Sometimes life is so absurdly cruel and wretched, we make a joke to save our own sanity. This method of preserving our soul from oblivion is known as dark comedy. In a time when the world feels like a giant dumpster fire, let’s grab a marshmallow stick, and examine this subgenre of comedy. Shall we?
What is Dark Comedy
According to Wikipedia, dark comedy is also known as black humor, dark comedy, dark humor, or gallows humor. It’s a style of comedy that makes light of subject matter that is generally considered taboo, particularly subjects that are normally considered serious or painful to discuss.
In other words, if you laugh when you see a person fall on the street, you might have a dark sense of humor.
Does laughing at the fallen person make you a bad person? Not necessarily, according to Janet Gibson, Professor, Psychology, Grinnell College, research shows that liking dark humor does not mean you are sick or demented. Liking it typically means you are coping well with your anxiety.
Dark Comedy is not Everyone’s Fav
Dark humor can be found amongst ER personnel, first responders, military members, and other areas of employment where death is part of the job. It offers these brave individuals a way of coping and defusing the sadness and fear. When we laugh, our bodies release endorphins that make us feel better. This chemical reaction also reduces stress. Do you want an ER doctor working on you who’s stressed? I don’t.
However, this doesn’t mean everyone’s a fan. For example, in 2018 a Massachusetts woman called the fire department to report a cat in a tree. The person answering the phone asked, have you ever seen a cat skeleton in a tree?
The woman didn’t find this amusing and a formal apology was issued. It can be surmised that a joke about the cat skeleton was best kept amongst the firefighters and might not have been appropriate for the concerned public.
This is good to know if you plan on including dark humor in your own writing. Not everyone is going to be in on the joke.
Examples to Chew on
The tagline for Oyinkan Braithwaite’s 2018 novel, My Sister, The Serial Killer reads, a blackly comic novel about how blood is thicker – and more difficult to get out of the carpet – than water … In this book, an older sibling consistently helps her younger sister clean up after the men she dates tragically die after ‘attacking’ her. The book examines social media and dating with a dark twist.
Therefore, consider your next protagonist. What dark secrets could you exploit? Do they work in a field where dark humor is a given? It’s a lot of fun to add layers of the ridiculous to your work.
In Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, a funeral home known as the Ibis and Jacquel Funeral Parlour is run by Mr. Jacquel, aka the Ancient Egyptian god, Anubis. His business partner is Mr. Ibis. For those in the know, an ibis is the bird form of the Egyptian deity, Thoth–the god of writing, wisdom, and magic.
What other clever nods to death, tragedy, pandemics could you layer into your own work? Start paying attention to what you’re laughing at. Is it ridiculous? If so, write it down.