What Should Parents and Teachers Know About Sadistic Humor?

If you’re like me, you might find yourself surprised (unpleasantly) when watching some cartoons or children’s shows with your kids, grandkids, or students. I often wonder, ‘what’s the writer thinking?’, exasperatingly. So what should parents and teachers know about sadistic humor?

Parents and teachers should know sadistic humor isn’t meant for kids, if anyone really. Unintentionally or not, it’s often embedded in children’s entertainment as sarcastic jokes and quips, as well as revenge themes and mischievous personalities, making supervision needed even for kid shows.

From children’s classics to modern animation for kids, as well as kids-targeted video games, there is a lot of sadistic or sadistic-leaning humor prevalent.

I’m happy to share my perspective as a mom and teacher on what other parents and teachers need to be aware of, as well as to combat, sadistic and/or dark humor influences in their kid’s and student’s entertainment.

What is a sadistic sense of humor?

Let’s first address what ‘sadistic’ means, and thus, what is meant by a sadistic sense of humor, as this is the initial question I’m asked by others when referring to this.

Sadistic humor is humor found by the pain of others, either causing it or enjoying it indirectly. Having a sadistic sense of humor means having an overall quality of finding the hurt or humiliation of others funny or amusing. Usually it refers to being very sarcastic and a bit mean in humor.

Sadistic means ‘taking pleasure from or in inflicting/causing pain, punishment, or humiliation in others.’

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

You might say that a person has a sadistic sense of humor if:

  • He laughs when someone falls down.
  • She replays someone’s humiliation for jokes.
  • He puts a child’s failing grade on the refrigerator and remarks about it snidely.
  • A person talks about mistakes you’ve made in front of others to laugh about it.
  • Even something as ‘mild’ as a little boy pulling a little girl’s ponytail to make others laugh can be a sign of having a sadistic sense of humor, especially if the boy has been taught that it’s hurtful and he continues to do it anyway.

An example from a kid’s targeted show of sadistic humor is from Home Alone 2 (you can watch conveniently on Amazon Prime, linked here). Just about everyone’s seen both Home Alone (Amazon linked as well) and the hit follow-up starring child actor, Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McAllister. In this sequel, Kevin has a solo and his big (bully) brother Buzz shines light on Kevin’s ears using candles during Kevin’s song, making Kevin’s ears look ‘funny’. The entire audience starts laughing despite the obvious humiliation of a child. Therefore, Buzz is an example of someone with a sadistic sense of humor, and it could be said, the audience does too!

To read other Little Ninja Parenting articles like this one:

What is a sadistic person?

While Sadistic Personality Disorder is not officially recognized in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), many experts acknowledge sadistic personalities connection to ‘the Dark Triad’ of Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and Psychopathy.

So does it mean, then, that someone with a sadistic sense of humor is a sadistic person?

Having a sadistic sense of humor could signal someone is sadistic, but more evidence of the extreme is needed. It’s possible to enjoy dark humor, but not be a sadist, narcissist, or even be an overall mean person. Typically, enjoying sadistic humor refers to someone who is sarcastic and cynical.

Be aware though; having a sadistic sense of humor can be taken to the extreme, and could be categorized as being a sadist.

This is because of the very definition of ‘sadistic’. Being sadistic means taking pleasure in the pain of others. This isn’t a virtue. It’s at the very least a dangerous habit to laugh and find humor in someone’s humiliation and harm.

However, enjoying sadistic humor isn’t the same as being a sadistic person. There is research that’s actually the opposite of this, showing that those rating high on the sadistic humor scale are actually low on the aggression and dark mood scales.

Is sadistic humor smart?

What does science say about sadistic humor? Is it a sign of intelligence?

Having a sadistic sense of humor is more common among intelligent people. This is because being able to recognize and apply sarcasm, satire, and irony (often connected to this type of humor) require the ability to read innuendo, double meanings, and covert patterns, part of higher level thinking.

But parents and teachers should use caution to excuse sadistic behavior because of its association with intelligence.

As explained, there is some evidence that those with a sadistic sense of humor have higher intelligence, or ‘are smart.’ Besides the need for understanding sarcasm, irony, and hidden meanings, research has also found a correlation with those who enjoy dark humor and having a higher I. Q. (Medical University of Vienna).

“Humor processing is a complex information-processing task,”

Cognitive Processing, a scientific journal

However, you can be smart without sarcasm too, and being smart doesn’t excuse rudeness either, so as parents and teachers we need to be cognizant of this, whenever kids lean towards sadistic or mean humor.

Problems with sadistic humor

To be clear, I admit to enjoying some dark humor. It’s funny to be sarcastic and wry; and having a bit of cynicism along with humor (another dark humor type) can actually help with our perspective and not taking things too seriously. But what about sadistic humor? What’s the problem there?

The main problem with sadistic humor is that it deliberately intends to hurt. It’s finding actual pain funny. While we’ve all laughed at someone falling down (especially if we’ve ever watched a single episode of America’s Funniest Videos), we’ve probably waited until we know that they are okay.

It’s funny to laugh at someone when they fall down…if they didn’t hurt themselves. If we laugh regardless of them breaking a leg, that’s not funny at all. That’s disturbing!

And while research shows that people who have a sense of sadistic humor aren’t necessarily sadistic, it’s true that those suffering from personality disorders like psychopathy or sociopathy are sadistic. So keep vigilant about humor influencing your child, or what you see them exhibiting.

It’s certainly not my intention to say your child who laughs when someone falls down is a sadist! Not at all! But if your child continues to laugh when others hurt, even after you’ve explained and taught that it’s not kind or appropriate, then you do have an issue to attend to. I’d start next with your pediatrician!

What is embedded or unintentional sadistic humor?

Video games like Fortnite and Grand Theft Auto have been accused of propagating violence and aggression in kids, which some have connected to SDM.

Many videogames employ sadistic humor. Let’s be honest, here. While most will have disclaimers saying ‘not intended for kids’ (Fortnite; Grand Theft Auto; Call of Duty, etc.), we and they know kids are a big part of their market! This is a form of unintentional or embedded sadistic humor for kids.

As a teacher of 3rd graders, I found that many of them were playing Fortnite! I sent out information to parents to explain the dangers of it, and some of the parents appreciated the information, but many others dismissed or excused it.

These games have violence in almost every scenario and most of it is accompanied by humor. I’ve seen some clips of characters killing other characters for ‘points’ and laughs. This teaches the children playing it to find humor in hurting others, even if it’s just virtual. And for many younger kids, or kids with learning disabilities like one of my sons, the line between virtual and reality is hazy!

Hidden Sadistic Humor- 3 Surprising Movies With Dark Humor

The Wizard of Oz was released in 1939 and received two Academy Awards.

1.The Wizard of Oz (can be accessed on Amazon Prime) is hailed as one of the best children’s cinematic classics, suitable for all. And yes, it contains many sentimental and sweetly humored scenes, but also some of the most frighteningly memorable ones too like any scene with the Wicked Witch of the West and of course those flying monkeys! And most of these scenes, while intended to be scary, also included some humor and dark humor!

Gremlins was released in 1984 and is now considered a ‘Christmas Movie Classic’ though it has some arguable heinous and disturbing scenes.

2. Gremlins (linked to Amazon, for purchase, if you wish) is rated PG, which by most all parent and teacher standards means ‘suitable for kids’, though in full disclosure the P and G stand for ‘parental guidance suggested.’

Some of the more disturbing parts for humor-sake: an overzealous Mrs. Deagle who wants to put the main character’s dog “to sleep” because it broke her Bavarian snowman; and of course, those mischief causing gremlins, who wear popcorn boxes on their ears while trying to kill, maim, and destroy, all acts depicted as ‘funny shenanigans’.

The film version of Coraline was released in 2009 and has an eery quality.

3. Coraline (linked to Amazon) has a distinctive eerie quality to its humor which can be associated with creating ‘sadistic humor for children’ certainly. While this animated version is based off Neil Gaiman’s book, Coraline (available in audio format with a free trial Audible membership), it’s the cartoon that young kids are most familiar with.

And while it’s rated for kids, and is considered animated quality, the button-eyes alone will give any child 10 and under nightmares. It’s dark, full of satire, and quite scary! If you choose to let your kids watch it, please watch alongside them.

Sadistic Humor Vs. Dark Comedy

What about sadistic humor and dark comedy? Are those the same things?

In the general sense, sadistic humor is a type of dark comedy. There are other types of dark comedy such as shock comedy and wry humor; even deadpan/dry comedy could be considered dark. Since sadistic humor finds pain and humiliation of others funny, that certainly qualifies as dark.

Some examples of dark, sadistic movies:

  • Fargo– It’s an Oscar-worthy movie with some excellent acting. However, watching Fargo clearly shows a sadistic sense of humor, and Fargo is considered one of the best dark comedies of all time.
  • Ready or Not– A more recent, dark comedy, it was released in 2019. It starts as a family gathering to celebrate a new marriage and ends with a sadistic contest of murder.
  • Get Out– This movie, from comedian turned critically-acclaimed director Jordan Peele, is a horror and comedy mash up. It’s full of sarcasm, irony, and yes, lots of death and murder!

None of these examples are children appropriate! And I don’t think any clear dark, sadistic humor movie would be.

Sadistic Humor Vs. Shock Humor

Is sadistic and shock humor the same thing?

Sadistic and shock humor are not the same thing, though both are examples of dark comedy. It’s possible for shock humor to be sadistic and vice versa, but also possible for shock humor to not be about finding pain and humiliation funny. Sadistic humor has a tendency to be shocking to most though.

Sadistic Humor Takeaway for Parents and Teachers

So the main takeaway for sadistic humor that parents and teachers need to know is that it’s present in children’s entertainment, and usually embedded. This mean we can’t just take for granted that it being labeled for children means it’s innocent and suitable.

The best way to combat this is to preview or vet what your kids watch and play, and/or watch or play it with them so that when it comes up, you can address it correctly.

For more Little Ninja Parenting articles related to Sadistic Humor, I recommend these:

Recommended Additional Resource: Psychology Today

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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