Good Question: When Is A Joke Really Offensive?

By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s hard to make a joke and not offend someone. Make fun of dog, dog owners are upset. Make fun of Catholics, Catholics are offended. Make a joke about race, look out.

So what’s the difference between offensive but funny and just plain offensive?

It’s a question KDWB’s Dave Ryan in the Morning Show found itself in the middle of this week after airing a parody song about Hmong families performed by the show’s producer.

The song talked about a family of 24, sleeping on the floor. And it included the lyric, “Hmongs get pregnant early.”

The station apologized to those who were offended, but reaction on the show’s Facebook page ranged from people who thought the song was racist and offensive to those who thought it was funny.

“I think it’s whatever people hold near and dear their heart, they will get offended by,” said Chad Daniels, a Minnesota comedian performing at Acme Comedy Company in Minneapolis. “I do toe the line with that kind of stuff, people look at me and say there’s no way he could be that serious with that sweater on.”

Daniels pointed to certain danger topics, like race, politics, and religion.

“Religion is a big one,” he said, telling about a time he told a joke that started talking about Jesus.

“I was telling a story and before I was able to make my point, 10 people walked out. They tore my poster down,” said Daniels. “Well, before that they smeared shoe polish all over it and then ripped it down.”

At DeBlog, Ashley wrote that “We are much too eager to take an ‘offensive’ comment and turn it into a soapbox.”

But Willie from Eagan argued, “Odd that we seem so sensitive at the same time popular media are desensitizing us to violence and sexual related jokes. We appear to be both insulted and entertained by a range of material that wouldn’t have been allowed of the back room just a decade ago.”

“I think if people’s intent is to be hurtful, obviously that’s not funny,” said Daniels. “You can’t just come up here and just be racist.”

But, when he performs in Baltimore he said he gets two crowds: largely white at 8 p.m., largely black at 10 p.m. When he does racial material at 8 p.m., “they squirm,” he said. At 10 p.m. the same material makes the “crowd jump out of their seats and laugh.”

So who’s right?

“That’s a good question. I guess the group the jokes are about get to make that call. So it looks like I win,” he laughed.

It’s hard to make a joke and not offend someone. Make fun of dog, dog owners are upset. Make fun of Catholics, Catholics are offended. Make a joke about race, look out.
More from Jason DeRusha
  • Hugh Jorgan

    Q: What did one cannibal say to the other?

    A: I dunno’ ’bout you, but I’m having a ball!!

    Sue me…

    • lib

      lol, thanks for a little levity.

    • Nick


  • WhyWontMyCommentShow

    People need to lighten up and learn to laugh. Humor can be a cultural bridge in our society to open doors to dialogue and understanding. It’s like the big elephant in the room…yes Hmong people have huge families very early in life…and yes that is different than traditional American families…so what? We can’t even talk about it? That’s absurd!!!

    Funny is funny is funny…it doesn’t matter the subject matter. Look at the roast on comedy central. They are HILARIOUS…but they are also very personal and mean. You don’t see those people bent out of shape over that….because they have the intelligence to differentiate humor from personal attacks. Humor is a work of fiction, it is an individuals interpretation of a situation or set of circumstances that they look at in a comical way. It is not gospel. If I make a joke about white people liking trailer parks….it doesn’t make it true. So why fly off the handle as if KDWB just gave the biggest dose of truth you’ve ever heard. What they said wasn’t true…was it? So why get so upset, it doesn’t make sense!!!

    This KDWB skit wasn’t a published manifest or doctrine of the radio station to affect a city wide discrimination campaign against the Hmong…it was a JOKE!!

    Every group of people, culture, society, has traits that can be mocked or made fun of….and if it’s funny, then let it be and learn to laugh. If you take a joke for anything other than a joke, then it’s time to remove the deeply imbedded stick!

  • Paul Wellstoned

    When are immigrants really offensive?

    • son

      i dont think thats a funny joke paul what do you have against immigrants ???

      • Paul Wellstoned

        Well, son, I don’t give a rat’s a$$ about what you think.

        • son

          and do u thiink i give a XXXX what u think too > you just think you can b \e funny with those stupid jokes well go tell those jokes to ur mother and dont start some about immigrants beacouse they didnt do anything to you paul

  • Humor

    We as a country need to get off the politically correct binge and get our sense of humor back!! We need to be able to laugh at ourselves!! Lighten up and LAUGH!!

    How do you make the proverbial “dumb blonde” look like Einstien?

    Stand her between Sara Palin and Michelle Bachman!!

    • Victim Du Jour

      Why is it good to have a Democrat as a passenger?

      You can park in the Handicap zone.

      • patter



    I would like to ask KDWB one thing?
    Lets see KDWB make another racist song about black, Indian, Somali, Vietnamese, Mexican and other races group? And lets see what the other races have to say about it.

  • sad

    It is only OK to make jokes about conservatives, especially conservative women, just look at Bill Mauer, not funny only vulger.

  • Mockery

    Don’t mock them, as they walk aHmoung us. Uh, ooops.

  • das

    at else we don’t do your sister and brother or do are son and daughter, like you white hell-belly do.

  • Victim Du Jour

    Asians make fun of white people too, they think we are fat.

    And lefty people use the word “Hill-billy” in the same context as the N-word. But white people are not trying to cash in on a politically convenient inferiority complex.

    If you replace “Redneck” or “Hillbilly” with the N-word, Democrats sound just as bad as their Ku Klux Klan days.

    • nate

      I’m pretty sure you mean white folk in general and not Dem’s…as I recall the majority of the states with the highest number of KKK members and groups were also in the deep red south.

      • Victim Du Jour

        The Democratic Party is the only institution with A KKK voting record.

  • Ummm What?

    Dude….that isnt even english son!! And that has nothing to do with your culture…just your lack of education in this country…i feel sad for you:(

  • XiongSayWhat?

    PS…look at the minnesota sex offender database online….there are many Xiong’s, Fang’s, Yang’s, Fong’s, Chue’s and Chang’s in there buddy. I wouldnt be too sure of your statement!

  • Mike Steinmetz

    mike steinmetz

    I think that people need take a deep breathe and just laugh . I think people today are just looking to find something to get mad at. Life is to short to find something to get mad at. I think the news would be funnier if we had red green and larry the cable guy doing the news what do you think?

  • Good Question: When Is A Joke Really Offensive? | Baby

    […] more on CBS Minnesota Share this […]

  • Paj Yang

    I am a Hmong woman and I live in the Twin Cities. I am offended by what KDWB has put out to the public about who I am. I am offended because many people they broadcasted these stereotypes to have no idea who Hmong people are and now I have been given an image of which is not true. To say you tackled this question head on by interviewing a white comedian along with many people outside the community instead of interviewing those that have been affected is an injustice. Are you sending a message loud and clear that it is ok to condone stereotypes laced with racism? I was thoroughly disappointed with this story. I challenge you to come out to the community and listen to those who were offended instead of trying to play it down. Maybe then you may redeem this story somewhat.


      Paj Yang
      I will start out by saying that I know nothing about you, but before you are so quick to criticize someone for a joke maybe you should look back in your life and try to count all the times you told a (for lake of a better term) dirty joke. I am sure you are not an innocent person and have done what EVERYONE in the world has done and told a risky joke at least 1 point in your life that someone could call racist or offensive. So before you pull the “racism” or “stereotype” card you may want to look at the glass in front of your face before throwing that rock.
      People always try to act like their sh*t doesn’t stink when stuff like this happens. It is sad to say that people are too fast to judge others and not ever look at their own actions. I am not saying this was right or wrong to put on the air when they played it on the radio, just saying that we all want to have a laugh and there always has to be someone that is the buzz kill when they want to bring out the race card and such. Here is an idea, start bringing your kids up without teaching them what racism is and they will not have a problem with it.

  • Kourt

    there are plenty of jokes about white, black, orange, yellow, green, brown, blue, red, purlpe people; about different religions, the way people look, act, speak, talk, smell. key word JOKE! if you cant take the joke dont listen…this is america and we have freedom of speech! IF YOU CANT STAND THE HEAT GET THE HELL OUT OF THE KITCHEN! just sayin

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