The Complex takes a look at tasteless jokes in the post-cannibal era.
It isn’t too soon to make jokes about Jeffrey Dahmer. Milwaukee’s favorite cannibal was arrested back in 1991. The jokes started rolling out a couple hours before the arraignment.
What made Jeffrey Dahmer so weird?
It was the little kid inside him.
Now that’s a stupid, horrific joke, completely inappropriate yet repeated about a billion times between 1991 and the present day. It’s probably not as stupid as the one that Dane Cook made about the James Holmes massacre in Colorado, but pretty stupid nonetheless. In case you’ve been locked in an icebox, here’s Cook’s joke:
Well, what do you expect, right? That Dane Cook was going to come up with something that was any more clever than what the average twelve-year-old would push through a mouthful of mashed potatoes? You know better than that, right? For a couple days there, Cook played the role of YouTube pariah for that shitty little joke. But don’t be too hard on him. He was probably just riffing, at play in that creative fever dream that Cook so often falls into when he’s hashing things out on the road, seeing what works, what doesn’t. It’ll be a tough joke for Cook to cut. It’s currently in a tie with every other joke he’s told for the Funniest Dane Cook Joke Ever Told.
What did Jeffrey Dahmer do when he finished his vegetables?
He got rid of the wheelchairs.
Both are tasteless and cringe-worthy, to be sure, but nobody ever issued a public apology for a Jeffrey Dahmer joke. Hasn’t happened. Won’t happen.
Okay, so what about the James Holmes/Colorado massacre joke that Roastmaster Jeffrey Ross made at the Roseanne Barr Roast while dressed up like the late Penn State Coach Joe Paterno?
Ross came in to visit Howard Stern earlier this week and played the audio of the joke prior to the airing of the Barr Roast on Comedy Central. The joke was directed toward Seth Green, seated at the dais, who bears what might pass as a vague resemblance to Holmes (they’re both redheads, see). The joke was, in essence, that the difference between Holmes and Green was that Holmes had done something in a theater that people would remember.
In case it doesn’t come through in my typed-from-memory dissemination, know that it was a pretty funny joke, as Jeff Ross’ roast jokes generally are. It was also told within the context of a roast, different from a comedy club in that the basic object is to skirt the very bounds of the offensive at all times. And really, it falls well in-bounds on the clay court of the offensive versus the innocuous, unless maybe you’re Seth Green. Or his mother.
But, guess what? Edited out by Comedy Central. Will not air. An ensuing apology from Jeff Ross would come as a surprise to nobody.
What does Jeffrey Dahmer sing on the way to the refrigerator?
“My bologna has a first name. It’s O-S-C-A-R…”
I started tracing back, trying to find the last violent tragedy that people could openly joke about without fear of public outcry. The world’s been racking up some serious numbers over the last couple decades in terms of massive tragedies, so I’m going from memory. Tracking back through tsunamis and tornadoes and terrorist attacks, I’m brought back to the Curious Case of Jeffrey Dahmer, back in 1991.
Did you hear what Jeffrey Dahmer said to Lorena Bobbit?
“Are you going to eat that?”
There were two borderline cases that came after what I call the Dahmer Line. The first is the Branch Davidians, and the second is O.J. Simpson.
The death of eighty-plus people, including twenty-eight children, certainly falls under the heading of tragedy, and you can be sure that there were a million truly tasteless David Koresh jokes in the ether, even after the Branch Davidian compound went up in flames. I’m dismissing the Davidian jokes because they weren’t really told in an open way. There was something dark and vaguely political and Texan about ripping into a Branch Davidian joke.
As for O.J., the death of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown, while certainly a sad thing, was less a tragedy than a national spectacle. You know what they call two beheadings in one night around the L.A.P.D? A slow fucking night.
You know what they call Jeffrey Dahmer’s new cult?
The Brunch Davidians.
What was it about Jeffrey Dahmer that made inappropriate jokes appropriate, and what is it about everything else that has happened since that just isn’t funny?
After some time thinking about it, the only thing I can come up with is that the Dahmer killings were instantly identifiable as evil, with no other issues to distract from the pure blackness of those acts. The Holmes case evokes discussions about portrayals of violence in Western culture or gun control or insanity pleas.
There’s no room for politics in cannibalism. No gray area. Jeffrey Dahmer lured people into his house and then sexually assaulted and killed and ate them. There’s no nuance there. No hairs to split.
Why didn’t Jeffrey Dahmer eat clowns?
Because they taste funny, friend. Because they taste funny.