It’s easy to make a bad joke. All you have to do is try not to be funny, right? Or do you try so hard to be funny that you aren’t funny? Perhaps the answer lies in simply a bad delivery? Or is it none of these? Realistically speaking, it wouldn’t really be possible to say because whether or not a joke is funny depends entirely on its intended audience. You don’t bring “Orange you glad I didn’t say it!” to open mic night at your local club, and you don’t go telling little sandbox tots about your relationship with their mothers. However, if we establish our audience as being young adults, then it may be possible to figure out what does or does not qualify as a bad joke.
As I have found, there are two categories of bad jokes that can be divided by intent. The first category is “false anti-comedy,” which covers jokes that are meant to be funny but simply are not, for one reason or another. The second is “true anti-comedy,” which covers jokes that are intentionally distasteful and/or inappropriate, designed and delivered for the express purpose of bemusing others. “True anti-comedy,” which may also be understood as trolling, is the only one of the two that I would say carries the art of bemusement— the skilled and intentional usage of various techniques to remove a smile from someone’s face— within it. Any average Joe can splash water on someone and laugh their face off like it’s the funniest thing in the world, but truly diabolical acts require a greater deal of thought and cunning than screaming and random nonsense. To better outline these concepts, I shall elaborate on what is and is not “true anti-comedy” or “false anti-comedy.”
“False anti-comedy” is the broader of the two, covering more types of jokes than “true anti-comedy.” Its sub-genres include “lazy slapstick,” which is self-explanatory; “wet humor,” which can be understood as the antithesis of dry comedy, like a very dry, dull, and typically underwhelming joke told in an extremely passionate manner; “extreme self-deprecation,” which is a self-deprecating joke that just comes off as sad rather than funny; and “actually unironic humor,” which is when someone says something that is meant to be serious, but it either is objectively low-quality or not well-received and is spun as being ironic in an attempt to save face. An example of “lazy slapstick” would be if your friend decided to flip the table at random, thinking it would be funny. No one finds the act funny except for him. “Wet humor” would be something like a standup comic struggling to maintain composure through obscene amounts of laughter as they deliver possibly the most underwhelming punchline to a joke ever to grace the ears of the audience. “Extreme self-deprecation” would be if someone told a joke about their house burning down (or some other incredibly morbid detail about their life) and they provide too much detail for the punchline to handle. The joke hits like the comedian is venting, which is not funny in the slightest. It makes the audience uncomfortable. Lastly, “actually unironic humor” is basically when your friend says “I’m just joking” to save face after expressing an opinion you found offensive or weird. It isn’t funny and the mood is now ruined.
Now we get to “true anti-comedy.” This is a very specific kind of act. It’s one you do knowing that no one but you is going to laugh when you do it, and you take joy in that. The best example of this would be if someone were to suddenly and unexpectedly say a terrible joke (i.e., “If your door was open, I’d put some money in it, and then it would be a jar”) with a deadpan look on their face. The stupidity of the joke, the bad delivery, and the inappropriate timing of this make it incredibly bemusing. The cleverness in this is that you not only have to study what makes a joke worse than bad, you also have to practice acting so you can do it all while keeping a straight face. This is what gives “true anti-comedy” the art of bemusement.
Now you know the art of bemusement. Do what you will with it.