b) why I would never tell it except in a group of similarly-minded CFBC people.

  66. 5 month mommy*

    Since the LW asked for stories:

    My mother went to a business meeting many years ago and was warned that one of the clients had recently lost her 6-month-old child, so to be sensitive of that. During the meeting, one of my mother’s coworkers was talking about how her air conditioning had stopped working. She said, VERBATIM, “Yeah, it was fine for a while, but after six months, that baby just died.”

    That isn’t really dark humor, but it was a very unfortunate word choice in that situation.

    1. American Girl*

      Call me a terrible person but this made me actually laugh out loud. A very unfortunate choice of words.

      1. Myrna Minkoff*

        Yeah I don’t know, I think it’s pretty effed up that you did laugh. Well, the fact that you felt the need to share that you laughed, anyway.

    2. RainbowBrite*

      My high school Spanish teacher went off on a tangent about a job he’d applied for but didn’t get. He didn’t realize until after he’d said “they shot me down” that it was probably not the best choice of words to talk about when you’re telling a group of kids you didn’t get a job at Columbine.

    3. Observer*

      Very unfortunate choice of words! But, in the right context, a very funny story! And an excellent illustration of how things can go wrong even when people are trying to be sensitive.

    4. Greg*

      Tim Russert was once interviewing Sen. Bob Kerrey on “Meet the Press” when he asked him, “Aren’t you concerned that if you cut a deal with Republicans, President Clinton will saw your limb off?”

      Kerrey, who lost a leg in Vietnam, replied, “Somebody’s already sawed one of them off!”

  67. Magenta Sky*

    Back when our sexual harassment training was still done by people instead of computers, it was usually run by a litigator (with war stories) from the employment law firm the company uses. His executive summary was always “Know your audience.” It’s only offensive if somebody is offended. But you won’t know until it’s too late to not say it.

    Or, to quote Sam in Ronin, “Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt”

  68. Detective Rosa Diaz*

    OP, I am going to be blunt and it is because I am trying to be helpful. The issue is not “dark humor” the issue is that the jokes you are contributing are deeply unfunny. “Dead baby” jokes and the like are hack, and most of us stopped making them in middle school. You’re out of step. I’m sorry.

    1. JKL*

      This isn’t universally true though. There are some people and some workplaces that would find these kind of jokes acceptable. I think the “know your audience” advice is more useful to the OP than this.

        1. JKL*

          This isn’t really something you can disagree about… There are, in fact, people in this thread saying they find these kind of jokes acceptable. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean no one likes it.

          1. Health Insurance Nerd*

            Yup, this. Humor is completely subjective. I understood the dead baby joke, and thought it was funny (and given the context of the King Cake, it made sense to me).

            1. Detective Rosa Diaz*

              Yeah I mean someone who does comedy professionally can make a call on what’s hack, I think?

              1. Detective Rosa Diaz*

                Hack doesn’t mean some people won’t like it, just that they shouldn’t. Because it’s overdone and BORING.

              2. Health Insurance Nerd*

                Being a professional comedian doesn’t mean that you’re the be-all end-all judge of what is funny and what isn’t. There are all kinds of professional comedians out there, and they each have their own “schtick” which will appeal to some people, and not to others. Again, comedy is completely subjective- and that doesn’t change because you do it for a living.

    2. Archaeopteryx*

      Yeah, it’s exactly Middle School because that’s the age at which kids think they don’t need to actually construct jokes or deliver them well in order to be funny- the transgressive subject matter to them is all you need, and if people don’t respond well it’s because they’re easily offended.

      The baby in a king cake is probably joked about by 90% of people who eat king cake in some manner. “What if it was a real baby” isn’t a very original joke, and the gory details just seem like doubling down on the same hackneyed premise. By the time you’re grown, you’ve got to finesse the humor a bit more.

  69. gecko*

    Whatever the general recommendation is, there will always be some “read the room.” The room is telling you no, so you know your answer (though it sucks).

  70. Autumnheart*

    It’s kind of like how Cards Against Humanity is funny, until you read about kids dying in detention at the border, or some other horrific scenario that’s actually happening for real, to real people. Nothing quite underlines “privilege” like being in a position to laugh at a form of suffering because it seems unrealistic to the point of absurdity–but when you know people really ARE being imprisoned and deported and shot and eaten by alligators…it really loses its humor value. I’ve played some absolutely epic games of CAH, but post-2016 the jokes are super not-funny to me anymore. It’s too on-the-nose.

    Dark humor is fine when you’re certain that everyone around you is in the same circumstances. If you aren’t sure about that, though, then keep it PG.

  71. Name of Requirement*

    When you go deep into humor, you kind of make people switch gears from literal to have to think about what you meant. A joke you have to dissect isn’t funny. Most people at work aren’t in joke mode.

  72. Health Insurance Nerd*

    I think this is very much a “know your audience” kind of thing. A workday without humor sounds really sad to me (because I am your audience, for sure), but there also needs to be an element of thoughtfulness. I’ve been at my company long enough to have a sense of what I can say in front of whom, and when I need to stifle some of my funny commentary because the timing, the audience, or both, aren’t right.

  73. londonedit*

    Disclaimer: British. I think the alligator joke is perfectly fine. It’s less of a joke and more of a ‘witty comeback’ sort of thing, but it’s the sort of riposte I’ve heard countless times. Very much in the vein of typical British humour. No one in their right mind would think you *actually* wanted a child to be eaten by an alligator. The cake scenario…OK, yeah, not as witty as the alligator one, but it wouldn’t have me clutching at my pearls either. I’d see it along the same lines as the classic ‘Ooh, I love puppies…couldn’t eat a whole one, mind you’ joke, which while a bit hackneyed isn’t likely to elicit more than a sarcastic ‘Ooooh, I’ve never heard that one before!’ eye-roll.

    1. American Girl*

      Disclaimer: American
      I agree with this. It sounds like OP was going for the eye roll reaction and not a shock factor.

    2. Colette*

      I think it could be fine, if the OP had buy-in from the other participants and didn’t try to control it herself. If the person who had gone on the field trip had complained they couldn’t get a refund, that would have been funny (and they would have been in on the joke). But in the example the OP gave, she was trying too hard to turn a serious conversation into a jokey one without the other person’s consent. It’s not really offensive, it’s just not what they are there for, and not something she gets to unilaterally decide.

  74. Richard*

    “Dark humor can also drag a team’s mood down.” This is a great thing to keep in mind as well. A lot of people think of themselves as dark or sarcastic, but just come across as negative.

  75. nnn*

    A specific issue about the cake joke is not just that it’s a dead baby joke, but that it’s a joke about something gross being in the food that people are literally in the process of eating.

    Before we even get into the concept of sense of humour or the quality and nature of the humour, for some people that can turn their stomach, to the point where they have to fight off vomiting.

    And, before we even get into basic human decency, that’s inconvenient in the workplace! It doesn’t serve anyone well to have someone feeling icky and unable to eat all day because of some foolish quip someone made.

    1. BethDH*

      And I would be especially annoyed at that if I were the one who made the effort to bring cake for my coworkers.

      1. mrs__peel*

        Yeah, wholly apart from whether the joke was funny or not, it’s just rude to say gross things about the free food that a co-worker was nice enough to bring in. The last thing I want is to discourage people from bringing in delicious cake!!

  76. AW*

    I love dark / edgy humor and luckily my office is mostly on the same wave length. I even told a joke about bestiality during my job interview and still got the job.

      1. AW*

        I’m not sure how well the joke will translate outside of the UK, but the punch lines about ram raiding being the most common crime in Whales.

  77. Budgie Lover*

    A lot of people are commenting with “know your audience” or “read the room” or “use self-deprecating humor” which are fine as far as they go. But reading the question, it really feels like what’s making the two situations awkward is the OP making neutral situations a springboard for derailing the conversation into their own comedy routine.

    Sometimes people are delighted to bring up a subject and see it immediately segway into another person being as morbid/gross as possible. I’m sure this can be hilarious in the right context. (By “I’m sure” what I mean is, “This sounds like a nightmare, but if somewhere far for me people like this, whatever.”) Obviously, this is not the context. After all, this is an office, not a bunch of friends hanging out over drinks.

    The best way smooth over the awkwardness is to lay off the humor altogether for a bit. Comments like these are just bringing the conversation to a screeching halt and focusing everyone’s attention on the OP. Rather than looking for humor openings, let people tell their stories. Practice responses that keep other people at the center of their stories. “Oh, what was the most fun part of the park?” “Wow, where did you purchase/how did you make the cake?” People will probably be pleased at the genuine interest, and OP can build up good will and avoid being painted as “weird inappropriate comedy person.”

    1. Arctic*

      Yes, not speaking of the OP in particular. But I have a very dark sense of humor and it would be very difficult to offend me unless you are being racist. But I have one co-worker who just uses any opportunity to go into his act. And it’s just really annoying. This is a conversation with several people not your set at the Laugh Factory.

      Again, not that I think that’s what’s happening with the OP but I have seen that too.

    2. Lucille2*

      I think this is really great advice. It might not be the actual jokes that are the problem, but that OP is derailing people from sharing their stories or interrupting conversations with ill-timed jokes. That’s the thing about jokes. The perfectly timed joke is brilliant, but the same joke delivered at the wrong time falls like a lead balloon.

      Be the funny guy at work, but don’t risk being the tone-deaf guy who derails conversations.

    3. aebhel*

      Yeah, I think this was what was bothering me the most about it. It’s not just the jokes (although, ffs, don’t tell dead baby jokes at work), it’s the looking for any possible opening to tell a morbid joke rather than actually, like, engaging in the conversation. Plenty of people find that annoying even if they wouldn’t otherwise be bothered by the content of the joke.

    4. mrs__peel*

      Agreed. I have a very morbid sense of humor, but I try to save my remarks for my mom who’s an emergency department nurse. I don’t shoehorn them awkwardly into meetings with my co-workers where we’re talking about normal work stuff.

    5. I Took A Mint*

      Nailed it. OP should probably not tell these kinds of jokes at work, but just replacing them with bad puns doesn’t help the situation–it still sounds like you’re trying to steal the spotlight all the time. Not a good look at work.

  78. Lady Phoenix*

    Now I am remembering one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite musicals, “A Little Priest” from “Sweeney Todd” (the concert version NOT the Depp version).

    Backstory: The play is about a Victorian England-era duo of serial killers who slit the throats of people coming in for a shave who then grind their bodies up to serve the bodies as meat pies.

    The song is a mix of dark humor and PUNS (the best humor) about the deliciousness of a pie made by men of specific occupations (Priest, port, Lawyer, Rear Admiral, etc). I like it because it is not only clever puns… but it is also not too “graphic” in how the pies are made—all the jokes are about the occupations (Lawyer = expensive, Grocer = Green, Priest = “Heavenly”, Politician = Oily) with only one expection—Rear Admiral with or without his privates (with is extra). And yes, there is a joke about Shepard’s Pie—because England.

    If the song talked into great details about grinding the bodies up into pie, I probably would not pie as favorable to the song.

    1. Joanna*

      I love “Sweeny Todd”, but that makes me wonder why a full-blown musical/movie about killing people for meat pies is praised but a one-off (in this case, two-off) comment about people dying is shunned as “dark humor”. It’s the same concept – people are dying and being eaten either way. One is just a younger food option, both are fictional.

        1. fposte*

          I’d expand to say one is happening to people who came to the space voluntarily for that purpose. It’s not whether anybody anywhere can ever make a dead baby joke (and note that there is a complete absence of dead baby jokes in Sweeney Todd), it’s whether it’s a good plan for you to do so at your workplace, especially when you are, I suspect, young and inexperienced.

          On a similar and perhaps more pertinent note, since this sounded a little like somebody working through something the length of a bit in a standup routine, I think that a lot of people who like standup comedy can be lured into thinking that standup material plays at work. And for the very same reason, you really can’t assume that.

      1. Peridot*

        It’s also very clear that the people making other people into meat pies are profoundly disturbed, no matter how amusing they are. I mean, I get your point, but I’m amazed that I can think of a few other examples of humorous, critically acclaimed cannibalism fiction (Eating Raoul, Delicatessen). It’s all about the context.

      2. Jennifer*

        My mom and I always say, “secret’s in the sauce!” when someone compliments how good something we’re cooking smells. That’s a Fried Green Tomatoes reference that involves cannibalism in what’s supposed to be a light-hearted PG-13 “chick-flick.” These kinds of jokes are a part of pop culture.

      3. Lady Phoenix*

        Well, the audience are PAYING to sit down and watch this. The playbills and ratings (if watching the film) and what nots give the audience a pretty clear idea what they are going into.

        Tgat is different than dropping a poorly executed dead baby joke right in the middle of breaktoom during snakc/meal time.

        1. mrs__peel*

          Yes, I loved both “Delicatessen” and “Eating Raoul” (mentioned above), but I was very clear on the subject matter before I saw either of them. Also, I don’t remember any baby/child peril in them, which is a much more sensitive matter for a lot of people.

      4. LJay*

        I’m pretty sure Sweeny Todd is considered to be dark humor anyway as a genre.

        Just like the play The Book of Mormon is praised but would generally be considered to be politically incorrect and you probably shouldn’t joke about similar subjects at a work meeting.

        Dark humor and politically incorrect humor aren’t value judgments so much as genres.

      5. Ribiko*

        In addition to Not A Manager’s point about setting, when Sweeney Todd first premiered reportedly there were plenty of people disgusted by the show’s premise and walked out of the theater (which also happened with the film, and sometimes more recent productions).

    2. Amber Rose*

      I honestly think that’s the major issue with LW’s jokes. They’re just a little too graphic. If you look at the classic crack about Girl Scout cookies being made of real Girl Scouts, the humor is in the word play, not in the idea of dead children. But when the joke is centered around death as the funny point, it’s probably not gonna fly with a lot of people.

      I do love me some dark humor based puns and word play.

    3. smoke tree*

      This reminds me of my literature professor who brought in pies for everyone on the day we discussed Titus Andronicus.

      1. mrs__peel*

        Now THAT I can get behind! (Although I have a tough stomach and frequently read medical records while I eat lunch at work).

  79. CanCan*

    OP, one way to think about humour is to imagine that you’re telling the joke to every single person in the group, not the group as a whole. If you think the joke may hit a sour note with one person within earshot, don’t tell it.

    PS. This logic doesn’t necessarily work vice versa. Some jokes are just not ok (at least at work).

  80. Stuff*

    As with most humor know your audience. By now you probably know those wha appreciate it and those who don’t. Maybe refrain from the questionable stuff in from of the whole group and save it for smaller sets of people. I know you really want to get in those zingers but especially since it’s your boss who is the most uncomfortable with it just think twice when you are tempted.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        I think it is *TOTALLY AWESOME* that we are getting feedback from some of the other sides of this.

        1. OP's coworker*

          Honestly, seeing some of the deep-dive reads on the situation have definitely persuaded me never to write into the site myself.

  81. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Some of these bad-taste jokes might be regarded as sick.

    Sick humor may have a place (and I haven’t yet figured out what it is, but there’s a market for anything and everything , so…) but certainly not in the work place.

  82. Independent George*

    As Alison mentions, you don’t necessarily know about coworkers personal struggles and how your dark humor could strike a sensitive nerve. People often use the phrase, “In case Fergus was hit by a bus…” to emphasize the importance of having contingency plans at work. It’s a common phrase most people don’t blink an eye about. But I have a family member who was killed in a head-on car collision on her evening commute. She left work one normal day and never returned. I’m guessing her coworkers never use this phrase now. The phrase always makes me think of her. Every time. I don’t mention anything, and take it in stride because I know no one realizes how it’s received. But it takes me to a sad place every time I hear it, and I hear it pretty often in work settings.

    The examples you use are both about dead children/babies. That’s a pretty sensitive place for some people, so maybe it’s the topic that is making your boss uncomfortable. I think you’re reading the room right, and know you need to adjust your comments at work.

    1. motherofdragons*

      I’m sorry for your loss! I haven’t experienced something like that but it’s always seemed to me like a pretty morbid thing to say, so when I heard someone say “In case Fergus wins the lottery” I started using that phrase instead.

    2. Amber Rose*

      I hear that one a lot too, but I’ve mostly moved to “in case Fergus gets abducted by aliens” for this reason, since I don’t want to give anyone painful feelings.

    3. Esk*

      I’m sorry for your loss.
      motherofdragons, I also switched to “if Jerrica won the lotto” – I think after a recommendation from this site

    4. Observer*

      As others have mentioned, it’s a good reason that many people don’t use that phrase any more. And, even with that “In case Fergus gets hit by a bus” is a lot less sensitive than dead baby jokes, given that miscarriage is so common, infant mortality still exists, and that a lot of child deaths tend to be high profile enough that they are far more in people’s consciousness (possibly more so than warranted by actual facts, but still there.) Notice the number of people who said “I immediately thought about the poor kid who was killed by an alligator”? A lot less people are likely to say “I immediately thought of poor X who got killed by a bus.”

      And I STILL think that “won the lottery” / “abducted by aliens” is a better way to put it.

      1. Lucille2*

        Thank you all. And I agree, the dead baby jokes is waaaay more likely to hit a raw nerve than “hit by a bus.” The further I get into my career, the more personal tragedies I’ve experienced. I assume those who are above a certain age and stage of life have experienced their fair share of setbacks and tragedies as well. OP shouldn’t have to know there is a person in the room who might have had a personal tragedy and what that tragedy is to avoid making an insensitive joke. The boss’s body language is telling OP to stop, and OP is asking if they really should have to stop. I’m afraid the OP isn’t paying attention to those cues.

  83. londonedit*

    Now I’m just thinking about Eddie Izzard’s ‘Dress to Kill’ stand-up show…which is probably best avoided if you’re deeply offended by the jokes mentioned here.

    1. nnn*

      That’s an interesting example, because the specific bit you’re referring to is practically irrelevant to Dress to Kill as a whole, could easily be omitted from the show, and has nothing to do with what makes Eddie Izzard interesting as a standup or Dress to Kill a classic as a comedy show.

      It’s a silly toss-off comment that adds nothing, but could easily put people off.

  84. Anonymouse2 for this*

    Yeah…I had chronic nightmares from post partum depression about eating babies so just reading this “joke” is causing me horrible painful memories. If I were your boss or colleague I probably would have walked out of the room and cried. Listen to the people and don’t talk about dead babies or children at work.

    1. Kaitlyn*

      Oof, PPD and PPA can be a REAL mind-fuck. I’m so sorry you went through that. Validation and agreement to your point FOR SURE.

    2. Kaitlyn*

      Oof. PPA and PPD can be a real mind-ruiner. I’m so sorry you went through that. I can totally relate, and I validate and understand your reaction here.

  85. Batgirl*

    OP, it might be worth considering that the boss *might* be into dark humour off the clock. But as the boss, he probably knows who’s had a miscarriage, or how often he gets told that. Or he’s remembering the guy who brought Cards Against Humanity into work with zero filter and is hoping thats not going to be you.
    For what its worth, I thought you were funny! But is it funny enough to override boss type concerns?

  86. Jaguar*

    I don’t think this is a work thing. I think this is a group of people thing. Some people don’t have a sense of humour, so if you want to get along with everyone, you need to balance a function of how anodyne you want to be, how much you want to test the waters, and how smoothly you want your relationships at work to go at all times. But that can happen at work, on a sports team, a group vacation, or wherever.

    I will say, there’s something much more admirable about someone that acts like themselves and lets other people deal with it. I find that a much more attractive quality in a person than someone who pretends they’re someone else just to fit in. But, you have to make a living and you need to make your own decisions about what is more important to you between being genuine and being agreeable.

    1. Colette*

      “Genuine” is good – no one is saying it isn’t – but that should not be the same as making every topic a joke or hurting other people. There are ways to be genuine without making dead baby jokes to someone who just lost a child, or who would love children but can’t have them, or who was in a terrible accident where other people died – and you don’t know who those people are by looking. You should be able to be genuinely yourself without being an insensitive jerk.

      1. Jaguar*

        Well, two issues. First, I don’t see making jokes that can hypothetically offend someone, somewhere, in some situation as being insensitive. Second, some people are genuinely insensitive jerks, and personally, I’d rather they just be that when interacting with me than get into the weird and kinda psychotic territory of pretending to be empathetic.

        1. Colette*

          The situation is work, though . Making jokes that can offend people around people who have opted in to listen to those jokes? Fine. Making jokes that can offend people in a situation where people did not opt in and can’t leave at will? Awful.

          But also, being an insensitive jerk is not an unchangeable characteristic, and not a free pass to offend and hurt people. They don’t have to pretend empathy they don’t feel, but they do have to behave kindly.

        2. mrs__peel*

          “jokes that can hypothetically offend someone, somewhere”

          Things like miscarriage and stillbirth are extremely common. If you want to avoid being a jerk, your *default assumption* should be that at least some of your co-workers in any group have experienced these things personally and to maybe lay off the dead baby jokes.

          “That’s just how I am, I’m being genuine!” is a shit excuse for hurting another person. Anyone with enough mental wherewithal to perform the technical requirements of a job can (and should) learn the rules for respectful behavior with co-workers as well.

    2. Asenath*

      I think that whether or not I’d admire someone who acts like themselves and lets other people deal with it depends entirely on what they do and say when they act like themselves. Not every genuine characteristic is admirable.

      There’s a lot to be said for people who can choose appropriately what parts of themselves to use when relating to other people. And I say that as someone who has improved somewhat in how and when I let it show, but will probably need to work on reducing my tendency to say sharp, hurtful things when I lose my temper until the day I die. It’s a perfectly genuine part of my personality, but it’s not one I prefer to display.

      1. aebhel*

        ^ this. The fact that a trait is genuine doesn’t make it admirable. I’m a genuinely impatient person with a short fuse, but that doesn’t mean that it’s admirable if I make no effort to temper those personality characteristics.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        I’m a genuinely hypersensitive person with controlling tendencies, but I definitely need to rein those in at work. And in real life. And I’d also genuinely love to not be so much like that.

      3. Jaguar*

        I agree. I didn’t say I admire all people who act genuine, I said I admire the quality. You can total up a person’s positives and negatives and they can still come out in the red on balance despite being genuine. There’s also a difference between maturing / changing yourself and acting a certain way you otherwise wouldn’t, so I don’t think you’re talking about the same thing.

        As it relates to jokes, offense is taken, not given. I think it’s a character flaw to demand others respect your taboos, and that applies to the rising tide of social niceties that people expect, not swearing or taking the lord’s name in vain around religious people, or anything else. I’ll gladly censor myself around individuals I know to be sensitive to certain subject matter (be it joking or just topics of discussion in general). Seeing everyone as potentially unable to discuss anything seems like a minor tragedy.

        1. mrs__peel*

          “seems like a minor tragedy”

          Give me a freaking break. It’s not a tragedy that people in positions of power can’t openly make racist, sexist, etc., comments anymore without experiencing consequences. Far from it.

          Also, in my experience, most people who make a big to-do about making “edgy” jokes and “not being PC” are far less funny and far more tedious to other people than they realize.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          “offense is taken, not given”

          I’m not sure that’s true, and it’s certainly not fair since it puts the onus on the audience to accept whatever crass, thoughtless, drivel gets thrown at them and if they’re offended, it’s totally their fault. I mean, it might be *technically* true, but it’s not true in terms of how humans tend to function emotionally. At some point, a joke has gone too far and it should be A-OK to call that person out.

          And I’m with mrs_peel: People who are big into being edgy and complaining about PC are, in my experience, more often than not at least low-level jerks who aren’t funny and don’t want to take responsibility for what they say.

          1. aebhel*

            Yeah, I mean, I support everybody’s right to joke about whatever the hell they want to, but that doesn’t translate into the right to an appreciative and unoffended audience. You can joke about whatever you want, but nobody has to think you’re funny.

        3. Asenath*

          I wouldn’t list those social niceties (not swearing etc) as part of the “rising tide” of Things To Avoid In Case of Offence. I’d put them in a list of “once sure to cause offense much more widely than is the case today”. There are lots of more recent things defined as “offensive” in some circles but not in others, with resulting loud and acrimonious debate over them.

          But that’s not the point. The point is that anyone functioning as a member of a group of people needs to know (or to learn, if they’re a new member/employee/whatever) what sorts of things are considered offensive among the group. If they don’t, they’ll have trouble functioning well, like OP will if his boss decides his baby jokes indicate that he’s too difficult and unpleasant to work with, or will drive off clients. It is true that I (and the boss) can choose how to react to something that’s offensive, maybe letting it go until I get more evidence about the other person, maybe stopping it in its tracks if its sufficiently bad. The fact that someone can choose how to respond to offense doesn’t meant that offense wasn’t taken or given. And it doesn’t mean that the offense wasn’t bad enough to affect the speaker’s relationships with the others involved.

    3. aebhel*

      … can we please retire the idea that anyone who doesn’t laugh at offensive jokes has no sense of humor?

      1. TheRedCoat*

        yes please. Just because I picture my toddler being eaten when the OP jokes about children being eaten doesn’t mean I never laugh.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        And also the idea that if I don’t laugh at your joke, it’s because I found it offensive (and am therefore Too Uptight) and not just because it wasn’t funny to me?

      3. Haniver*

        +1. I gained a reputation at an office as the humorless bitch who never laughed because my coworker loved telling Bill Cosby rape jokes and showing me pictures of rape on his screen, and I refused to engage. He actually complained about me to our supervisor for having no sense of humor because he just wanted to “act like himself” and let me “deal with it.” If you are bothered by someone who doesn’t find you funny, ask yourself if you’re sure you’re funny? If you feel stifled by an inability to make jokes and be yourself in polite company, ask yourself if your “self” maybe sucks?

    4. Batgirl*

      Knowing the group situation? Yes. It’s not that people have no sense of humour; people have different senses of humour. Risk and prior experiences are a big part of humour and you have no idea what people’s prior experiences are unless they’re a much more intimate group than ‘everyone at work’.
      Without knowing what people’s traumas/phobias/whatevers are the risk level is unknowable. Plus, if you do hurt someone they can’t just nope out on your company as if this was a social situation.

    5. Observer*

      I have very little respect for someone who “acts like themselves” without regard to how it affects others. Common decency doesn’t require pretense.

      If someone hasn’t gotten the concept of filtering themselves by the time they have reached age 10 or so, that’s a problem.

    6. NoOneInvitesTheSafetyOfficerToParties*

      On days when my stress levels are high, I unknowingly become a kleptomanic. It’s a genuine character trait, but for some reason, wandering off with someone else’s supplies in your hand isn’t always enduring, especially when it’s the *good* pen.

      1. Asenath*

        I haven’t even got the excuse of having high stress levels; I somehow accumulate pens. Fortunately, they are usually not someone’s best pen, but I understand entirely why many places have pens chained to the counter or clipboard with the form to fill out or something. I think of myself as an honest person, but somewhere, deep in my mind, taking pens isn’t theft.

  87. 123456789101112 do do do*

    Two comments:
    1) I was able to go to Disneyworld last fall, and my mother-in-law booked our rooms at the same resort that had the tragedy with the child being killed by an alligator. I have a five-year-old, and I was very upset about that event and on edge about our upcoming trip. EVERYONE who heard where we would be staying made a joke related to the tragedy, and I’m usually a pretty humorous person, but I couldn’t laugh at it. It was too real.
    2) A friend in college was going overboard with the “your mom” jokes. Everything you said, he would parrot back something like “your mom goes grocery shopping.” It’s kind of funny sometimes, very situational humor, but he took it too far all the time. So one day I put my acting skills to work and got really quiet, replying, “My mom is dead.” He was mortified. I kept this up for two years before someone clued him in to the fact that my mom is alive and well. It taught him a lesson.
    The lesson? I guess? Is don’t make jokes about dead relatives? Too easy to mess it up.

    1. Amber Rose*

      There’s a story up on Not Always Right about someone who always says “your mom” and, during a conversation or something where death came up, actually said “your mom is dead” to someone who recently did lose their mom. Yeah. Gotta watch those verbal habits, they can backfire bad.

      Stick to “your face.” Because the absurdity of “your FACE goes grocery shopping” is probably not gonna offend people. With the usual caveat of know your audience.

      Or do it the Regular Show way and switch to “my mom.”

          1. Polyhymnia O'Keefe*

            I do “your mom” jokes to my husband. And he does likewise. But not (usually) to our respective mother-in-laws’ faces.

  88. Lilysparrow*

    Two dead kid jokes in one day would certainly put you on my list of people to give a wide berth.

    I have a dark sense of humor sometimes, particularly when I’m in a dark place mentally. And IME, the same holds true for people I have known IRL.

    This much dark all at once would send a “tip of the iceberg” signal to me.

  89. AvonLady Barksdale*

    I have a really dirty sense of humor and occasionally a dark one. Sometimes they mix. Some days I’m quicker than others. But I generally save them for my partner who’s even “worse” than I am because it’s just not a side I’m comfortable sharing at work. I don’t want to be thought of as “that woman with the dirty mind” or “the inappropriate co-worker” or whatever. Occasionally I will tell an off-color joke or make a pun, but I’m really, really careful about who hears it. I am, however, known as having a good sense of humor. So I go home and share the story with my partner and I get the laugh and it’s done.

    Sometimes, it’s very good to compartmentalize.

  90. mf*

    OP, I thought your jokes were funny (even the dead baby one), but I will admit that my sense of humor is… not for everyone.

    When I start a new job, I tend to play it REALLY safe with humor for a long time (months, at least). Once I get to know people really well, then I’ll start to joke around with them if I feel they might share my sense of humor. People who tend to be jokesters or who are more “open” with their coworkers, these are the ones I’ll share edgier jokes with. I’ll continue to play it safe with those who are a little more formal or don’t joke around much.

    Also, when in doubt: keep the joke to yourself. It’s much easier to keep a joke to yourself than deal with the fallout after you inadvertently said something really inappropriate.

  91. CustServGirl*

    Maybe it makes no sense (because the jokes are not ALL that different) but I would likely have chuckled at the first, but cringed at the second. I like to believe I can appreciate dark humor, but the second joke about the cake reminds me of those “dead baby” jokes that were common among young teens in the early/mid-2000’s. I have to agree with Allison that dark humor is not ideal for most workplaces, and if you aren’t sure how a joke may land, it’s best to keep it to yourself.

  92. Frankie*

    I’d probably change my view of someone who made multiple jokes like this in one day. I sometimes have a darker sense of humor, and sometimes it’s snarkier, but both of those need to be really tempered in the workplace and they really, really depend on who’s listening and their style.

    OP, when I hear jokes like this at work I tend to feel the speaker 1) is really out of touch with norms and/or 2) actively sets out to violate norms in the workplace. Neither of those is great. People I have known who make a lot of jokes like these examples were often, I felt, kind of showcasing “edginess” in a weirdly performative way. Not that you are doing that, but that’s what these examples remind me of, and that’s what I might assume when hearing this at work.

    Maybe another way to think about it–are you using humor to show how funny you are? Or are you using humor to connect with people and build camaraderie? Like…are you joking WITH people or AT them?

  93. arcya*

    I think a wider analysis of this problem is that the workplace creates the kind of “surface-level” friendships that can feel like real connections, but of course they aren’t because we (mostly) don’t hang out with co-workers voluntarily. When you really only know someone’s outer facade it’s difficult to judge how certain jokes are going to affect them. If you and your manager were actually friends you’d probably know stuff like, you know, that his spouse had a miscarriage or something. Allison’s advice on the practical level is spot on: you don’t know your coworkers true lives. You’re not a comedian these people paid to come see, they are compelled to spend time near you, so act accordingly.

    The other problem is that neither joke is funny? Not in a “that’s offensive” way, they just aren’t entertaining. If I had to guess that’s probably why your manager didn’t really laugh.

  94. Reanis*

    OP, I am lucky enough to work in a small department where we all have similarly twisted senses of humor. Your jokes would have spawned day-long discussions on how best to entice ‘gators and prepare babies for consumption! I hope you find a group of like-minded coworkers to be dark with; mine find you hilarious :)

  95. Ginger*

    OP – some people view constant joking as not listening. Especially at work. and I think the comment section has hammered it enough but dead kid jokes just aren’t funny to a lot of people and laughter =/= thinking you’re funny.

    1. KR*

      Yes to joking being interpreted as not listening. When someone makes a joke when I’m trying to explain something or say something it derails me and means I have to stop my focus to force a chuckle or smile. It tells me the person listening … Isn’t listening and is more focused on making their joke work.

    2. AnitaJ*

      This is a good point–and I find it interesting that the OP is currently making jokes in the comments section now.

    3. Portrait vs Landscape*

      Yes! Exactly this. When a coworker is constantly joking around I think they aren’t listening and are just waiting for me to stop talking so they have the next opportunity to throw in one of their stupid zingers. That OP is in the comments joking around shows a lack of insight. It’s rather infuriating.

      1. Ginger*

        Uh yeah. He’s looking for validation that was he said was “Ok” and encouragement to keep his stand-up act going. No acknowledgement of how hurtful *dead baby* jokes are to many people, no recognition that people laughing aren’t always thinking you’re funny…

        1. mrs__peel*

          I have to agree. It shows a serious lack of empathy and consideration to me, especially since so many commenters have openly and bravely shared some of the most painful parts of their lives.

  96. American Girl*

    Story time, since OP asked for stories and everyone is acting like they’ve never went too far with a joke ever:

    I was hanging out in the break room with my manager, who was known to be very blunt and has a dark sense of humor. She said something mean/sassy (I can’t remember what) that made me laugh and say “I’ll include your name in my suicide letter”. She got very serious and mentioned that she’s had multiple friends that killed themselves and suicide isn’t funny. She was the type to make a dead babies joke, so I was surprised and very embarrassed when she wasn’t laughing. That was the last time I made a joke like that at work.

  97. incompetemp's colleague*

    L O L I want you as my colleague, please and thank you. We have a dark sense of humor here and joke about giving into The Void all the time. You’d fit right in.

    I did come from a different workplace that totally did not understand my sense of humor at all, though. Like, one time during a team meeting we were looking at color schemes and came across a very dark one, so I said, “Dark, like my heart.” NO ONE LAUGHED. They just kinda looked at me confused and concerned. After this happened a few times, I gave up trying to be funny around these people.

    It wasn’t dark humor, but I think the most egregious example was one time when we were in a meeting and our graphic designer was running late. Someone asked where she was, so I pretended to check my phone and said, “According to the GPS tracker I stuck in her shoe, she’s coming up the hallway right now.” And my colleague looked at me, surprised, and replied, “Really? Ok, good.” NO, COLLEAGUE, I DID NOT PLANT A GPS TRACKER ON THE GRAPHIC DESIGNER. BVBGVSIGFBSIBGSI.

    1. KayEss*

      I had one of those “… no, see, that was a JOKE” moments once when I got a significant haircut–like 8-12 inches off, more than half the original length. After hours of no comments whatsoever, someone asked if I’d gotten a haircut, and I jokingly deadpanned, “No, why?” They immediately started apologizing, saying I just looked different that day for some reason, etc. It was terribly awkward, but really brought home just how invisible I had become in that setting.

    2. Snark*

      I’d have laughed my ass off at that one, because it was not only funny and deadpan but it made a point, namely “who knows where the hell the designer is, she doesn’t have a tracking collar.”

      1. incompetemp's colleague*

        LOL right? Maybe instead of whining about people going missing, install a culture where it’s, I dunno, NOT normal for people to arrive 10-15 minutes late to every meeting? Just a thought. PHEW feeling real grateful I quit that job.

    3. NotACannibal*

      I’d ask you to come join our team, but the FBI guy in your webcam said you’re out of office for the day.

    4. Rusty Shackelford*

      See, those are funny to me. But the second one could be dicey if someone has experience with a stalker. Just an example of the minefield you enter when you make a joke!

      1. incompetemp's colleague*

        That’s a very good point. I hadn’t considered that. I guess you really never know what goes on in people’s personal lives so it’s best to thread carefully.

        1. Snark*

          Treading carefully is always a good idea, particularly when someone might plant a GPS tracker in your shoe.


  98. Old OP*

    I’m the OP from the first suggested post (“my coworkers constantly joke around when I need answers”) and I have two thoughts related to this.

    1) the OP of this letter should read that one to get a sense of how jokes can annoy people in general when they’re trying to get work done, and can be really hard to push back on for fear of being labeled a killjoy

    2) having the jokes be about sensitive topics can raise the stakes for such a scenario—you not only have to say “let’s stay focused on work, please” but you also have to wonder if the joker will get more aggressive or if you’ll have to reveal some personal connection (like a miscarriage for the dead baby jokes) to be taken seriously.

    This can be a hard line to walk because as Alison said you shouldn’t have to erase your whole personality to have a job—but keep in mind that people hurt by the dark or offensive jokes are often also feeling like they have to suppress part of their personality by keeping quiet to keep the peace. As people have pointed out, often someone will laugh out of awkwardness, not necessarily because they find the joke funny or acceptable.

    1. aebhel*

      Yeah, I think your second point is a really important one. Maybe the LW is the sort of person who’d react to a painful personal revelation by apologizing and staying away from that kind of joke in the future, but literally 100% of the people I know who like this kind of edgelord humor would respond to someone telling them that they were sensitive to dead baby jokes because of a personal tragedy by telling an even more egregiously disgusting joke. So, like… consider that. You don’t know what’s going on with people, and they’re not likely to tell you about sensitive personal topics if they have good reason to think you’ll be a tasteless jerk about it.

  99. aebhel*

    I mean, I’d recognize both of those as jokes, but I’d still find them upsetting and off-putting, and it would definitely negatively affect my opinion of a coworker if they thought that was okay to joke about in the office. In my opinion, dead baby jokes are no more appropriate for most work environments than filthy sex jokes. Less so, actually.

    And yeah, people will often laugh at jokes they didn’t really find funny, or in fact found actively upsetting. Generally speaking, don’t take laughter as approval.

  100. Safetykats*

    Harvard Business Review has an interesting recent article about humor in work environments, and the line between humor that puts people at ease, and humor that is just distracting or inappropriate. Unfortunately they present it in the context of a gender related study, but the overall point is well taken. Sometimes humor at work is useful; sometimes it’s not. Humor that presents as off-putting and non-work related tends to make people view you as not committed to your job, or easily distracted and distracting others.

    I would say, for humor at work in general, keep it light. Also try hard to judge how often is reasonable. If you’re in a group of 10, maybe one out of every 10 funny things said should be said by you. (Not every second or third funny thing.) You want primarily at work to be known by the smart and relevant things you say, not by the funny (or not so funny) comments you make.

    1. Argh!*

      I thought of that article when reading OP’s letter, too! I don’t think it applies to dark humor, though.

  101. blink14*

    This is a tough one. I’m very sarcastic and I definitely have to tone that down at work with certain people. In the case of the two example jokes, I thought the alligator one was funny, but the baby one not so much (although I totally see the connection points on it).

    I think overall just tone down the humor to a PG level, and realize that not everyone will find your jokes funny, just as you wouldn’t find someone else’s jokes funny all the time. Work can be a weird place for humor, something gets taken the wrong way and it clouds perception about a person, usually to a greater level than the humor really called for.

  102. Roja*

    I have a similar sense of humor and laughed way too loudly reading both of those jokes. It sounds like your coworkers have similar sense of humor but not your boss. I don’t think it’s fundamentally about work vs not work, I think it’s about the culture of your job. The way I see it, you’ve figured out that your coworkers are (apparently) okay with dark jokes and your boss isn’t, so just save them for coworkers (or, obviously friends outside of work). Since I have a similarly dark sense of humor, I just make sure I reserve those jokes for people who will get them and appreciate them and leave them out around people who I know will be disturbed by them.

  103. WomanFromItaly*

    It’s not so much that they aren’t recognizable as jokes, it’s more, like, when your coworkers think about you, do you reaaaally want their first thought to be “Exactly how much time does this person spend thinking about dead babies?”

    1. KayEss*

      This. When talking about my coworkers to my partner or friends outside of work, I don’t usually use their names. Instead, I refer to them by some shorthand for their position in the org chart relative to me, or by a characteristic of their work (e.g., “programmer coworker” to distinguish from “designer coworker”)… unless their primary feature is being “that guy from that one particularly bizarre anecdote I told you last week.” You don’t want to wind up as “Dead Baby Guy” or “Creepy Dude,” OP, trust me. The coworker who came to be known as “Shower Pee Guy” was most definitely NOT respected by me or my peers, and is not remembered fondly.

      1. LQ*

        I’m SO glad I’m not the only one who does this. My friends are always interested in the latest antics from David Icke Fanboy but never in a positive way.

    2. Ice and Indigo*

      “Exactly how much time does this person spend thinking about dead babies?”

      See, that made me laugh more than the original jokes.

  104. Tye*

    Here’s my ish with this. Someone who is competent at delivering jokes necessarily has the skill to NOT tell jokes when their audience isn’t up for it. They know when to shut up and/or apologize, or shift tone. They do not need to write into a popular advice column to retell their jokes in detail under the guise of asking whether they should tell the jokes; OP’s ability to describe the cool reception from their boss, and their obvious understanding of the nature of their sense of humor, demonstrate that they know what’s up.

    I think this question + answer will in general be useful to other people who are navigating humor at work, but it sort of feels like we all got roped into assuring OP that their dead baby jokes are Truly Funny and their Boss Is The Real Drip Here, Too Bad! when, like, a person who legit knows when and how to deploy a good dead baby joke would never seek out this kind of attention/validation in the first place.

    1. Kaitlyn*

      Yessss! “I’m funny, but my employer doesn’t think so! How do I bring them around?”

      1. Pnuf*

        Absolutely. “My boss is too much of a normie to understand my AMAZING sense of humour! Waaah!”

        OP, I would say that dead baby jokes are for teenagers, except that even at school we thought the one guy who kept telling them was a tool.

    2. anon for this*

      A bit mean-spirited. OP says above: “While I recognize that this series of jokes strung together was a mistake, most of the intent of the question has been to seek out additional input on how to find that balance [of jokes].”

      1. Tye*

        Mean-spirited, like, say, telling a dead baby joke when you haven’t bothered to wonder whether someone in the room may be experiencing miscarriage, infertility, or other reproductive issues?

        I very well understand that what the OP wants is “additional input on how to find that balance [of jokes],” because it is clear that OP wants to be reassured that there is one, i.e., that their “dark humor” is so funny and interesting that it definitely has a place in their workplace/in front of their boss, it’s just a matter of finding it! But this is not the case, and the fact that OP is looking for loopholes and permission, rather than accepting that they might have to take an 8-hour break from their “dark humor” five days a week.

  105. NW Mossy*

    You can, certainly, but the better question is should you?

    In addition to knowing your audience, it’s also about knowing what your future ambitions are and what you want your reputation in the organization to be in support of those ambitions. This kind of humor generally doesn’t line up to people’s vision of a senior leader in most offices, so if that’s your goal, probably best to pull way back. But if your goal is to be a valued individual contributor at a company with an edgy culture (I tend to think entertainment or tech here), it could work to cement your place as “one of us.”

    In general, though, you’re probably best saving it for an incognito social media account where you can let fly with the like-minded while minimizing the risk of professional fallout.

  106. Anoncorporate*

    Generally, I would stay away from dark humor, or at least only stick to milder jokes that aren’t graphic/evoke gross imagery.

    I also want to emphasize the part about you don’t know what is going on in other people’s lives. You don’t know what people’s triggers are. And given that you like dead baby jokes, you are VERY likely to push a few people’s buttons. (Note: making dead kid jokes is Not Normal in most social circles.)

    I consider dark humor to be a very niche thing that only appeals to certain people. I would say it’s akin to politics and religion in terms of not assuming that it will be universally appealing.

  107. Lynn Marie*

    I think the best humor at work comes from the work itself and insights into how people feel about the day to day and each other. This can be simultaneously gentle and excruciatingly funny. Nix on dark humor, dad jokes, or any kind of jokes for the sake of telling jokes.

  108. nnn*

    A good analogy I saw somewhere is that comedy is like sex: being good at it means giving the other person pleasure. If your attempt doesn’t give them pleasure, that means you’re the one who’s bad at it, not that they’re the one who’s bad at it.

    And the weirder the thing you’re trying, the more certain you have to be that they consent, and the more certain you have to be that it will give them pleasure as opposed to making them unhappy.

  109. Kaitlyn*

    A friend of mine works in a furniture store, and one day, he was selling an armoire to a couple. Everything was going well until he was like, “I have to warn you…this cabinet is haunted.” Turns out they were buying it because their daughter had recently drowned and they wanted to keep some of her things on display. They laughed about it, but he was horrified. I was horrified, too.

    I like Alison’s advice about not joking about things people hold dear, like kids and pets; it’s hard to have a dark sense of humour without hinting at loss in some way, but unless you really, REALLY know your audience, it’s probably best to keep it light. If you’re as funny as you think you are, then you’ll be able to find the humour without taking it to a dark place.

  110. Schuyler Seestra*

    Important things to remember about jokester

    1. Know your audience. I feel dark jokes only work with people you trust and know well. I have a dark sense of humor and both jokes would make me uncomfortable in a workplace setting. I know who I can make twisted comments to and who I can’t, and there’s still levels.

    2. Punch up not down. Jokes don’t have to me edgy to be funny. There is a middle ground.

  111. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Yikes. Dead baby jokes at work is no good and I have very few boundaries.

    Alligator attacks after the fact is fine. It’s not just needlessly grotesque.

  112. Argh!*

    To quote current media pundits, you have an audience of ONE. It doesn’t matter if everyone else thinks your humor is funny. Your boss is the only one who really matters. Save the dark humor for off-work times with your macabre friends, or meetings with similarly-dark-humored coworkers.

    I have been reprimanded for something that I said as a joke that was repeated to my boss as if it were serious. Not a fun experience.

  113. Greg*

    My friend and I have a running “Too Hot for Facebook” gag. The idea is when we want to post something that would otherwise fit the style of a funny status update, but that we would never post because it might come across as offensive or inappropriate, we’ll just text it to each other. I do think that sometimes when you come up with something you find funny but know you can’t share publicly, there’s a need to scratch that itch. But as others have said, you really have to know your audience, especially in a professional context. OP, find someone who would appreciate your jokes and send them to that person.

    1. Old Biddy*

      My friend started an ‘inappropriate jokes’ closed group on Facebook for this reason. All members can add friends and there isn’t active moderatation. It’s good for that “I have to share this stupid joke but don’t want to share it widely’ itch.
      Even so, we had a few snafus when new members posted over the line stuff and then got put in Facebook jail because the joke/image they shared was already flagged by Facebook. They didn’t know how they got in Facebook jail, so there was a lot of finger pointing at the longer term members. Fortunately, most of them stormed off in a huff .

  114. 867-5309*

    I have a very sarcastic humor and realized today that it could read as insulting my boss to people who aren’t familiar with our working relationship or those more junior who don’t know the nuances of workplace relationships.

    Also, my younger brother was hit and killed by a car when he was 5 and I was 16. I always cringe a bit when people make jokes like, “just hit them.” I know they don’t mean it but to Alison’s point, you never know what experiences someone has had.

  115. Dark Knight*

    I totally get you; I often have to temper my humour for work too. The difference between dark jokes and a million deadly snakes is I don’t indiscriminately let dark jokes out at work.

    1. Ice and Indigo*

      Actually laughed out loud.

      (OP, this is a great example of how to do dark humour that lands well. Absurd without being gross, the teller is the butt, and off-beat enough to be genuinely surprising.)

  116. Midlife Tattoos*

    When I was but a wee lass, there were books of dead baby jokes. To be fair, they were mostly aimed at kids who have never experienced a dead baby and so just thought they were funny.

      1. mrs__peel*

        Yes, those were a relic of my ’80s childhood, and (like feathered bangs) they’ve aged poorly.

    1. Observer*

      To be fair, they were mostly aimed at kids who have never experienced a dead baby and so just thought they were funny.

      That’s a key difference – it’s just not a good idea to assume that in a group of adults there are not going to be any who have experienced something along the lines of dead babies, either directly or indirectly.

  117. BenAdminGeek*

    Also, I would watch the number of jokes in general. I’ve (mostly) learned to control my dark humor at work, but it’s easy for me to just keep piling on the jokes. Works great with my family, not so much on a conference call with vendors I’ve never met before. I instituted a “one joke per call” policy for myself, and that helped a lot to re-train my tendencies.

  118. stump*

    Yeah, this is definitely a “time and place, know your audience” deal. You don’t have to totally sandpaper off your entire personality when you go into the office, but you do need to slap on your More Office Friendly Worksona and save the Stuff That Would Probably Shock Dear Grandmama for your friends. And even if you have legit friend friends at work, it’s probably best to save the Dead Baby Jokes for for people you KNOW FOR SURE share your sense of humor (i.e. not in mixed groups and definitely not in front of your boss who made that alarmed face).

    And honestly, I don’t mind dark humor (though my taste in dark humor is definitely more existential surrealist horror versus splatterpunk/gorn), gross over the top stuff like dead baby jokes have such a high probably of landing wrong in mixed company. I wasn’t grossed out and didn’t have the visceral negative reaction to the idea of a baby being harmed when I read the second joke like many people did, but ngl, my immediate reaction was, “Ugh, dead baby shit again? Really? What year is this? What IS this edgelord image board reject crap? Am I back in high school?” If you get your audience wrong and even if they don’t think you’re a nasty creep, you might find yourself branded an immature tryhard edgelord. You’re definitely aware enough to pay attention to people’s reactions, and that’s good! I’m probably just reiterating what everybody else is saying, but yeah, it’s probably best to filter the dead baby and other Questionable In Mixed Company jokes out of your general work rotation if you don’t want to be That Offputting Coworker.

  119. Gumby*

    It’s not even just personal stuff that might make the time/place sub-optimal for certain types of dark humor.

    Several years ago I was chaperoning a group of teenagers at a conference. Several kids at a table next to ours (at same conference but not part of our group) were making dead baby jokes. I personally find that type of joke tasteless and off-putting to start with. But earlier that day our group (the smaller connected-to-me group) had visited the Museum of Tolerance. Dead baby jokes really, *really* hit us the wrong way.

  120. Jennifer Juniper*

    I’d be worried about getting written up for not being a team player or being inappropriate if I said that kind of stuff at work!

  121. Wintermute*

    I feel like this is SO context-dependent no one but you can give yourself the answer you’re looking for.

    I’ve never met anyone in certain professions (EMTs and paramedics come to mind) without a sense of humor that has gone beyond black into infrablack. the only people with a darker sense of humor than first responders, in my experience, are medical corpsman, who combine all the black humor of paramedics with all the insider humor of the military in general.

    IT, in my experience, tends to attract realists, because our job is fixing problems, we need to be thinking of the 1001 ways whatever we’re being told to do will predictably and reliably go horribly wrong. That leads to bitter sarcasm (often from hardwon experience) being fairly well-tolerated but probably not the same degree of gruesome humor.

    When I was in sales any iota of negative thought was treated as a personal betrayal of the entire company because they were hyped up on the company kool-aid (and a lot of drugs) and desperate to believe that their quotas were achievable if they only believed (they weren’t).

    I’ve worked places with relentless positive rah-rah culture that would be horrified by darker humor and other places where a general fatalistic attitude prevailed and it would be fine.

    It really, really depends on culture so much it’s impossible to give meaningful guidance without knowing your exact workplace, field and manager.

    1. Ice and Indigo*

      These are good examples. The common factor is that they’re bonding over shared experiences – laugh-or-you-cry experiences of medical tragedy, cynical ruefulness over IT headaches, jokey venting like Nacho mentions below.

      That’s another guide for you, OP. You sound like you’ve been using joking as a way to deal with nerves and make your presence felt as an individual. Which is fair enough, but there’s a line between being an indivdual and being inappropriate for the setting, or, as others have put it, seeming tryhard. It can be difficult to walk when you’re nervous! But as a general rule, in work, err on the cautious side of it: you’ll still be seen as an individual because you are one, so chill out a bit and save the dark humour for darkness that you and the team are all in together.

    1. Jennifer Juniper*

      Actually, in my last job in customer service, anything but relentless positivity was frowned upon by management. I thought all American jobs were like that outside of the medical field, especially for junior roles.

  122. CastIrony*

    I would also be uncomfortable with these jokes because it’s a workplace. Then again, I barely even talk at my job, and I’m always afraid of offending someone.

    Besides, there was once a cook at my job who listened to this weird music with offensive lyrics (I didn’t hear them, but the other cooks did.) It got so bad that another cook ever so smugly hid the audio cable so they couldn’t play their music. If OP was one of my co-workers, I’d be remembering this incident, and dreading the day the dark humor became an Issue.

    In other words, OP should tread extremely carefully, like Allison said! They don’t want to be known as “the worker with the dark sense of humor”!

  123. Bend & Snap*

    Those jokes are repulsive and have no place in an office. I’d be really put off.

    I’m put off just reading the post.

    1. cactus lady*

      Likewise. I would not want to work with someone who made those kinds of jokes at work. Do whatever you want in your off time, but this kind of thing doesn’t have a place in a professional environment.

      1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

        You wouldn’t want to work in police, law enforcement, anything to do with high stress/dangerous professions. Many people in those fields do have dark humor because of their work. This is how they blow off steam. And yes, they’re professionals.

  124. The Imperfect Hellebore*

    OP, I would personally have found your “deboned baby” joke funny, but I have a very dark sense of humour. I think it’s clear when you’ve crossed a line. In this case, you obviously did, and please don’t judge your colleagues for not sharing that sense of humour.

  125. Courageous cat*

    The tedium of this comment section is about exactly what I expected it to be on the matter and is kind of tiring to read. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re the authority on what’s funny or not – it doesn’t matter, because the end result is still that one needs to be really careful with this type of humor in the workplace and err on the side of less rather than more.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      “The tedium of this comment section is about exactly what I expected it to be on the matter and is kind of tiring to read”


  126. Mellow*

    It’s tedious to constantly accommodate coworkers who pull others’ legs all. the. freaking. time.

    You’re not as funny as you think. Stop it, please, and let’s make it through a conversation for once without your trying to be clever.

  127. The 6th Spice Girl*

    OP, I have a very similar sense of humor to yours. I’m…not the biggest fan of children, but I’m also not a fan of inadvertently hurting people. My trick is this: any time you think of a dark joke about babies/kids, replace the babies/kids with dogs (or another creature you love and spend lots of time looking at on the internet, but mine is most definitely dogs) and ask yourself if the joke would bother you.

    Deboned baby? I giggled. Deboned puppy? Getting teary just thinking about it.

  128. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

    OP, you’d be most welcome with my spouse and me. We both have dark humor and I loved both jokes.

  129. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    Just want to say that I appreciate you asking the question and being aware of the people around you. A lot of people get defensive and don’t care if their humour hurts people or is off-putting. In fact, they double down. It’s honestly refreshing to have someone say, “Hm, I might have to rethink what I say” and then reach out for help.

    On top of the great advice from Alison, I’d say you can always be direct with people if you think a joke didn’t land or you misjudged whether they’d like that kind of humour. If they tell you that it’s not for them, you can adjust accordingly.

    1. OP's coworker*

      She did, in this case! She asked us afterward if she’d made a huge mistake; our manager makes his own dark jokes, so this didn’t seem too far out for him. After we gave her input, she told us she’d also written to AAM since we’re all fans.

      It’s been pretty rough to see the comments saying she clearly hates babies and spends full meetings practicing a stand-up routine, when she’s actually very conscientious and immediately wanted to correct herself after telling a joke that made someone uncomfortable.

  130. JSPA*

    Opposite for me. Kid eaten by alligator is an actual tragedy. Also, as a joke, it’s weaker (dad- joke level except for the subject matter). That moves the mean spirited “dealing with kids sucks” attitude into more prominence. It’s a variant of an old mother – in – law joke. Bleh.

    The other is very Emo Phillips– pushing deadpan logic to an inexorable end. Thus the humor doesn’t lie in anything anti – baby. Joke would be the same if it were any other sort of figurine.

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