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Black Comedy
aka: Black Humour

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"That is wicked..."

"Always look on the bright side of death,
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!"
Monty Python's Life of Brian, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life"

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.




Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Black Humor, Black Humour, Dark Comedy, Dead Baby Humor, Dead Baby Comedy, Dark Humor, Dark Humour


Frothy Dawg

"Frothy Dawg" is a Cartoons That Never Made It short with an upbeat theme song belying the fact that the cartoon's premise is the titular character being a dog infected with rabies (a disease known to be lethal when not treated in time) who is eager to spread it to others.

One gag in particular shows Frothy hanging with a monkey, a raccoon, a bat and a squirrel he's apparently infected, all of them smiling with no care that they all have a disease that's severely reduced their lifespans.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

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Main / BlackComedy

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