Gallows humor is a comedic style that makes light of subjects most people would consider taboo. Topics like death, dismemberment, disease, and physical harm are often the subjects polite company avoids and we as the police seem to revel in.
Few people understand things police officers find laughable. Most find our sense of humor objectionable. Few civilians see the humor in a bloated body with an odor that has everyone vomiting. We often see something funny there. It’s not rare when a police officer tells a story that some non-police officer will comment, “Eeeew, that’s gross.” Perhaps it is but we still smile to ourselves and remember that story to tell later when you are with your fellow officers, maybe over food or a beer.
Bill Murray’s character, in the movie Stripes, said, “There is something wrong with us; something very, very, wrong with us; something seriously wrong with us.” It probably applies to us too. How could it not? How can you be exposed to the things we see day in and out without there being something seriously wrong with us?
We use humor and specifically gallows humor to cope with the wretched life we see while at work. If civilians saw the walls crawling with roaches, the stench in the homes, and the evil way so many people treat each other, they too would need something to cope.
If we weren’t laughing, we would be crying. We cry often enough. We usually keep it to ourselves in the car on the way home after work, or late at night with a buddy over a drink. Carrying a small wrapped bundle that used to be a one-month-old baby to the morgue while thinking about your kids safe at home in their beds will tear up the most seasoned veterans.
We would be crying from the disrespect shown towards the good people in our communities as well as the disrespect shown towards all first responders nationwide. We would cry over the hypocritical leadership shown by our elected representatives.
Right now, we would be crying knowing that we are exposed to this terrible virus that has circled the globe. We don’t know how this will work itself out. No one knows that much about the virus.
As a young officer I came to grips with the fact that at some time, I may be seriously or fatally injured. I was almost killed in a squad car accident but that never had me afraid. Officers never worried about more than their safety. They know they might get hurt on the job, but their families would be okay. Right now, if they encounter the wrong someone their spouse, children or parents might die because of it.
Just today I learned the son of a friend who is a police officer has tested positive. He just doesn’t know what to expect. Will this be nothing more than a bad cold or time in the ICU on a respirator?
Police don’t like that kind of uncertainty. Hell, no one does. This unseen virus can come at you from anywhere. My friend’s son picked it up at work. That same virus is here in our community.
I worry about my sons and they aren’t the police. Unfortunately, they work in doctor’s offices and are still going into work each day. The older son’s fiancé also works in a medical office. My third son is working from home. He lives with me. My first concern is we kill each other, and our dogs ruin our chance for an open casket.
Yeah, I joke about it and some might find it tasteless, but I know most of you will chuckle. If you don’t it’s because I’m not as funny as I hoped.
So, we use gallows humor to help cope with the horrors we deal with, as well as fear of the unknown we face. When someone with a normal sense of humor overhears your jokes and doesn’t appreciate your comedy remember you might see them next when they die at home and someone finally has you investigate that nasty odor.
So, if someone insists on telling you how tasteless your jokes are after an “Eeeew,” smile at them and just turn away. If they don’t appreciate your humor, they can go f*** themselves. (Just don’t say it to them. You don’t need the aggravation.)
Stay safe out there. Do what you need to do to protect your family at home and in blue. Run low and zigzag.
– Robert Weisskopf (Lt. CPD ret.)
Note: You can find all of Robert Weisskopf’s online articles as well as links to all his novels on his website www.bobweisskopf.com.