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Dark Humour

Luglio 2014
Le barzellette sono la cosa più difficile da capire in una lingua straniera. Spesso anche a causa delle differenze culturali e (soprattutto in inglese) perché parole diverse si pronunciano allo stesso modo...

di Richard Sidaway © British Council

File audio:

Speakers: Rachel Roberts, Mark Worden, Justin Ratcliffe (Standard British accent), Chuck Rolando (Standard American accent)

Experts say that laughing is an ability that is specific to human beings. No other animal does it. So why do we?


For most people, laughing is a way of showing we are happy – we usually laugh with other people present, and it helps relax the atmosphere. Another reason for laughter is that it helps us deal with the sensitive area of social morality, or situations which are normally serious, like death, disease or war. This is where humour sometimes gets “dark.”


Dark humour is probably as old as human communication itself. One of the first modern examples in English is in the writings of Jonathan Swift. In A Modest Proposal (1729), Swift suggests that poor people sell their children as food to the rich. His intention was to make fun of simple suggestions for solving problems such as poverty or overpopulation.


There are several individuals who decided to use humour when faced with their own death. Murderer William Palmer looked at the door under the gallows before his execution in 1855 and asked, “Are you sure that’s safe?” Writer Oscar Wilde’s last words, as he was dying in a cheap hotel, were “Either that wallpaper goes or I will.” Humourist Spike Milligan had the words “I told you I was ill” (in Irish) written on his gravestone.


It is a mystery where some dark humour comes from. Nobody knows who wrote this: “We are born naked, wet and hungry. Then things get worse.” Or how about this piece of graffiti to make you feel depressed: “Life is a sexually transmitted disease, and it’s 100 per cent fatal.”


Surprisingly, dark humour can sometimes provide a more positive conclusion to a grim topic. This is what Dorothy Parker wrote in 1925 on the subject of suicide:
Razors pain you;
rivers are damp;
acids stain you;
and drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
nooses give;
gas smells awful;
you might as well live.


The Hunters

Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn’t seem to be breathing. The other man takes out his phone and calls the emergency services.  He says, “My friend is dead! What can I do?”  The operator says: “Calm down. I can help. First, make sure he’s dead.” There is a silence, then a gun shot is heard.  Back on the phone, the man says, “OK, now what?”

Blood Test

Two children, Johnny and Alex, were sitting outside  a clinic. Alex was crying.  
Johnny: “Why are you crying?”  
Alex: “I came here for a blood test.”  
Johnny: “So? Are you afraid?”  
Alex: “No, but for the blood test, they cut my finger! “
After hearing this, Johnny started crying, making Alex feel surprised as well as curious, and Alex asked: “Why are you crying now?”
Johnny: “I came for a urine test!”

The Funeral

A funeral service is held for a woman who just passed away. As the pallbearers carry the casket out, they accidentally bump into a wall. They hear a faint moan. They open the casket and find that the woman is still alive. She lives for 10 more years and then dies. They have another funeral for her. At the end of the service, the pallbearers carry out the casket. As they are walking, the husband cries out, “Watch out for the wall!”

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