What Parents Should Know About Shock Comedy (Revealed)

Remember as a kid touching someone on the shoulder trying to physically shock them? It didn’t take long to learn it’s only enjoyable for the shocker. So what does that mean about shock humor and its popularity? There are some important things parents particularly should know about shock humor.

Parents should know that shock comedy relies on excess and warped punchlines, as well as mature or twisted themes for maximum effect. However, family entertainment sometimes resorts to mildly shocking tactics for humor’s sake, and in these instances, kids are often exposed to it before being ready.

As a mom and former teacher (with decades of experience), I’ve certainly relied on humor for dealing with children, whether it’s to build relationship, add interest, calm storms, or somewhere in between. But I’ve never felt shock (or dark) humor appropriate for kids. Well, it looks like not everyone is in agreement with me on this.

So with that in mind, I tackle this subject here.

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What is shock comedy?

It’s important for us to have a clear, common understanding of what’s meant by shock comedy. So let’s define it first.

Shock comedy is a type of humor that shocks the audience to be funny. The humor tends to cross the line; be overtly rude, disrespectful, or sarcastic; and has mature themes and/or foul language. Unlike some other forms of dark comedy, it tends to be lively and jocular, rather than dry or wry.

One prominent comedian who was probably first known as a ‘shock jock’ is Howard Stern, who still has a radio presence along with online and podcast comedy platforms today. Stern is best known for interviewing celebrity guests, asking embarrassing and inappropriate questions for the sake of making jokes about it.

In full disclosure I’ve never once listened to or watched Howard Stern’s show or performances, but the fact that I’m aware of his comedy just further proves how shocking he actually is! As well, it shows how shock comedy makes a lasting impression.

Common Shock Comedy ThemesTraits of Shock Comedians
Money ProblemsDirect
Drug AbuseRepetitive
Table to Provide Some Common Themes and Traits of Shock Humor

Examples of Shock Comedians:

  • Lenny Bruce and George Carlin, both known for excessive dirty joke stand-up
  • Richard Pryor also known for crossing the line, with his frequent use of racial slurs
  • Wanda Sykes for sexually explicit material
  • Comedienne Joan Rivers for being overtly rude and disrespectful to targets
  • Andrew Dice Clay for creating naughty nursery rhymes
  • Roseanne Barr for offensively singing the National Anthem

While there are many shock comedies to talk about, here are a few that reign at the tops of most ‘best of’ shock comedy’ lists for animation, TV series, and films in order to give you an idea of what it is.

  • Animation: South Park; Family Guy; and Rick and Morty
  • TV Series: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia; Curb Your Enthusiasm; and Veep
  • Movies: Bruno; Anchorman; and Zoolander

How is shock comedy like or unlike dark comedy?

Is shock comedy, then, the same as dark comedy? Or what’s the difference if not?

Shock comedy is a sub-genre of dark comedy. Dark comedy, also known as gallows, macabre, or black comedy, has many forms like shock, wry, and deadpan/dry humor. Shock comedy focuses more on shocking audiences into laughter, often from being uncomfortable, with its extreme and excessive tactics.

“[Dark comedy] treats subjects such as death, disease, and warfare with bitter amusement. It presents these topics in humorous terms. It communicates the insensitivity, cruelty, absurdity, and paradox of the modern world… exaggerated well beyond what we see in satire or irony.”

Dr. Todd Grande

Here are some examples of dark humor that’s not necessarily shocking or shock humor: Cruella; Loki; and Fargo. Each of these have dark humor themes but not overtly or excessive to ‘shock’ the audience. They verge more on dry and wry humor filled with droll sarcasm.

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Is shock comedy and black comedy the same?

Since black comedy is another name for dark comedy, then it means that shock humor or shock comedy is a sub-genre or type of black comedy.

Shock comedy or shock humor is a type of black comedy, just like deadpan/dry humor as well as wry humor. Black comedy is twisted or unexpected from the traditional norm of comedy. It shifts expectations or presents a different frame than typical, and shock comedy does that as it uses shock tactics.

Other words for dark and black comedy are morbid humor; death humor; gallows humor; and macabre.

Should kids enjoy shock comedy?

But what does this mean for kids? And how should parents handle it when their kids are exposed to shock (and dark) comedy?

Kids should not enjoy shock comedy since it has mature themes, uses excessive tactics, and more than likely is over their heads. However, shock and other forms of dark comedy have infiltrated kid entertainment, so parents have to be on guard, even from seemingly mildly shocking comedy sprinkled in.

It may feel like you’re being a helicopter parent or too rigid (especially by your kids or your own parents) when controlling entertainment that was developed for kids, particularly. I mean most everyone would agree that kids shouldn’t be listening to Howard Stern, but what about SpongeBob or Iron Man?

Well, you’re not being overbearing or a helicopter parent! Your kids have only one set of parents, so no one can be expected to be defend them and care for them more than you! After all, no one cares more about their well-being than you do. You have the right to care about, and censor when needed, who is influencing them!

A few kids enjoy the spotlight of attention that being a comedian presents like JJ Pantano on Australia’s Got Talent, but even the idea of a ‘child stand up comedian’ is shocking itself.

Now some kids have discovered comedy through popular media and online platforms like competition shows and personal video uploads on YouTube, Tik Tok and so on. This makes it even more difficult for parents to guard their kids from dark humor influences, but it’s still necessary.

For instance, on the ‘Got Talent’ competition show, there have been many young kids perform as comedians. Admittedly, they’re cute and adorable, and pretty smart it seems to be able to remember their lines and perform not only for television viewers but for a large audience in person. But is this okay?

In my expert and professional opinion, it’s not! First, I don’t believe kids are really capable of making ‘big life choices’ at their young age, and thus, can’t really give informed consent to be a performer. The stress alone is too much for them! But when you actually listen to the comedy, what’s really disturbing is the dark/shock value that’s so common!

It’s shocking to begin with because you have these little kids acting like grown ups with their clothes and hair styles and mannerisms. Then, when they start their comedy routine, it’s full of sarcasm, insults, and mature ideas!

And you have to wonder, just how did this little 6 or 7-year-old come up with the jokes? Kids are naturally cynical and sarcastic; they’re learning it…either from their parents, their friends, what they watch and so on.

Why do they make shock animated comedy?

Family Guy looks like it’s for kids, or a good family cartoon, but the shock comedy makes it inappropriate.

Another concern parents need to be aware of is that most of the animated shows on TV aren’t for kids!

Animated shows are often dark comedies, full of shock humor, because it’s so unexpected. At first glance of an animated show, you’re taken back to childhood cartoons. Then, it’s doubling shocking when it becomes clear the themes and plot are not for children at all, but quite mature and excessive.

When I first turned on Family Guy, I was expecting a ‘family values’ version of The Simpsons. It’s an easy mistake considering it’s a cartoon and the title says ‘family’ in it. Of course with episodes about murder; pedophilia; cross-dressing; and adultery, Family Guy is not a ‘family show.’

Another shocking animated show is South Park. This one centers around a bunch of elementary-aged characters too, making it seem all the more ‘kid-friendly.’ I first learned about South Park from my 6th graders. Now some parents might think middle-school is an appropriate time for South Park but if you ever watch the show, I’d say it’s not appropriate at any age.

I’m not advocating censoring the show for adults because as adults, you are fully capable and responsible for your actions. As an adult, I choose not to watch either of these shows. But that being said, South Park is not intended for kids. It’s rated TV-Mature for a reason.

But I wonder about another reason for why most animated TV shows are shocking. Is it to entice young minds to watching them and then, hooking them by the inappropriate and much too old content?

Shock Comedy in Kids Entertainment

So what do parents need to know about the shock comedy sprinkled into their kids’ seemingly innocent entertainment?

Parents should watch shows with their kids even if the shows are rated kid-friendly. It’s a parent’s job to monitor whatever influences their children and ensure it’s proper. Whenever dark comedy arises, and it will, talk about it so your child understands why it’s dark and/or shocking.

There are so many examples I could give for shock comedy in kids’ entertainment, but here are two that should paint the picture of what to look for.

  1. SpongeBob SquarePants: In one episode, Patrick and SpongeBob eat Mr. Krabs; Another episode talks about how eating so many Krusty burgers is hardening SpongeBob’s arteries; in a different episode Mr. Krabs forces SpongeBob to work 24 hours straight to make Krabs more money. And remember one character is named ‘Sandy Cheeks’ and SpongeBob lives in Bikini Bottom! Now this doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy SpongeBob! My teenagers and I watch it regularly, but it definitely has dark humor in just about every episode. So parents, be aware and keep an eye on how it affects your child’s behavior. Many parents reserve SpongeBob for 12 and up and I can see why!
  2. Addams Family (2019): In the animated version, the married Morticia and Gomez act like a disgruntled couple who’ve lost their marriage spark; Wednesday is suicidal and depressed; kids are smarter than parents; and societal norms are weird and need to be changed. And this is all presented in a comical way!

Punchline for What Parents Should Know About Shock Comedy

So what should parents actually know about shock comedy? It’s best to leave that for adults!

Regardless, parents need to be aware of what their kids big and small watch and listen to, because even the most innocent of kids’ entertainment (i.e. Disney) include dark comedy and shock humor here and there. And tweens and teens are going to be exposed to dark and shock humor even more so than younger kids.

For those times, parents should guide their kids’ understanding through discussion about why it’s shocking and/or dark, and what it actually means, so that their children have a healthy concept of humor.

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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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