I did not major in literary studies so I do not readily recognize the nuances that are used to distinguish between the various concepts.

It doesn't seem to fit insult comedy since it is rarely told to members of the group it is insulting, nor heritage comedy since it generally refers to people of a different heritage. My first inclination is to lump it into the black comedy genre, however I'm not sure the intended purpose of such jokes meets this criteria listed on the Wikipedia page:

The purpose of black comedy is to make light of serious and often taboo subject matter; some comedians use it as a tool for exploring vulgar issues, thus provoking discomfort and serious thought as well as amusement in their audience.

  • The term "black comedy" really refers to a genre of stand-up comedy. This is not quite the same as "racist and sexist jokes", which might be told between friends and not necessarily on stage at a comedy club.
    – Dr. Funk
    Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 15:57
  • 3
    What would make you think they all fall into the same category?
    – hobbs
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 17:29
  • @Dr.Funk "black comedy" is about taboo subjects or jokes about things like death and maiming. I think the term "blue comedy" fits better but it's generally related to sexuality.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 22:27

6 Answers 6


You could say those types of jokes are off-color humor:

Off-color Humor

  • Humor that deals with topics that may be considered to be in poor taste or overly vulgar. Most commonly labeled as "off-color" are acts concerned with sex, a particular ethnic group, or gender.

  • Other off-color topics include violence, particularly domestic abuse; excessive swearing or profanity; "toilet humor" / scatological humor; national superiority or inferiority, pedophilic content, and any topics generally considered impolite or indecent.


Off-color humor was used in Ancient Greek comedy, primarily by its most famous contributor and representative, Aristophanes. His work parodied some of the great tragedians of his time, especially Euripides, using sexual and excremental jokes that received great popularity among his contemporaries.

In the 1990's and modern era, comedians such as Bill Hicks, Doug Stanhope, and Dave Chappelle have used shocking content to draw attention to their criticism of social issues, especially censorship and the socioeconomic divide. Dave Attell and Louis C.K. are recognized as the modern masters of off-color humor that focuses on absurd topics. The cartoon Beavis and Butt-head was especially off-color in its early episodes, which included numerous depictions of animal cruelty. The highly praised television show South Park also popularized the use of offensive humor, for which the show has become infamous. The Aristocrats is perhaps the most famous dirty joke in the US and is certainly one of the best-known and most oft-repeated among comedians themselves. Tom Green has used shock humor in The Tom Green Show and the film Freddy Got Fingered, using outrageous stunts and jokes to draw an audience in.


  • 7
    A similar term would be "crude humor", also indicating the vulgarity of the joke.
    – Doktor J
    Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 16:53
  • 2
    Not so sure about this. The joke may be off colour, but does that mean the humour is? I like Steve Jessops answer below, which considers this aspect more carefully.
    – Stilez
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 7:53
  • @DoktorJ I'd class toilet humour as "crude", not racism or sexism. Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 16:32
  • 2
    I would have upvoted this, but given the context, I didn't have the heart to raise it beyond a score of 69... Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 22:21
  • @ThunderGuppy Someone did haha
    – Hank
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 13:22

This sort of humour is the opposite of politically correct, so would be classified as politically incorrect. It is sometimes used carefully and intelligently to point up the excesses of political correctness but its use is usually driven by prejudice and old fashioned attitudes.

Many old songs and pieces of comic writing were originally quite acceptable but have now become exceedingly offensive as the concept of political correctness has developed and at least one DJ has fallen foul of this by playing an old record containing the 'n' word.

  • 1
    When you're with the Flintstones Have a yabba dabba doo time. A dabba doo time. We'll have a gay old time
    – mplungjan
    Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 13:35
  • 1
    I guess you could also just call it "offensive humour", not sure if this should be a separate answer since you halfway mention it in yours. Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 13:50
  • 5
    @mplungjan I don't think that line classifies as one that is now offensive. Gay has had multiple definitions and the only offensive ones are the ones used in negative connotations; ones that insinuate a negativity towards acting gay.
    – Hank
    Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 14:09
  • 1
    I agree - but it still makes me chuckle when I hear it
    – mplungjan
    Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 14:12
  • 15
    I disagree with this--off-color is a much better description. sexist/racist/rude jokes were considered off-color even before they were politically incorrect. Politically Incorrect implies that it's the current political atmosphere that makes the jokes offensive when actually they are offensive because they are rude/harmful/ugly to a group of people. These features are innate attributes of the joke that have nothing to do with the current politics.
    – Bill K
    Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 18:50

If you mean gags based on race or gender, then mostly the jokes themselves come from stereotype humour, which is extremely common. "BMW drivers are arrogant and selfish". "Scientists are socially awkward". "Blondes and Irish people are stupid". "Mothers-in-law are ugly". The jokes don't depend on the stereotype being true, but on it being widely known and recognised, and then accepted as if it were true for the purposes of the joke.

You're asking about stereotypes based on characteristics that relatively recently have been legally protected from discrimination. Many of us consider the stereotype to be too offensive to go without saying any more, and this affects how the stereotype impacts the audience even though we're still aware of it. Such a joke will fall flat because it reads (for example) as hostility towards Irish people, instead of as a witty way to exaggerate stupidity to the point of absurdity, or an amusing description of a particular piece of stupid behaviour. If the joke could be salvaged by replacing an Irish protagonist with the (non-Irish, non-blonde) teller, so that it's self-deprecating humour instead of racist, then was it a "true" racist joke, or was it just a racist way of telling a joke of some other type?

With an audience of such people, the joke can only work either if the stereotype is subverted somehow, or if the existence of the stereotype is criticised or perhaps reclaimed as part of the joke, or anyway that there is something going on that acknowledges the reason for using the offensive stereotype. I suspect that it's hard to categorise the humour without specifying what makes the new joke work, although quite likely the use of the stereotype will itself be ironic, and the joke will in part rest on the absurdity of maintaining the stereotype.

Then again, among those who feel the stereotype can still go without saying, even if when pressed they admit it's not literally true, the old situation still applies. It's still basic stereotype humour, perhaps gaining some additional power from the fact that using the now-deprecated stereotype is transgressive and therefore more incongruous (even if the audience expects it from a particular comedian) than if it was the 1970's and everyone was using it.

If someone makes a joke that contains some racist or sexist assumptions, then the result is probably a "racist joke" and/or a "sexist joke", but in terms of analysing the humour that might be incidental to the type of humour used. It could perhaps just be a simple pun on a slur term, in which case it's not stereotype humour at all, the type of humour is just "a pun". So I don't think you're going to find a phrase that precisely pins down what you're asking as a type of humour. Including every single racist and sexist joke, no matter what its structure, doesn't result in something that's a "type of humour" in a way that's particularly significant in terms of analysing how comedy works. But since "genre" can just mean a convenient term to match up a comedian with their target audience, you could perhaps file racist and sexist jokes told straight, under "politically incorrect humour". That would also include homophobia, ablism, and so forth.

  • 3
    I like this answer as it actually delves into the flawed premise of lumping every joke one finds racist or sexist as somehow the same 'type' of humor. Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 20:35

Back in the 1960s and 70s, jokes about mother-in-laws, Blacks, Irish, Italians and Pakistanis were rife in Britain, especially in comedy and working men's clubs in the north. It's only recently, since the early 1980s, that this type of humour has been condemned as being racist and sexist. Jewish jokes in the UK were generally taboo, but if you watch a few Dean Martin YouTube videos, you'll catch a few Jewish jokes, mainly told by Don Rickles and Sammy Davis Junior—both Jews.

One day on a golf course with Jack Benny, he [Davis Jr.] was asked what his handicap was. "Handicap?" he asked. "Talk about handicap. I'm a one-eyed Negro Jew."

Some jokes were always in poor taste, but there were a few that were not meant to offend but were simply taking the mickey.

British TV shows like Benny Hill Show, Rising Damp, Are You Being Served?, Love Thy Neighbour and the Canadian show, Bizarre, were all hugely popular in their heyday but would now cause a storm of outraged tweets on Twitter.

Jokes at the expense of women were not called sexist but: blue, dirty, adult humour, or, more vulgarly, piss taking.

Jokes about the Irish and their infamous stupidity were called Irish jokes, and if I remember correctly, jokes were always classified this way; blue jokes, Irish jokes, Paki jokes, etc.

One British comedian, Bernard Manning, (in)famous for telling ethnic and minority jokes, said to his detractors: "I tell jokes. You never take a joke seriously."

Wikipedia recounts an episode, which illustrates how his style of humour was eventually viewed as racist.

In 1994, two black waitresses at a charity dinner at a hotel in Derbyshire took exception to Manning's act and appealed to an industrial tribunal against the management of the hotel for racial discrimination. They lost, later to have the decision overturned at appeal, where they won an undisclosed sum. Manning felt that the word "wog" was "a horrible, insulting word I've never used in my life" but defended use of the words "nigger" and "coon" as historical terms with legitimate roots.

When the northern comedian died in 2007, The Daily Telgraph added this timely observation

Many feared (or quietly rejoiced) that a whole genre of comedy, an entire species of comic, had died with Manning. Had the forces of political correctness and modish "alternative" comedy killed them off?

Note, the journalist never categorises Manning's comedic style as being blue or off-colour, which in British English could be anything between saucy (titillating) and pornographic.

Today, ironically, if an American-born comedian told racist, ableist, homophobic or sexist jokes in public or on TV, they'd be crucified, but they might be elected as the president of the USA.


The phrase that came to my mind was crass humor:

coarse in nature or behavior; especially : having or indicating such grossness of mind as precludes delicacy and discrimination

a loudmouthed jerk given to crass jokes and rude comments


Jokes at the expense of some person's race or sex are most often in poor taste and show poorly on the teller. This is the essence of crassness.


Coarse would be good. In this context it means tasteless, insensitive, inappropriate; the sort of stuff people say when drunk and (should) regret the next day.

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