When America’s most respected source of deeply offensive humor, the Onion, apologized last month for facetiously using a vulgar term referencing female genitalia in connection with a 9-year-old girl, it rekindled an old debate: Are there subjects so controversial that you just can’t joke about them?

I believe the answer is no. You just have to do it right.

Take 9-11. How can you possibly play that for laughs? You can do it the way my stand-up comic friend Dave George does, often, in front of a brick wall:

“Nine-11 was a horrible event for all of us here in America, and we were justifiably angry, but I’m ashamed to admit that I acted on that anger. I was just so furious, thinking about Waseem, down in accounting, who must have been celebrating this day, basking in America’s pain. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and went up to him, and, BAM, right in the face. And I said, ‘THAT’S for 9-11.’ And then he’s all, ‘B-but I am ... Indian.’ I said, ‘Oh ... well then, that was for Little Big Horn.’ ”

Like me, Dave is also heavily invested in the idea that there are no verboten areas for humor, and he volunteered to help me prove it, as did my funny friend Rachel Manteuffel. We brainstormed some jokes on taboo topics.

(Eric Shansby)

Taboo Topic: Domestic violence

Q: Is it ever okay for a man to strike his wife?

A: Sure. If he strikes her as witty and urbane.

Taboo Topic: Gays

“I’m a red-blooded American guy, and let me tell you, I hate gays. They disgust me. After we have sex, they always want to cuddle.”

Taboo Topic: Weight gain and the Holocaust

Q: What is the difference between the Holocaust and that little lip of flab you sometimes see near a lady’s armpit when she’s wearing a sleeveless dress?

A: If you really, really had to, you could probably get away with telling a joke about the Holocaust.

Taboo Topic: Islam

Q: Why did the Iranian police sketch artist suddenly quit his job?

A: The victim described his attacker as “a dead ringer for the Prophet Mohammed.”

Taboo Topic: Slavery

Q: What’s the difference between slavery and higher taxes?

A: If a rock-ribbed conservative congressman said something positive about slavery, he could probably still be reelected.

Taboo Topic: Drone warfare and the collective guilt of America

I wish I were a
drone pilot, just so I could annoy those obnoxious gamers: “Oh, by the way,
I just took out a nest of al-Qaeda leaders. But, please, tell me again about how you achieved Wizard Level 10.”

Taboo Topic: A vulgar term referencing female genitalia and 9-year-old girls

Q: How is calling a 9-year-old girl a vulgar term referencing female genitalia like a two-hand dunk in a 15-foot-high basketball hoop in Warsaw?

A: Nope. Not even with a 10-foot Pole .

E-mail Gene at weingarten@washpost.com. Find chats and updates at washingtonpost.com/magazine.

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