What is edgy humor and should parents be concerned?


Judging by the immense popularity of the game, Cards Against Humanity, with its 4.8 star review and over 122,000 reviews at Amazon (linked), edgy humor is enjoying it’s day. But what is it exactly and is it ever for kids?

Edgy humor deliberately pushes boundaries to be funny. It’s akin to shock humor and falls under the umbrella of dark comedy. Edgy humor typically relies on racist, sexist, or sexual jokes (i.e. political incorrectness). Also, edgy humor appeals to some because it evokes being cool or trendy.

As a mom of four (and grandma) as well as retired teacher, I can say unequivocally I’m not a fan of edgy humor, though that’s not the opinion of most kids, initially at least. Let’s look at what’s meant by edgy humor; edgy humor examples; its appeal and problems; and whether or not it’s ever appropriate for kids.

Edgy Humor Defined

Many times during the Office, Steve Carrell’s character, Michael, crosses the hidden boundary line of acceptable humor into the ‘edgy’ or inappropriate zone.

So first, let’s make sure we have a clear understanding of the sub-genre of dark comedy called ‘edgy humor.’

Edgy humor is a type of dark comedy that uses humor to bully, make fun of, or be offensive to others. It often insults while elevating itself, or is considered edgy because it crosses the imaginary line of appropriateness. It can be shocking or sarcastic, but its twisted sense of humor is forefront.

Edgy Humor:

  • Insults
  • Offends
  • Makes fun of
  • Tries to be cool
  • Focuses on trends
  • Is often sexual in nature
  • Pushes boundaries
  • Makes people (audience) uncomfortable
  • Disguises prejudice and bigotry
  • Gets us out of our comfort zone

So if you tell a joke or hear a joke that causes any of these aforementioned consequences or reactions, then it might fall under ‘edgy humor‘.

And you may be thinking, as you read the list above, that that one’s not so bad…and that one…and so on, and it’s true. Not all ‘edgy humor’ is as bad as the other, but you must be cautious, especially if using it or sharing it with kids.

We’ll look at some examples next.

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Examples of Edgy Humor

As a teacher (and mom) I often put things in perspective by sharing examples. It’s highly effective with kids, as corroborated by the DoE, to help them better understand a difficult concept or just something unfamiliar. So let’s look at some examples of edgy humor here.

Example 1: I was raised an only child, which was real annoying for my brother. (This is edgy in that it makes light of child abuse.)

Example 2: My fish can break dance! But only for about 20 seconds, and just one time. (This is edgy because it implies killing a fish to watch it ‘dance’.)

Example 3: The older I get the more I think about all the people I lost along the way. I wasn’t a very good tour guide. (This is edgy in that you can deduce as a tour guide he is responsible for several people getting lost, and possibly even dying.)

Example 4: The husband was very confused. His wife left a note on the refrigerator that said ‘This isn’t working!’ but when he opened the fridge, it worked just fine. (This makes light of failed marriages.)

Example 5: Give a man a match, and he’ll be warm for a few hours. Set a man on fire, and he will be warm for the rest of his life. (The visual imagery of this joke is disturbing, making it edgy.)

Some questions for you: Are these jokes appropriate for the office or to tell a colleague? Are they suitable for telling grandma? Do they cause embarrassment? Are any of these jokes okay to tell kids? Are some worse than others?

As clearly evident, these examples are all ‘dark humor.’

But I chose these specific examples for a few reasons. First, I erred on selecting edgy jokes that aren’t overtly sexual, prejudiced, bigoted or hurtful specifically because I’m just not comfortable with doing that, even for this teachable reason. Instead I selected edgy jokes that are more about pushing boundaries or wry/sarcastic/droll humor.

But secondly, I chose these because they illustrate that not all edgy jokes are created (or delivered) equally. Some are darker than others, particularly the ones that use death and/or murder as humor.

But on a dark humor scale, these jokes aren’t tops on the list since none are about real people or about whole groups of people.

>>This is where caution is critical as parents/grandparents/teachers need to think carefully before using or sharing edgy humor with kids, even teens. Be very mindful and selective with edgy humor, if you choose to use it at all.

Why Some People Like Edgy Humor

As I stated at the start of this article, edgy humor is enjoying popularity at the moment. From mature games like Cards Against Humanity to those marketed for families like Exploding Kittens which is promoted as “A Russian Roulette Card Game, Easy Family-Friendly Party Games – for Adults, Teens & Kids”, edgy humor seems the norm.

So what is it exactly that makes edgy humor so popular?

We like edgy humor because it pushes the envelope, something we are naturally drawn to from toddler age on. It tends to incorporate current events, too, connecting us all. There’s also the thrill of taboo subjects and risky behavior associated that piques our interests, along with the cool factor.

Edgy humor isn’t humor your grandma finds funny; it isn’t what’s approved by your clergy. And it’s certainly not something you’re likely to hear come out of professionals. For these reasons, kids and young adults are prone to gravitate to it, as it aligns with their urge to rebel (Source: WebMD).

Edgy humor also *seemingly* offers a safe way to voice opinions that are contrary to mainstream or otherwise considered unsuitable. And I say seemingly because this is usually the reason people get into trouble with edgy humor- they use it as a tactic to voice racism, for instance, which isn’t appropriate under any circumstances.

Because edgy humor incorporates current events and lingo, it is commonly looked at as ‘cool’. It’s hip to be edgy in your clothes, hair styles, and attitude, so having an edgy humor is sometimes also looked at as ‘hip’ and cool. Another reason it’s popular.

Problems With Edgy Humor

There have been notable times when comedians went so far with their brand of edgy humor that audiences were unforgiving.

But of course, edgy humor isn’t without debate. Even though edgy humor is popular, it’s also popularly derided and protested too. Why?

There are many problems with edgy humor. It’s often used to mask bigoted beliefs or as a way to bully or belittle specific people or groups. As well, edgy humor tends to be quite mature-themed and push the envelope too far. All of this makes edgy humor inappropriate in most cases for kids.

Many comedians have come under fire in recent years for their edgy humor going too far. For example, Louis C.K. had a bit that sympathized with child molesters and the late Joan Rivers included 9/11 jokes in her stand-up.

And even though the audience at the time laughed out loud, making them culpable and giving encouragement to the comics, it was Louis and Joan who suffered repercussions and dealt with the fallout. Rightfully so, in my book, because child molestation and jokes about 9/11 will never be funny!

Is edgy humor okay for kids?

So is edgy humor completely off limits with kids? Is this true for toddlers as well as teens?

Edgy humor can be used with kids with the thought and consideration. It’s vital to recognize that not all edgy humor is the same. While some is possibly okay for kids, there’s other edgy humor that’s certainly off limits. For this reason, adults should be cautious about exposing kids to edgy humor.

Possibly Okay for Kids (And I use the caveat ‘possibly’ because ultimately you know your kids, or should, and everything should be taken with that in mind.):

  1. Edgy humor that lightly pokes fun at everyone in the home; this way no one is singled out. As well, it should not be about physical attributes like weight, acne, or nose.
  2. Edgy humor about humanity or ‘being human’ and our faults.
  3. Edgy humor that’s about ancient history, or history far removed.

Off Limits Edgy Humor for Kids:

  1. Edgy humor that’s sexual.
  2. Edgy humor that propagates prejudice and bigotry.
  3. Edgy humor about recent historical tragedies.
  4. Edgy humor that name-calls or puts down someone specifically known.
  5. Edgy humor that belittles people for their physical characteristics, even if you don’t know them.
  6. Edgy humor that is above a child’s mental/emotional capacity. This is especially true for younger kids who have difficulties with gray areas or blurring lines between reality and fantasy.
  7. Edgy humor that creates a toxic environment- when any ‘edgy humor’ is overused, the environment can feel unsafe, tense, and stressful.

While neither of the lists above are all encompassing, they are intended to offer a guide for you.

Special Note: Be wary of using irony, satire, and sarcasm with children too- which can be a part of ‘edgy humor’-because they can easily be overdone and harm relationships. Even if children are laughing and smiling, it’s highly possible that this type of dark humor is actually unwelcome.

Edgy Humor Punchline

The punchline here about edgy humor is to use caution. Edgy humor, while it can be used to lighten uncomfortable situations and bring a fresh take on something, often resorts to overt sexualization; masking bigotry; or as an excuse to put others down to elevate oneself for comedic effect. Thus, parents, grandparents, and teachers should be careful about exposing kids to edgy humor.

Even with the best of intentions, it can go too far.

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Jackie Booe

A mother to four kids, grandmother ("Oma") to a growing number, a retired teacher for over 18 years, and a wife to Mat since 1994, Jackie knows kids and laughter. She holds a license to teach in 3 states and is certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners, with practical experience at all levels. She holds three degrees in the field of education and has taught education courses online at the university level as an adjunct professor, too. She has mentored numerous education interns, hosted professional development for educators, and tutored, in addition to homeschooling her own children.

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