There is someone that dropped out of college but still visits our friend group about once a month who tries to be funny by making intentionally hurtful comments to 2 or 3 different people in the group of 10 to 15.

Usual comments are like "wow you have really gotten fat", "you're useless and should go kill yourself" and the like.

The problem is about half of my friends think he is funny. I currently just call him out when he makes a hurtful comment about someone (that isn't me) and just laugh it off when he makes a hurtful comment about me.

Is this the right approach to get him to make less of those comments? If not what would be a better approach?

Bonus Points if you can explain to me why otherwise good people think he is funny in the first place.

It may be helpful to think of Gaston from Beauty and the Beast because that is who a lot of people compare him to and I can see the resemblance.

  • 2
    Digest from a google search, as I did not see the movies and didn't know the character: Gaston is popular with people unaware of his true nature, and this serves to fuel his already massive ego. He's a narcissist who sees himself as superior to everyone around him, proud, boorish, uncultured, impolite, and sexist. He was also arrogant.. Is that it ? If so, basically, I would just say: "Ignore. Run away. Fast.". Not sure these 4 words are enough to become an answer though...
    – OldPadawan
    Aug 8, 2017 at 14:57
  • 3
    @OldPadawan that is the gist of it, I would take special consideration to the list "proud, boorish, uncultured, impolite, and sexist." as I think that describes it particularly well. I am not really sure as to the unaware of his true nature and narcissist parts, Obviously I do not like him so I try to avoid him when I can. I refuse to not hangout with my friends just because one person is there. The answer might just be "deal with it" but I would rather him not make people feel like crap.
    – Joe S
    Aug 8, 2017 at 15:01
  • Also you do not need to incorporate the character, it is just a fairly popular character that exemplifies a situation. You are free to think of your own example and solution!
    – Joe S
    Aug 8, 2017 at 15:02
  • 2
    If you're in the mood for confrontation you can respond to "you're useless and should go kill yourself" with "Hm, are you thinking about being useless and suicide because you dropped out of college?" Aug 9, 2017 at 9:42
  • 2
    @MickLH I am not sure what SJW means, but I do not really care if this is the case. I do not think anyone deserves to be the butt of these attacks. They are not jokes, theyre intentionally hurtful comments.
    – Joe S
    Aug 9, 2017 at 18:46

7 Answers 7


Is this the right approach to get him to make less of those comments? If not what would be a better approach?

In general, I would caution that it is extremely difficult to get a person who makes mean comments to make less of those comments when he is getting positive reinforcement from people around him. I see three major approaches to getting him to make less of those comments, and none of them are guaranteed (or perhaps even likely) to work:

  1. You could approach him one-on-one and explain why his comments are hurtful. If he is an empathetic person, this may cause him to change his behavior. However, given that he has been making hurtful comments in the first place, there is a good chance that he lacks to ability or willingness to empathize with those he is hurting, in which case you won't be able to influence him by appealing to empathy. This approach could also have the side effect of making him more aggressive towards you, since you would be expressing disapproval towards him.

  2. You could shame him in front of the group for his mean comments by calling him out in a way that is embarrassing for him. This would be fighting fire with fire, and in my experience this can work with aggressive types who only respond to what they perceive as 'strength'. But to do this, you have to be willing to have an altercation, and you shouldn't do that unless you are both very confident in ability to handle that confrontation and trust that people in the group will be on your side.

  3. You could approach others in the group and discuss your concerns. If they share your concerns, this could motivate them to join you in calling him out and shutting him down when he makes mean comments. Sometimes people are reluctant to stand up to someone simply because they aren't sure if others will back them up and they don't want to attract the meanness towards themselves. But if they know that they aren't alone, they will be more willing to stand up to him. If he starts to feel that the group is not approving of his comments, that may be enough to change his behavior. Of course, it is possible that others really do not share your concerns, and they might dismiss you by saying things like "he's just kidding" or "you need to learn how to take a joke". In that case, you are on your own.

If none of these options seem promising (and it is hard to tell without having a nuanced feel for the personalities and social dynamics involved), then it could be that you simply need to accept the fact that this guy makes mean comments, and that your friends find it funny. If you can't accept that, then you need to find new friends.

Bonus Points if you can explain to me why otherwise good people think he is funny in the first place.

Based on the examples you provided, his mean comments are not witty or clever, they are just plain aggressive. Since you describe your friends as "otherwise good people", I am going to assume that they are not simply mean-spirited types who enjoy seeing someone being hurt, belittled, etc. In that case, I think it is very likely that their laughter is a matter of self protection: they see an aggressive person who likes to throw darts at others for attention, and their first thought is "Gosh I don't want those darts to be thrown at me", so they respond in a way that lets the bully know "Hey I'm on YOUR side! So don't look at me!". It is a social survival instinct- keep the bully from attacking you by supporting him when he attacks someone else. Many times, the same people who do this will still feel pangs of empathy for the person who is being attacked, but those pangs aren't enough to override the self-preservation instinct.

  • 2
    I really like this answer because it provides and answer in multiple ways that can be useful to different types of people. I have tried talking to him personally and he really does not exhibit empathy at all. but 2 and 3 sound like good ideas. Could you provide examples of the types of ways to call him out or how to let other people know that I do not appreciate that humor and illicit their support?
    – Joe S
    Aug 8, 2017 at 15:27
  • +1 I was writing a very close answer, no need to dup' then. In point #2, I was suggesting "humour him back" in such a way people will laugh more at your comment than to his joke (really ? no other word that this ? I don't even know what to call his behaviour anyway...). Your #3 was my #1. I would never ever talk to this guy apart from the group. As my ol' man use to say : "you don't talk to a trolley, just push it..."
    – OldPadawan
    Aug 8, 2017 at 15:27
  • 1
    Bonus Points sound spot on as well, I have never really thought of it that way. Do you have suggestions on how to be sure that this is the case? Are there specific cues or questions I could ask them privately?
    – Joe S
    Aug 8, 2017 at 15:28
  • "Could you provide examples of the types of ways to call him out or how to let other people know that I do not appreciate that humor and illicit their support?" In terms of calling him out in a way that gets others to show disapproval of him (and approval of your call out), I think it really depends on your personality, sense of humor, and other characteristics, so it is difficult to provide relevant examples. I could tell you things I might say, but those things would really be in my own "style", and I am the sort of person who does not shy away from verbal confrontation. It comes naturally.
    – SlowLoris
    Aug 8, 2017 at 15:58
  • 2
    "Do you have suggestions on how to be sure that this is the case? Are there specific cues or questions I could ask them privately?" Cues include any sign of discomfort, including searching the room for other people's reactions when he says something mean. As for talking to people privately, you could be direct and say something like "Gaston is kinda mean sometimes, do you notice that?" and see how they respond. Or, if you don't want to show your cards right away, try bringing him up as a neutral conversation topic and see if they show any signs of negative feelings towards him.
    – SlowLoris
    Aug 8, 2017 at 16:06

This answer only addresses the "and just laugh it off when he makes a hurtful comment about me" part, and is a quote from the Live by Night 2016 movie starring Ben Affleck.

  • You can take a joke, right?
  • Sure, I can take a joke.
  • As long as you don't become one, right?

I live by this policy and recommend the same to my friends.

So, in practice, if the person makes a hurtful "joke" about you, don't laugh it off. Stay serious. Confront it severely if necessary - but without making too big of a case also. This takes practice but renders good results.

  • 5
    One day a person was making a hurtful joke about me. I just watched him, without making the slightest move or change the expression on my face. I just kept on looking at him. He clearly has never felt so humlilated and since then he started respecting me.
    – Dominique
    Aug 22, 2017 at 20:11

"Dropped out of school" means something to me. I think this person is "insecure" and is trying to cover his insecurity with his former "schoolmates" by making fun of some of them.

My guess is that his "supporters" are also insecure, about their ability to stay in school, social status, etc. They take "comfort in hearing that someone else is "fat" or otherwise worse off than they are.

Just know these people for what they are and ignore them. There's no way to play their game, unless, perhaps, you are "insecure" yourself, which I don't think is the case.

  • 5
    Bizarre use of quotation marks there... maybe take a look at this: github.com/adam-p/markdown-here/wiki/Markdown-Cheatsheet - unless you really mean "insecure" in some way other than the way it's normally used?
    – Jasmine
    Aug 8, 2017 at 19:44
  • Scare quotes, most likely.
    – NVZ
    Aug 9, 2017 at 7:24
  • But still, it is a bizarre overuse of sq.
    – NVZ
    Aug 9, 2017 at 15:46
  • You've given no evidence that your intuitions are sound. Did you consider the ironic possibility that maybe your "insecure projection" argument describes your own behavior, and that his motivation is independent of that pattern? In short, that maybe not everyone is like you?
    – MickLH
    Aug 9, 2017 at 18:40

A couple of thoughts:

  1. Why keep inviting this guy to events (or letting him tag along)? He sounds really awful, so I might minimize his toxicity by just not letting him come along whenever possible.

  2. I think your instincts are right on for saying, "Wow..." or "Wow, that's really mean!" or even just giving him a nasty look whenever he says something.

Honestly, I don't think that you're the problem so much as are the other "nice people" who are laughing at his jokes. They're encouraging him and letting him know that it's okay to disparage other people.

Assuming that you think these people are genuinely good (not jerks like jerk-face), I'd pull people privately aside and say, "Hey, I noticed that you laughed when jerk-face called nice-girl fat. I thought that was really mean and was wondering if you could not do it next time."

Hopefully they agree that it was mean. (If not, they're not nice people.) And hopefully they agree that next time jerk-face makes a mean comment, he's met with stony silence from everyone. (As well as fewer invites.)

Again, I think the main problem is that the group is allowing this behavior. But if jerk-face is consistently met with stony silence or someone saying, "Wow, that was really mean jerk-face!" every time he says something, he'll soon stop.

(And if after you've talked to people, they keep doing it, again, they're not nice people and, honestly, I'd recommend new friends.)


Edited for actual answer, not a ramble

I think there's only two ways out of this, a confrontation around an event (or set of events), or working out with your friends for ways around this.

It's not the hardest thing to ask "Will be at the event? You can probably guess I'm not a huge fan of them." This also gives an opportunity to open up a discussion between you and the organizer about how you feel. It may turn out well, in that others share your opinions, but you've let your opinion be known regardless. You could also cut short your appearances when that person is around and leave (could include snark for extra dramatic effect - see ramble below). It would become obvious after a while that both of you don't tend to appear at the same time, but this could also start a rift.


I'm reminded of certain public figures and relatives who try to crush your hand in a handshake - there's no point to this, except to show they're a real prick. This person seems like one of those people.

Eddie Izzard on "Hand Squeezy Death"

And some people do one of those squeezy handshakes, the small-dick crusher squeezy handshakes, the compensation handshake....they go into this and you don't react. You should react, because they get away with it, if someone starts crushing your hand, go "ahhhh! fucking hell! You bastard! I hope you die in a car crash!" Or do the complete opposite, and collapse on the floor - "You killed him, man. He suffers from Hand Squeezy Death!"

My take on this is sarcasm, pure, undiluted sarcasm. The cynical side of me says point out your disgust:

Usual comments are like "wow you have really gotten fat"

"Good point, what is it like then to be only able to buy shitty food? How good is nice food! All the chocolate all the time!"

"you're useless and should go kill yourself"

"OK, do you want to make the noose while I get the chair? What's your favourite way of assisted suicide?"

Mind you, this would be a really, really quick way of getting into a fight as well. Also it would be an easy way to split your group and lose friends as well.


I'm going to provide an alternative view on this, because this is my exact style of humour.

I go for shock value in things I say. One of the key things in comedy is a subversion of expectations, and - to me - there's no greater expectation to subvert than societal norms.

I will challenge friends to races, threaten to break their bones, utter disparaging remarks regarding humankind or subsections of it.

It gets genuine laughs because my friends expect it and understand very well when I'm joking. I've met people who don't enjoy this style of humour, and simply don't include them in it.

Perhaps you should explain to this person that his style of humour not only doesn't work for you, but gets you down.


I've found a really useful term is "comedic sociopathy" - that is, there is a disconnect in comedy that makes the kind of joke that is actually horrible, seem funny when it is perceived as "just" a joke. This can include physical humor (slapstick, etc) but also includes other kinds of cruelty.

I don't find these kinds of things funny, never have, not even in fiction where there is no genuine harm that can be done. I have on occasion explained this to others as my lacking such a disconnect, and so not enjoying things (usually movies) that they found funny but I found uncomfortable. In your case, though, using the actual term may help point out how you feel this person turning such "humor" on other people is inappropriate.

This is especially bad because this person lacks the kind of judgement that can stop him shy of really hurting someone. If he can't tell some (or more) of his audience doesn't actually find this funny, or doesn't think that's reason enough to stop, then he almost certainly can't tell when he's crossed the line from humor into cruelty and equally wouldn't be able to tell when he is causing genuine harm.

For someone to pull off this kind of humor, they really need excellent people skills and a whopping lot of tact. They have to know when someone is annoyed, uncomfortable, offended, or genuinely hurt, and how to gently disengage if they hit a real vulnerable point. Or else it needs to be, as previously mentioned, in fiction where the jokes and the people they are aimed at are not real and cannot be hurt - and even then care is needed to not catch others in the line of fire, if, say, mocking traits that do apply to real people.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.