Just before you draw your terminal breath.
Life's a piece of shit,
When you look at it.
Life's a laugh and death's a joke, it's true.
You'll see it's all a show—
Keep 'em laughing as you go,
Just remember that the last laugh is on you!"
Black comedy, also known as black humor, dark comedy, dark humor or gallows humor, is a sub-genre of comedy and satire where topics and events that are usually treated seriously are treated in a satirical manner, while still being portrayed as the negative events that they are. Typical targets are death, violence, crime, murder, suicide, insanity, disability, environmental disasters, political corruption, poverty, famine, disease, drug abuse, child abuse, animal abuse, rape, pedophilia, castration, cannibalism, war, terrorism, racism, sexism, homophobia, stereotypes, and line-cutting.
Black comedy usually derives humor from such topics either through cartoonish exaggeration (without entering the domain of uncomfortable realism) or sheer bluntness. A stellar example of the former is a scene in which an animal-loving assassin accidentally runs over an old woman's dog in A Fish Called Wanda; the reveal of the dead dog was originally filmed with realistic gore effects, which audiences found uncomfortable and unfunny. The scene was then altered to have the dog simply be flattened a-la Wile E. Coyote, which removes the disturbing realism and becomes darkly hilarious instead (said animal-loving assassin's inevitably horrified reaction to the event further aids in this).
It is neither Toilet Humour, which seeks to gross out the audience, nor Vulgar Humor, since black humor can be delivered without swearing. It oftentimes takes the form of Refuge in Audacity, while incorporating elements of the aforementioned forms of humor. What makes it different is that the theme of the comedy gravitates towards topics that are considered to be "dark" and/or taboo (such as depression, death, atrocities, racism, poverty, etc.) This form of humor will usually go beyond the mere act of telling jokes, some works focusing instead on situational comedy, Dr. Strangelove being one example. Movies that alternate between comedy and tragedy, like Full Metal Jacket, are not black comedy, since by definition Black Comedy draws humor from the tragic parts. To sum it up, black humor is a type of comedy that deals with negative aspects of life, deriving humor due to it being shocking and unexpected, Family Guy having dead babies singing for example, being shockingly cruel (and thus unexpected), and in part because it often reflects a truth that might be too grim to state seriously, something quite common for example in Soviet Russia, and quite abundant in political humor.
A joke might revolve around, for example, a homeless man committing a string of murders so that he will get sentenced to death, a state that, properly tied up in appeals, is better than his former life expectancy and quality. Delivered correctly, it can be very funny, yet at the same time more than a little disturbing. If done wrong, however, the audience may be extremely offended, which is often used as an in-universe result. Black Comedy, however, doesn't necessarily have to involve death or violence; anything that's horrific, tragic, or otherwise dark and cynical can be fodder for it.
This trope is not to be confused with Black Sitcom (though overlap is not unheard of) or Uncle Tomfoolery. It's also not exactly about comedians with the surname "Black" (such as Jack Black and Lewis Black), or comedians who have Black African ancestry (e.g. Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, or Chris Rock), although they all may occasionally engage in some dark humor.
Since this is an occasional Death Trope, all spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
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- Animated Shock Comedy: A popular genre of cartoons aimed at adults and teenagers, featuring tons of black (and/or vulgar) comedy to ensure that it's as family-unfriendly as possible.
- Black Comedy Animal Cruelty: When the abuse and mistreatment of animals is played for laughs.
- Black Comedy Burst: When an otherwise lighthearted comedy suddenly starts using darker jokes.
- Black Comedy Cannibalism: Jokes about cannibals eating other people.
- Black Comedy Rape: Jokes about rapists and people suffering from sexual violence.
- Bloody Hilarious: When the humor is based on explicit blood, gore, and violence.
- British Humour: Dark humour that surrounds itself in surrealism to provide a confusing joke whose punchline is incredibly sardonic.
- Comedic Sociopathy: When a Jerkass character's Lack of Empathy and callous mistreatment of others is played for laughs.
- Heroic Comedic Sociopath: One of the (so-called) "good guys" is inclined toward hilariously offensive behavior.
- Laughably Evil: A bad guy is depicted in a humorous manner, despite (or perhaps because of) their villainous actions against others.
- Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: The main character is a bad person, but that's okay. The fun is in seeing them get screwed.
- Crosses the Line Twice: When a joke is so blatantly offensive that it becomes funny instead.
- Dude, Not Funny!: Or instead, an attempt at black comedy falls short on the "comedy" part and comes across as just offensive.
- Dark Parody: A darkly humorous parody that's far more disturbing than the work it's spoofing.
- Subverted Kids' Show: A common variant is to make a twisted parody of a work of children's media; filling it up with adult content such as uncensored profanity, graphic depictions of sexuality, and very gruesome acts of violence.
- Subverted Sitcom: A parody of a classic sitcom that usually plays it for dark laughs.
- Death as Comedy: Someone's death is treated as a joke.
- And There Was Much Rejoicing: Someone dies, and the people around them react with happiness.
- Bond One-Liner: A hero or villain makes a joke about someone they just killed in a gruesome manner.
- Pre-Mortem One-Liner: A similar kind of joke made just before killing someone.
- The "Fun" in "Funeral": Funerals are supposed to be somber, serious ceremonies; but not in this one.
- Gallows Humor: Coping with imminent death or other dire situations by joking about them.
- Grave Humor: A humorous epitaph written on a dead person's tombstone.
- Misplaced Sorrow: Someone mourns another's death not because they're upset that their friend has died, but because of a very selfish reason (such as the deceased owing them money and never paying them back prior to their demise).
- Suicide as Comedy: Jokes revolving around people killing themselves.
- Bait-and-Switch Suicide: A gag where it looks like a character is about to kill themselves, but they really weren't.
- They Killed Kenny Again: When someone gets repeatedly killed and inexplicably resurrected multiple times.
- Undignified Death: Somebody dies in an embarrassing way.
- Hilariously Abusive Childhood: Jokes about children suffering from parental abuse or other traumatic experiences.
- Horror Comedy: The hybrid sub-genre of both comedy and horror. There can be some overlap between this trope and black comedy, if the more disturbing horror tropes (especially the ones pertaining to death and violence) are parodied for humor.
- Kafka Komedy: A form of dark comedy where the humor is based more on people's constant misery and misfortune, rather than death or violence.
- Meatgrinder Surgery: A surgeon uses surgical tools or procedures on his patient that no sane doctor would ever attempt, and has a questionable regard for the patient's wellbeing.