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Black Comedy / Literature

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  • 2666: Prevalent heavily in the first chapter. It was extremely thin in The Crimes, however. In Archimboldi, it was almost non-existent.
  • Paradise Rot has quite a lot of this, especially from the zombies.
  • The White Tiger is pretty famous for this.
  • Catch-22 is one of the best examples, and the Trope Namer from a review of it that coined the term.
  • Almost anything by Kurt Vonnegut.
  • Pretty much everything by Robert Bloch.
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  • Oscar Wilde's short stories "Lord Arthur Savile's Crime" and "The Canterville Ghost" are both good examples, although the latter stops being so towards the end.
  • Candide, by Voltaire.
  • In book Grendel, the title character's philosophical musings as he tears Danes to shreds just for the lulz are about as black as black comedy gets.
  • Warren Adler's The War of the Roses, which is about Jonathan (Oliver in the film) and Barbara Rose engaging in an increasingly vicious divorce battle.
  • Ranklechick by Rikki Simons is about ghouls in a zoo around Jupiter that fly through space in ships powered by particles that insult physics and then get beaten up. It's a touching story of Christmas and insanity.
  • Lampshaded (kind of?) in one of the shadowy conversations that open a chapter in Ender's Game:
    "I think you underestimate Ender."
    "But I fear that I also underestimate the stupidity of the rest of mankind. Are we absolutely sure we ought to win this war?"
    "Sir, those words sound like treason."
    "It was black humor."
    "It wasn't funny. When it comes to the buggers, nothing—"
    "Nothing is funny, I know."
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  • Tik-Tok by John Sladek (not the one from the Land of Oz).
  • Characters in Darkness Visible are unsurprisingly willing to joke in the face of imminent death, the end of the world, and ruined suits.
    Lewis: (facing the end of the world on his birthday) - 'This is the worst birthday present I have ever had.'
    Marsh (after yet another waistcoat gets soaked in a dying man's blood) - 'It seems a man cannot keep a suit more than two days in your company, Lewis,’ Marsh complained, washing the blood from his hands. ‘I’m certain you do it deliberately!’
  • If anything in one of Chuck Palahniuk's books makes you laugh, it's Black Comedy.
    • "I want to have your abortion.", spoken by Marla to Tyler in Fight Club.
  • The self-described "Bad Catholic" humorist John Zmirak has been known to quip "If you can't joke about terrorism and cancer, what can you joke about?"
  • Any of Derek Robinson's novels. The war novels are more black than comedy, but the spy novels are more comedy than black (but still pretty black).
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  • There is saying mentioned in one of stories from Žamboch: Hope dies penultimate. What remains till the end is dark humour.
  • The entire premise of A Series of Unfortunate Events. Let us put it this way: the series starts with the main characters parents getting killed in a fire that destroys their home, then getting forced by an extremely incompetent banker to live with a monster of person who only interest is getting their inheritance by any means necessary, including wedding one the main characters under the guise of a stage play, all the while the narrator is begging the reader to stop, because it always gets worse...
  • Everything Bret Easton Ellis writes falls under this trope.
  • The Late Hector Kipling by David Thewlis. Throughout all the tragedy that the main character has to deal with, he finds himself unable to respond "properly" to it, to be sad and grieve like any other person would, which leads to bizarre situations and conversations. A large chunk of the book is actually about his hope that someone close to him would die already.
  • Frequent in the stories of Flannery O’Connor. For example, in Wise Blood, none of the major characters are good people or even particularly sympathetic, while the plot involves absurdities like a stole gorilla costume, an anti-church being corrupted into a money-making scheme, and the attempted seduction of a girl who turns out to be a Fille Fatale.
  • Ephraim Kishon has died and sometimes even gone to hell at the end of several of his short stories. It didn't exactly last.
  • Harry Potter occasionally dabbles in this. Good examples come, unsurprisingly, from Ron.
  • An Elegy for the Still-living Robin Goodfellows jokes are strictly black comedy.
    “So this man walks into a bar. He sits down at the stool, says hey, bartender, bring me a bloody Mary. The bartender steps into the backroom. The man hears someone scream from behind the door, and then three loud thumps. A minute later, the bartender comes back out carrying your wife, bleeding from the head, and lays her on the table. Ha!”
  • World War Z, when two soldiers pick up human infant skulls and put on a small show for their troop. Would be going into offensive territory if the real subject wasn't about the Gallows Humor used for coping with... you know... a Zombie Apocalypse.
  • Clive Barker's Mister B. Gone: Filled with the darkest of humor, as can be expected from Clive Barker. There's a scene where the demon villain protagonist bathes in a tub full of blood from dead babies. The townspeople are hot on his trail, since there was a hole in his baby bag, and he left a trail of children, like bread crumbs, on his way back to his hovel. He complains how difficult it was to keep them alive so the bath would be warm when he emptied their blood into the tub.
  • Mrs. Hall, of Sherborne, was brought to bed yesterday of a dead baby, some weeks before she expected, owing to a fright. I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband.? Jane Austen, letter to Cassandra, October 27, 1798.
  • "It was born, though, that very evening, took one look, according to the Radletts, at its father, and quickly died again" Nancy Mitford, Love in a Cold Climate
  • A favorite of William S. Burroughs in Naked Lunch. Deranged surgeons, ridiculous murder porn, general mayhem.
  • How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse relies heavily on this.
  • A Modest Proposal, in which Jonathan Swift makes the satirical idea of the poor selling their children as food.
  • Hell's Children, by Andrew Boland.
  • There's a book called The Bunny Suicides and a sequel Return of the Bunny Suicides by Andy Riley. It's exactly what it seems, usually having Shout-Out to other things (Terminator, Alien, etc.). And good lord is it hilarious.
  • In The Dark Tower series, Eddie actually manages to defeat the depressed, super intelligent AI in the train that's trying to kill itself and them with a dead baby joke.
    Why did the dead baby cross the road? Cause it was stapled to the chicken.
    • The short story "Survivor Type" is about a drug dealing surgeon who gets stranded on a deserted island with no food but plenty of heroin. Eventually he starts cutting off his own limbs and eating them as he gradually loses his mind. "They say you are what you eat and if so I HAVEN'T CHANGED A BIT!"
    • Stephen King novels in general. The bits that aren't pure terror are this trope. Sometimes they even go side-by-side.
  • The story Daedalus and Icarus from Ovid's The Metamorphoses, although the humor has been Lost in Translation.
  • In Lawrence Block's novel Ariel, Ariel's friend Erskine has a proclivity for this.
  • Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Tales for Children is in part just that: a book of poems where bad things happen to children who do bad things—no matter how trivial. Really, though, Belloc makes their punishments absurd to make for better comedy.
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:
    • The stories are filled with grim jokes about injury and death. For example, this passage from the first chapter of the first book:
      "Well!" thought Alice to herself. "After such a fall as this, I shall think nothing of tumbling down-stairs! How brave they'll all think me at home! Why, I wouldn't say anything about it, even if I fell off the top of the house!" (Which was very likely true.)
    • In Through the Looking Glass, in fact, many jokes about death are pointed directly at Alice. The most overt one is this exchange between her and Humpty Dumpty, after she tells him her age:
      Humpty: An uncomfortable sort of age. Now if you'd asked my advice, I'd have said "Leave off at seven" — but it's too late now.
      Alice: I never ask advice about growing.
      Humpty: Too proud?
      Alice: I mean, that one can't help growing older.
      Humpty: One can't, perhaps, but two can. With proper assistance, you might have left off at seven.
  • Almost everything by Edward Gorey. Possibly the most famous example is The Gashlycrumb Tinies, an illustrated alphabet of the deaths of 26 children, mostly in improbable and bizarre ways: "W is for Winnie, embedded in ice; X is for Xerxes, devoured by mice..." Creature Feature even did a song based on it, A Gorey Demise, though the deaths and names are different than the original poem.
  • Everything Tom Sharpe ever wrote, especially The Throwback.
  • Matthew Waterhouse's novels Fates, Flowers and Vanitas revel in black comedy to the event where it becomes a selling point.
  • Roald Dahl's love of this has helped keep some of his children's novels on "most challenged books" lists for decades now. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has whole musical numbers in-story in which the Oompa-Loompas gleefully sing about the awful fates of children who misbehave, for instance. The 2013 stage musical adaptation takes this aspect further — while in the novel and most adaptations it is clear the naughty kids at least survive their ordeals, several of them may be doomed to Death by Adaptation in the musical (they'll get an offstage Disney Death if they're lucky) and it's still Played for Laughs! The 1971 film adaptation doesn't go as far as the musical, but it does go further than the book in that it doesn't specify whether the kids survived.
  • In the Star Trek novel Spock's World, Kirk references his near-death in "Amok Time" by saying that "those of [the audience] who know the circumstances under which [he] left [Vulcan would] guess [he] was rather glad to get away again."
  • Existential Terror and Breakfast: Most of its comedy is taken from the horrors of an existential crisis, such as facing the inevitability of death. It has a countdown to the day the main character dials a suicide hotline on the top of every entry.
  • Skinjumper by Lincoln Crisler is a combination of Black Comedy and Horror novel. Much of the humor is derived from the fact, despite having the ability to switch bodies via murder, Terry Miller is too stupid not to get into trouble with massive numbers of people.
  • The Fault in Our Stars, in spades. Hazel and Augustus joke about how Augustus is so handsome he literally blinded Isaac and "took Hazel's breath away". Isaac's eulogy for Augustus at the "prefuneral" also counts.
  • Hullo Russia, Goodbye England deals with the nuclear apocalypse and the men trained to deliver it, in a very black humour vein. Then again, all Derek Robinson's war novels are the darkest of black humour.
  • Thomas Hood's "Sally Simpkin's Lament" and "Faithless Nelly Gray" (not to be confused with his "Faithless Sally Brown") have bad puns about death and dismemberment in practically every verse.
  • In Thomas Ingoldsbynote 's "The Knight and the Lady" the body of Lady Jane's lover Sir Thomas is fished up out of the pond with a rather large quantity of eels attached to it. In a case of "waste not, want not" they serve the eels for supper after a fair bit of mourning. As for Lady Jane's final reaction...
    "Eels a many
    I've ate; but any
    So good ne'er tasted before! —
    They're a fish, too, of which I'm remarkably fond. —
    Go, pop Sir Thomas again in the pond;
    Poor dear! — HE'LL CATCH US SOME MORE!"
  • The Iron Teeth constantly uses the murderous instincts of its protagonist for comedic purposes.
  • In the Young Amelia Bedelia chapter book Amelia Bedelia Makes a Splash, this is played with using Amelia Bedelia's Literal-Minded tendencies. Amelia Bedelia meets a woman who attended summer camp with her mother named Mrs. Evans, who is a widow. Unfortunately, she and the other characters make the mistake of referring to her husband being dead using only euphemisms. Amelia Bedelia variously hears "I wish my husband, Harold, was here," "my late husband... really late," "her husband expired," "is no longer with us. He has departed" and "I lost him more than twenty years ago." Amelia Bedelia, not properly following any of this, at one point tries to order a spaghetti dinner for her husband, who she thinks is literally just "late." Finally, Mrs. Evans asks her "Do you understand my husband died?" and a rather embarrassed Amelia Bedelia says that she's sorry and has to leave the room for a moment, and also cancel the spaghetti dinner.
  • Examples of this abound in post-apocalyptic Victoria, mainly in the form of extremely dark irony as the protagonists and their allies lampshade the horrible events they experience. Here's how one officer reacts to the nuking of Atlanta:
    "I never did like that city."
  • The Ultimate Killing Game by Asi Hart has a very lighthearted take on murder, extortion, rape, slavery, cannibalism and so on.
  • Pretty much everything that comes out of Salzella's mouth in Maskerade is this or Deadpan Snark.
  • Isaac Asimov's "Jokester": Most of the jokes told by Meyerhof have some sort of insulting/tragic influence behind them. Usually death.
    • Johnson came home unexpectedly from a business trip to find his wife in the arms of his best friend. He staggered back and said, 'Max! I'm married to the lady so I have to. But why you?'
    • The ship's steward stopped at the rail of the ship during a particularly rough ocean crossing and gazed compassionately at the man whose slumped position over the rail and whose intensity of gaze toward the depths betokened all too well the ravages of seasickness.
      Gently, the steward patted the man's shoulder. 'Cheer up, sir,' he murmured. 'I know it seems bad, but really, you know, nobody ever dies of seasickness.'
      The afflicted gentleman lifted his greenish, tortured face to his comforter and gasped in hoarse accents, 'Don't say that, man. For Heaven's sake, don't say that. It's only the hope of dying that's keeping me alive.'
    • The ardent swain, picking a bouquet of wildflowers for his loved one, was disconcerted to find himself, suddenly, in the same field with a large bull of unfriendly appearance which, gazing at him steadily, pawed the ground in a threatening manner. The young man, spying a farmer on the other side of a fairly distant fence, shouted, 'Hey, mister, is that bull safe?'
      The farmer surveyed the situation with critical eye, spat to one side and called back, 'He's safe as anything.' He spat again, and added, 'Can't say the same about you, though.'
    • Mrs. Jones stared at the fortune card that had emerged from the weighing machine in response to her husband's penny. She said, 'It says here, George, that you're suave, intelligent, farseeing, industrious and attractive to women.' With that, she turned the card over and added, 'And they have your weight wrong, too.'
    • Abner was seated at his wife's sickbed, weeping uncontrollably, when his wife, mustering the dregs of her strength, drew herself up to one elbow.
      'Abner,' she whispered, 'Abner, I cannot go to my Maker without confessing my misdeed.'
      'Not now,' muttered the stricken husband. 'Not now, my dear. Lie back and rest.'
      'I cannot,' she cried. 'I must tell, or my soul will never know peace. I have been unfaithful to you, Abner. In this very house, not one month ago-'
      'Hush, dear,' soothed Abner. 'I know all about it. Why else have I poisoned you?'
    • Ug, the caveman, observed his mate running to him in tears, her leopard-skin skirt in disorder. 'Ug,' she cried, distraught, 'do something quickly. A saber-toothed tiger has entered Mother's cave. Do something!' Ug grunted, picked up his well-gnawed buffalo bone and said, 'Why do anything? Who the hell cares what happens to a saber-toothed tiger?'
  • Enforced in-universe in 1984, where scenes of horrific war footage are expected to be met with the same laughter that an ironic or satirical portrayal of the same would.
  • Eileen is all about its protagonist's angst, misery, and personal grossness, and eventually ends on a disturbing twist. But everything is presented in such a deadpan way that it's rather humorous.
  • Daylen in Shadow of the Conqueror might not be an Evil Overlord anymore, but he still has the tongue for it.
    Sain: "I thought you could read minds?"
    Daylen: "That's only when I split open their skulls and write words with their brain matter."
    Sain: "You're sick."
  • The Franny K. Stein book Frantastic Voyage slips into dark humor when Franny tries to think of ways to stop the doomsday device her dog Igor ate from destroying most of the world and dismisses the solutions for being impractical rather than having a good chance of killing her dog.
    I could put Igor in a rocket and shoot it to the moon. But the blast would destroy the moon.
    I could encase Igor in a giant concrete block... But the explosion will be much too powerful to contain.
    I could perform emergency surgery. But one of the tools could make the bomb go off...
  • The novel Mostly Dead Things focuses on grief and abandonment, but the characters often find humor in their situation.
  • Everything written by Tim Dorsey. His novels center around a Floridian Serial Killer who's dedicated to protecting his beloved home state by killing off Asshole Victims in the most elaborate, violently creative ways possible, and it is hilarious.
  • Frequent in the novels of Jane Austen thanks to the importance of wills and inheritance. After Charlotte Lucas marries Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice, her mother becomes very interested in how much longer Mr. Bennet might have to live (since his property will go to Collins rather than his wife and daughters). Mansfield Park is rife with it, with a self-centered rich kid bemoaning that an old dowager's death completely scuttled the family's amateur play, Tom Bertram assuaging his conscience that the Mansfield parsonage will soon become available for his brother Edmund because the current incumbent is sure to "pop off" from an apoplexy soon, and Mrs. Norris eagerly anticipating being able to announce Sir Thomas' tragic end if his sea-voyage goes ill. However, it becomes very dark at the end when Edmund's beloved openly wishes Tom to die so that Edmund will become heir, opening the family's eyes to her real character at last.


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