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Gallows Humor

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♫ "Always look on the bri-i-ight side of li-i-ife..." ♩

"Being a comedian isn't being an insensitive prick capitalizing on the most animalistic impulses of the public, it's being a hero!
The world isn't sad!
The world's funny!
I'm a sociopath!"

This world is filled with horrible things: death, combat, pain, torture, sexual assault, (mental) disease, starvation, slavery, addiction, unjustified contempt (sexism, racism, etc)... that happen to the defenseless, the innocent, the vulnerable - quite often, children. However, while it's good to know these things exist and work to minimise them, there's a point where thinking about these things doesn't help and is bad for your mental and physical health. Indeed, it can kill you.

Thankfully, there's a way to keep sane: humour. People who are easily hurt, or like to keep things 'dignified' and 'serious', may say "This is not a laughing matter." note  But the truth is that there sometimes is a healing power to comedy. If you can make fun of yourself, talk about your problems and have someone laugh with you, you feel better and your problems don't seem quite so bad anymore.

This trope is when you are able to make the best of a bad situation - this is finding something funny even in Hell itself. "Laughter is the best medicine", says the age-old adage. Therefore, these tend to be stories that focus on a select group of individuals who are in recovery or surviving an ordeal. It is highly unlikely for a gag of the week format to be Gallows Humor. It is also likely that the main character suffers from depression and is cheering himself up.

The term itself refers to the wooden frame used to hang people from in Public Executions and it is still quite common to see creators make use of Gallows Humor in scenes between characters awaiting their hanging. However the term has broadened to apply to the making light of any bleak, morose, or deadly occurrence.

Gallows Humor is, by definition, from the perspective of the victim or at least expressing empathy. If anyone else laughs at the victim or the author tries to make the situation funny, it's some other form of Black Comedy. This trope is generally when the joke itself or simple laughter allows you to deal with your problems.

Compare Black Comedy, Quip to Black, Refuge in Audacity, The "Fun" in "Funeral", Last Disrespects, Grave Humor. Contrast Dude, Not Funny! and Sarcasm Failure. See also "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner and Sad Clown.


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  • In the commercial for Tombstone pizza seen here, a victim of a mob execution who is about to be sent to "sleep with the fishes" says he's going to "make a big splash".
  • Tommy McAnairey's other speciality besides singing and performing.
    Tommy (singing): Poxy chores, poxy chores, they only wreck me head, but do just one poxy chore...
    Tommy and Drimnagh: ...or ye might be brown bread!note 

    Anime & Manga 
  • The Trigun manga does this all the time, hence the Mood Whiplash and the sudden shifts to SD mode. The humour tied to characters such as Livio and Legato gets particularly disturbing and seemingly out of place at times. Vash and Knives' snarky banter has a weird edge too, and Cosmic Horror Knives yelling insults in SD form is possibly even creepier than his non-SD moments.
  • A particularly jarring example in Kimi No Kakera (Your Piece) is the Running Gag tied to Icolo's breasts, since the children are fascinated by them because they're all motherless and have had no substitute mom before teenage Icolo and Icolo/Cololi and a few other young girls are rape victims who went through forced prostitution.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: The short jokes and quirky personalities of the officers are the only things keeping from being a manga about the horrors of war. The inability of the series to keep a straight face for more than five seconds at a time is part of why some fans prefer the first anime (which maintains a more consistent mood).
    • At one point, the manga had Ax-Crazy Serial Killer Barry the Chopper as comic relief. And he's really funny.
    • One side story had Mustang contemplating about his "work on Ishval", then later we had his subordinates pushing paperwork on him.
    • Izumi Curtis lost a good deal of her internal organs from a failed human transmutation. This doesn't stop her frequent vomiting of blood to be played for laughs.
    • And the omakes didn't help, too. Especially the ones that mock her own Tear Jerker moments like Martel's death, Hughes' death, and the Rockbells' deaths.
  • The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is full of this, being about a business that deals with dead people for a living.
  • Brook of One Piece constantly makes jokes and puns at his own expense over the fact that he is a skeleton. It lands solidly in this category when you realize that the series has more than once acknowledged that being reduced to a skeleton is not actually very funny and that Brook knows it. Most acknowledge it as a bit of Sanity Slippage due to the ordeals he experienced between originally dying and being found by the Straw Hats.
  • A staple of the often sad Angel Beats!. At one point, they play a character hanging herself for laughs. There's also the hilarious Dwindling Party sequence — and it's a Breather Episode in this series — where the characters all do a Say My Name whenever someone gets killed off. That is, until they get to Naoi:
    Naoi: No, no, I'll go next!
    [gets stabbed]
    Hinata: [Beat] ...Somebody say something.
    Yui: I don't know his name.
  • Koi Kaze has a mild example with most of their next-episode previews, which involve Chidori passing "judgment" on the other characters for the various inappropriate things they have done or want to do.
  • Sgt. Frog, in any gags that involve Angol Mois assuming her true form and her Armageddon powers.
  • The dub of YuYu Hakusho used this a lot, which fits with its World of Snark. Such gems include Hiei suggesting killing Kuwabara so Yusuke can release his full power and Yusuke snarking about his Spirit Gun being useless.

  • Christopher Titus
    "How come Mom's crazy and I'm not? It's possible she could have got up every night in front of this many people, talk about all the CRAP in her life and those people sat around and laughed with her, would have meant nothing and she could have moved on cool. It's also possible she also could have taken out the front row with a large caliber weapon, she was, whew, out there. And maybe things would be different for Mom, she would have gotten her own show and you would read about me in 'The Inquirer' as her heroin-addicted son. Oh, we can dream!"
    • Prior to this, he made a joke about how his mother's macaroni art was hung on the fridge instead of his when he was a kid. When this was met with groans, he quipped "You better buckle up, we're going a lot darker than that tonight!"
  • Native American humor tends to skew pretty dark, for a lot of reasons.
    Charlie Hillnote : With the casinos, everything has turned around. Remember a looong time ago, when the white man used to get the Indian drunk and take his money?
    Gerry Barrettnote : (telephone noise) Hi there, Prime Minister Big Bear speaking. Oh, Jean Chrétien! Enjoying your retirement? Huh? You don't like it on the reserve? ...Nononono, you have to stay there. 'Any advice for you'? Yeah, don't drink the water! Bye-bye now.
  • The Dutch stand-up comedian Herman Finkers does it literally: "Two gallows are walking down the street...".
  • Following his open-heart surgery, Robin Williams was quick to poke fun about it in his HBO special "Weapons of Self-Destruction."

    Comic Books 
  • John Callahan draws politically incorrect comics making fun of disabled people, which has to do with the fact that Callahan himself is seriously disabled.
  • Lampshaded by Beast in an early issue of Grant Morrison's New X-Men, in the wake of the Genosha Massacre, when he tells Jean to tell Xavier that gallows humor is the only thing keeping them sane. The issue opened with him holding up a partial skeleton and saying "I don't know how to tell you this, my friend, but your dating days may be over."
  • Watchmen has quite a bit of gallows humor. Moloch: "Well, now, y'know that kind of cancer that you eventually get better from? Well, that ain't the kind of cancer I got."
  • Superman/Batman: Batman chastised Superman for this when he was trying to remove a Kryptonite bullet from his chest in Public Enemies (2004).
    Batman: The Kryptonite's near your heart. I don't know if I'll be fast enough to get it before the wound closes.
    Superman: Where's The Flash when you need him?
    Batman: Do me a favor, and lose the sense of humor.
    Superman: Do us both a favor and buy one.
  • Sturmtruppen, including a whole story arc centered on the resident SS firing squad being unable to "exterminate" a Jewish prisoner.
  • Lucky Luke: In Belle Starr, one criminal sentenced to hang refuses One Last Smoke because it would be bad for his health. This was an allusion to Landru (see Real Life below).
  • Red Ears: A man is told by his doctor that he has less than a day to live, so he goes home and has a last night of drunken sex with his wife until they're both so exhausted that they collapse from the effort. When he wakes up and wants to continue, she tells him to stop complaining because at least he doesn't have to get up in the morning.
  • Many Marvel Universe characters are fairly fond of this.
    Black Widow: A boat is coming to pick you up in fifteen minutes — try to hold out. If the enemy gets past us, my advice is for you to commit suicide.
    The Punisher: You ought to do that anyway.
  • Wonder Woman Vol. 1: When Steve Trevor's secretary ends up mostly disintegrated Diana makes a short quip about the woman not having to follow directions from her anymore, something she obviously resented and which she died over when Diana told her not to pick up a pen that was actually an experimental explosive left by Dr. Psycho.
  • In IDW Publishing's Transformers comics, this is basically the Cybertronian sense of humour after millions of years of war that have ravaged not only their planet, but countless others. As an example, take this comment from The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, discussing the Decepticons' most feared group of sadistic zealots, the Decepticon Justice Division:
    Getaway: It's a game, Nautica — an old wartime favourite. When someone shouts DJD you have to find your friends and run like hell.

    Comic Strips 
  • MAD does this all the time. For instance, in one Al Jaffee article, two rather sadistic correction officers lead a prisoner on death row to the gallows. They mockingly keep him from walking under a ladder or letting a black cat cross his path, saying it will bring him bad luck. When they give him a last cigarette (each of them lighting one of their own) he warns them that lighting three cigarettes with one match is also bad luck. (And it is; when they pull the lever, the whole scaffold collapses and crushes them, giving him the last laugh.)

    Fan Works 
  • Abraxas (Hrodvitnon): Vivienne tries using humor to cope with her trauma at times when it's about to surface, though it doesn't work perfectly.
  • Child of the Storm: Has Harry's brand of snark become increasingly loaded with this as time goes by and the near-death (and occasional actual death) experiences pile up, remarking when told that he's being essentially guided to face off against Thanos that he'll try to "fit him in between Surtur and myself as a galaxy eating abomination." It is quite transparently a coping mechanism.
  • Love in Shades of Green and Gray: Beast Boy's final words to Raven (a natural death at the age of 211, with her living three centuries more) are "How do you keep a beautiful half-demon in suspense"?
  • The Morrigan: Felsi Rollo jokingly throws out every death flag she can while being treated for a stabwound, claiming she just had two weeks left before retirement and that she wanted to propose to her girlfriend after this mission. It's implied that she's doing it on purpose to keep the girl treating her, a civilian with no combat experience, at ease.
  • The Peace Not Promised: Lily learns that in his first life, Severus was killed by Voldemort, and attempts to lighten the mood by replying, "Hey, we have something in common!" Severus isn't in the right mental space to appreciate it, though.
  • Pure Light: As soon as they are reunited, Burner and Electroy waste no time in making puns and jokes about their new prosthetics, and Electroy remarks that they would've been a matched set if TJ was less careful. Vale is more than a bit disturbed.
  • The Unfantastic Adventures of Bizarro No. 1: Bizarro-Flash, who is being trialed by the non-existent murder of his obviously living wife (long story), agrees to fight the Blue-Kryptonite Men because "All they can do is shorten sentence". Bizarro identifies his witticism as "gallows humor".
  • A Brighter Dark: Considering the environment, this is usually the only kind of humor possible.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Supergirl crossover The Vampire of Steel, both heroines find two demons killed by heat-vision:
    Buffy: Burn marks on the edges of the holes. That would be that thing you do with your eyes, all right.
    Supergirl: What are these things?
    Buffy: Ghoul demons, most likely. Flesh eaters. They probably went out for dinner, but weren’t expecting such a hot meal.
    Supergirl: How can you joke about things like this?
    Buffy: Because if I didn’t, I’d have gone raving bonkers when I started Slaying.
  • A Boy, a Girl and a Dog: The Leithian Script: Elves who have taken part in the Beleriand Wars against Morgoth are fond of gallows humor. Valinorean elves aren't, and hearing other elves joking about death leaves them rather puzzled.
    First Guard: [earnestly explaining] It's funny the way that it would be if you were killed in battle but then your opponent tripped over you and stabbed himself by accident with his own sword.
    [longish pause]
    Finarfin: And that — thou deemst diversion?
    [Nerdanel doesn't comment, but looks rather nauseated]
    First Guard: Er... well, it wouldn't make up for being sent here, but — it would be sort of ironic justice, Sir.
    [another long pause]
    Finrod: One more thing to make a mental note of, Edrahil — battlefield humour doesn't go over well at all, at home.
    [his friend shakes his head in grave agreement]
    Teler Maid: [thoughtful frown] It would be amusing, if only no one died.
  • In The Black Sheep Dog, Orion, who is Secretly Dying of an unspecified illness, finally tells his eldest son about his condition. When a flabbergasted Sirius realizes that his father is suffering from a heart disease, Orion jokingly tells him that it's impossible, because he's known to be without a heart. Sirius is not amused.
    Sirius: That's not—that's not fucking funny.
    Orion: I thought it was. I'm sorry you don't feel the same way.
  • Johanna Mason: They Will Never See Me Cry: After being reaped for the 3rd Quarter Quell when there were no other female victors available to be reaped instead of her, Johanna pretends to be surprised and terrified and dramatically yells out "Oh, the horror."

    Films — Animation 
  • In the climax of Robin Hood (1973), when the Sheriff of Nottingham is preparing the hangman's scaffold to hang Friar Tuck, Nutsy, one of his henchmen, decides to test out the Trap Door and triggers it, causing the Sheriff to fall through and get stuck in it.
    Sheriff of Nottingham: Criminitly, now I know why your mother called you 'Nutsy'.
  • In Kung Fu Panda 2, after being captured by Shen and about to be executed, Mantis makes this quip.
    Mantis: I thought I'd meet a nice girl, settle down, and then she'd eat my head.
  • In Madagascar, we get a slow-motion scene of Alex reverting to a primal state and ferociously chasing his friend Marty... while the National Geographic fanfare triumphantly plays in the background.
  • Forky in Toy Story 4 knows that he is indeed a piece of trash and constantly tries to throw himself in a garbage can.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The ending of Monty Python's Life of Brian looks heart-breaking at first... but it is rendered hysterically funny when everyone starts singing "Always look on the Bright Side of Life". The whole troupe later went on to sing this song at the funeral of Graham Chapman, after a speech loaded to the brim with this sort of humor. It's as funny as it is moving. They all sound like they're about to cry as they sing. Manly Tears.
    • It's now one of the top requested songs to play at British funerals.
  • 1776: The members of the Second Continental Congress employ this to get through signing the Declaration of Independence. Franklin's real-life quip about the situation (as seen in the page quotes) is famous enough that he gets to give it in the movie as well.
  • The Last Samurai: Katsumoto returns to his badly outnumbered and outgunned force after 'negotiating' with Omura, and tells his commanders: "Well, they won't surrender."
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid:
    • After being challenged to a knife fight:
      Butch: There's a way to profit from this... bet on Logan (the other guy).
      Sundance: I would, but who'd bet on you?
    • Butch and Sundance have the choice of being shot dead by bounty hunters or jumping off a high cliff into a river. Butch keeps saying they should jump, but Sundance'd rather fight them (and probably get killed).
      Sundance: I can't swim!
      Butch: (bursts out laughing) Are you crazy? The fall'll probably kill ya!
    • Near the end of the movie, Butch and Sundance, badly wounded, are about to charge out from their cover into a firefight that'll most likely kill them.
      Butch: Hey, did you see Lafors out there?
      Sundance: Lafors? No.
      Butch: Oh good. For a moment there I thought we were in trouble.
  • Severance (2006) is a particularly good example of this. The comedy up until the middle of the movie is almost entirely Black Comedy, including the discovery that the meat pie the main characters have been eating contains a human tooth being met with the insistence that, "It's not all bad, I cooked it for the whole hour!" The movie actually ends with the four surviving characters, two of whom are strippers, rowing to escape in a small boat. Things look bleak and no one really has any hope for survival when the sole male in the boat turns to his coworker and says, "Foursome?" It is the last line in the film.
  • Ingmar Bergman is pretty good at this - bits of The Seventh Seal are intentionally both disturbing and hilarious, as are the attempted suicides in both Smiles of a Summer Night and The Magic Flute. (Admittedly, the latter is Schikaneder's doing, not Bergman's.)
  • Roy Andersson's Songs From The Second Floor manages to make murder, Nazi sympathizers, insanity, etc. really funny while still as horrifying as ever. One scene has a magician trying to saw a lady in half without really knowing how the trick is done. Ah, those Swedish filmmakers.
  • Cast Away:
    • In one scene, Chuck has developed a toothache during his stay on the island and is considering his options about extracting it (without anything close to the proper dental tools available), bouncing ideas off his buddy Wilson the volleyball, including the speculation that Wilson could be his dentist. Then he realizes (and shares) the ironic recollection that Chuck's actual dentist back home was named Dr. Spaulding (another brand of sporting equipment).
    • Right after he "creates" Wilson, Chuck is trying to make fire by rubbing two sticks together. His first words to Wilson are, "You wouldn't have a match, would you?"
  • The Devil's Rejects: The Firefly family: "We're sorry to inform you the Banjo and Sullivan show will be canceled for this evening!"
  • Despite the inherent seriousness of the situation, after Richie's suicide attempt in The Royal Tenenbaums, a dark joke is thrown in:
    Richie: I wrote you a suicide note.
    Chas: You did?
    Richie: Yeah.
    Chas: ...Is it dark?
    Richie: 'Course it's dark, it's a suicide note...
  • Outtake first seen in the ABC-TV version of Star Trek: The Motion Picture: After the transporter is fixed following a nightmarish transporter error that resulted in two crewmen being turned inside out, an arriving crewman says "Someone wanted to first see 'how it scrambled our molecules'".
    Kirk: [to Transporter Chief Rand] That has a familiar ring to it....
  • In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Spock has just absorbed fatal amounts of radiation saving the ship from certain doom. Of this act, he asks Kirk, "I never took the Kobayashi Maru test... until now. What do you think... of my solution?"
  • Star Wars:
    • A New Hope, when the heroes are about to be crushed in the trash compactor:
      Han: One thing's for sure, we're all going to be a lot thinner!
    • In Return of the Jedi, after being woken from the carbonite on Tatooine, Han is stuck in this mode:
      • After Luke kills the Rancor leading Jabba to sentence them to death by sarlacc:
        Han: How we doin'?
        Luke: Same as always.
        Han: That bad, huh?
      • And then as they're heading out to the sarlacc pit
        Han: I think my eyes are getting better. Instead of a big dark blur, I see a big light blur.
        Luke: There's nothing to see. I used to live here, you know.
        Han: You're going to die here, you know. Convenient.
  • Present quite often in A Night to Remember, from the "You and I will be in the same boat later" conversation, to an aristocratic lady moaning about being out of bed due to the Titanic being 'unsinkable', cut to the boiler room flooding and the stokers desperately evacuating.
  • Due to a long, long history of persecution, Jews are generally acknowledged as the grand masters of Gallows Humor; this is highlighted in one scene in Schindler's List which features a group of ghetto residents tossing around very dark jokes about the number of people forced to move into their houses.
  • From The Counterfeiters: "Why is there no God in Auschwitz?... He didn't get through the selection process."
  • Sin City: Marv does this right before their own execution.
    [Reverend reads a bible passage]
    Marv: Could you get a move on? I haven't got all night...
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: Pintel and Ragetti tell Will the story of how, only after they sunk his father to the bottom of the ocean, did they learn they needed his blood to lift the curse. They then have a laugh at the cruel irony of their situation.
  • In Downfall, a group of Nazi soldiers has realized that their leadership has lost its damned mind and they're probably screwed, so they decide to get shitfaced and trade jokes while they wait for whatever's coming next.
    "Berlin has become a city of warehouses - 'Where's my house?!'" note 
  • In Argo, Jack O'Donnell drops Tony Mendez off at the airport, as Tony's leaving to extract six Americans who are hiding out in Tehran at the height of the hostage crisis. Being a CIA agent who's going into post-revolution Iran, it's naturally a very dangerous mission that can end very badly, very bloody, very publicly. Before Tony leaves the car, there's this exchange:
    Tony Mendez: I should have brought some books to read in prison.
    Jack O'Donnell: Nah, they'll kill you long before prison.
  • Dumb and Dumber To: When Harry and Lloyd are at the funeral home, Lloyd says that they should select a coffin for the terminally-ill Harry while they're there anyway.
  • In the film Interstellar, TARS is rather crass with his gallows humor, often plugging at inappropriate times, given that his humor setting was originally set at 100% before it was modified by Cooper.
    TARS: Everybody good? Plenty of slaves for my robot colony?
    Cooper: A giant, sarcastic robot. Wonderful.
    TARS: I have a cue light I can use to show you when I'm joking if you like.
    Cooper: That might help.
    TARS: Yeah, you can use it to find your way back to the ship after I blow you out the airlock. [cue light blinks]
    TARS: I won't leave you behind, [beat] Doctor Brand. [as he addresses the entire group concerning a potential suicide mission]
  • In Almost Famous, when Stillwater's plane starts experiencing severe turbulence, Russell starts singing "Peggy Sue", referring to how its singer, Buddy Holly, died in a plane crash.
  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: After the Cosmic Plaything played by James Franco is condemned by a Kangaroo Court while unconscious, wakes up with a noose around his neck, is rescued, gets recaptured, and is condemned again by a different Kangaroo Court, (this time for something he didn't actually do) he calmly smiles at the weeping criminal next to him on the gallows and asks:
    "First time?"
  • In The Fly (1986), Doomed Protagonist Seth Brundle starts indulging in this upon realizing he is grotesquely mutating into a human-insect hybrid. He explains to his horrified lover how a Teleporter Accident did this to him thusly: "It [the telepod] mated us, me and the fly. We hadn't even been properly introduced."
  • In Casino Royale (2006), James Bond, who had just been poisoned by a spiked drink that put him in cardiac arrest, can't help but make a deadpan joke at his expense when he returns to the poker table:
    Bond: I'm sorry. That last hand...nearly killed me.
  • Rambo III: Rambo and Colonel Trautman find themselves pinned down in Afghanistan by a huge number of Soviet troops equipped with tanks, artillery and helicopters:
    Colonel Trautman: You got any ideas?
    Rambo: Surrounding them's out.
    Colonel Trautman: Hell of a time for humor, John.
  • Deep Impact: The initial plan to destroy the comet fails, splitting it in two and putting the smaller fragment on an irreversible trajectory towards Earth. Since it's determined that nothing can be done about the smaller piece, the crew of the Messiah decide that the only way to destroy the larger fragment is to fly inside it and use the remaining nukes to blast it into dust. When one of the crewmembers asks how they're supposed to accomplish that when they have almost no fuel to maneuver properly, never mind return to Earth, it dawns on the crew that they won't be going back to Earth. One of the crewmembers quips: "Well, look on the bright side. We'll all have high schools named after us."

  • A lot of early translators didn't realize Hans Christian Andersen had quite a dark sense of humor underlying his many grim morality tales. "The Tinder Box" in particular has a line from the protagonist while he's awaiting his execution that, translated properly, is hilarious:
    ''In the morning he could see through the bars in the little window that the people were hurrying out of the town to see him hanged. He heard the drums and saw the soldiers marching along. All the world was going. Among them was a shoemaker's boy in his leather apron and slippers. He was in such a hurry that he lost one of his slippers, and it fell close under the soldier's window where he was peeping out through the bars.
    "I say, you boy! Don't be in such a hurry," said the soldier to him. "Nothing will happen until I get there!"
  • Gone:
    Quinn: It looks like the world's worst picnic.
    Astrid: I believe that's what's referred to as Gallows Humor.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Harry frequently makes these types of jokes, which for some reason are usually followed by a variation of the phrase: "Ron laughed, but Hermione didn't."
    • Especially true of Fred and George, who are known for making jokes about everything.
      Fred: [after George lost an ear] With the whole world of ear-related humor before you, you go for holey?
  • Discworld:
    • Vimes muses on this:
      "We who think we are about to die will laugh at anything."
    • Played straight in The Last Hero: Carrot takes a moment to work out that the motto Rincewind recommends be sewn on Leonard's space suits translates from Canis Latinicus as "We who are about to die, don't want to."
    • In Going Postal, as Moist Von Lipwig is about to be hanged, he says "I commend my soul to any God that can find it!"
    • Jingo is packed with this sort of joke, since it's one of the most dramatic and almost one of the darkest in the series. Most are about war and racism. And there's the World's Most Laughable Shipwreck.
  • A Wrinkle in Time. Mrs. Which: "We mustn't lose our senses of humor! The only way to cope with something deadly serious is to try to treat it a little lightly."
  • In New Jedi Order, a lot of businesses in Nova Station (in the remains of the Carida system) had names referring to the system's destruction (e.g. Big Boom Cantina).
  • In House of Leaves, Johnny Truant describes the Gallows Humor:
    Johnny Truant: Zampanò, I've come to recognize now, was a very funny man. But his humor was that wry, desiccated kind soldiers whisper, all their jokes subsurface, their laughter amounting to little more than a tic in the corner of the mouth, told as they wait together in their outpost, slowly realizing that help's not going to reach them in time and come nightfall, no matter what they've done or what they try to say, slaughter will overrun them all.
  • Some characters in Dune, such as Gurney, show this kind of humor.
  • Raymond E. Feist's The Riftwar Cycle is notable for this, but Prince of the Blood has one mercenary who just takes the cake.
    "My mother always wanted me to go into an honorable trade, like grave-robbing. But did I listen? Nooooo. Be an assassin, like your uncle Gustav. But nooooo. Apprentice to the Necromancer..."
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote: Perry Smith was reportedly joking with the hangman the night before his death.
  • Eat Your Feelings by Heather Whaley (based on a blog of the same name) is essentially relentless mockery of life under mental illness and other forms of stress. As a cookbook. Sort of "Sarah Silverman cooks" kind of thing.
  • The titular character of The Dresden Files is, along with his Sad Clown ways, a master of this form of humor. Somewhat unusual in that he deals in post-gallows humor as well.
  • Some victors/tributes from The Hunger Games, including Katniss, have a rather droll outlook on their Crapsack World. Finnick in Catching Fire even ties a noose and pretends to hang himself as a joke.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • The Lannister boys are particularly adept at this. No matter what the situation is - even after he has hit rock bottom and is Made a Slave - Tyrion is always ready with a snarky quip, which annoys his colleagues thoroughly. Jaime is an even straighter example. Shortly after the single most traumatic moment of his life, he has this exchange:
      Roose: You have lost a hand.
      Jaime: No. I have it here, hanging about my neck.
    • This, along with Deadpan Snarker, is Dolorous Edd Tollett's defining characteristic.
    • Supposedly, Oswell Whent of Aerys' Kingsguard had a truly wicked sense of black humor in times of stress (or other times, too?). Unfortunately, we never get to see it in action, since he's dead and the Weirwoods haven't shown us it. All that's left are brief memories shared and what amounts to a note in the White Book. Alas.
    • Sandor Clegane is no great wit and about the last person you'd ever see as a jester. Yet, he has this tendency of actively pointing out the grimly amusing absurdities and contradictions that living in the Seven Kingdoms regularly throws in front of him and then leaves it up to whoever his audience is to find their own punchline... or give in to despair. Whichever.
  • The cadets in The Lords of Discipline develop this as a coping mechanism towards their brutal Military School. The most notable instance occurs when one character commits suicide by walking in front of a train and graffiti starts appearing on the bathroom walls reading, " Dante Pignetti was railroaded out of the Institute."
  • Hazel, Augustus, and Isaac of The Fault in Our Stars are as full of this as you would expect terminally ill teenagers to be. One particular gem:
    Hazel: It's primarily his hotness.
    Gus: It can be sort of blinding.
    Hazel: It actually did blind our friend Isaac.
    Gus: Terrible tragedy, that. But can I help my own deadly beauty?
    Hazel: You cannot.
    Gus: It is my burden, this beautiful face.
    Hazel: Not to mention your body.
    Gus: Seriously, don't ever get me started on my hot bod. You don't want to see me naked, Dave. Seeing me naked actually took Hazel Grace's breath away. *He nods toward Hazel's oxygen tank*
  • The David Drake anthology All the Way to the Gallows is a collection of stories rich with martial gallows humor, primarily from "pointy end of the stick" people getting stuck in horrible situations by either political direction or circumstances.
  • The Wheel of Time: When The Chosen One is forced to condemn an Aiel ally to death for a killing that would have been permissible in Aiel culture, the man walks willingly to his execution and cracks a joke on the scaffold. It becomes a popular one-liner among the Aiel in the city, but Aiel humour is as opaque as their honour code to the Westland viewpoint characters, so the reader never gets a proper telling of it.
  • In the Cormoran Strike Novels, the private detective Cormoran and his comrades' use of it is sometimes a source of tension with Robin Ellacott, who is new to the business and isn't used to it. She doesn't understand how they can laugh and make jokes; they understand that they'd go nuts if they didn't.
  • Under Heaven: After Shen Tai spends nearly two years burying corpses left on a battlefield of a Kitai/Tagur war, a Taguran considers him enough of a Worthy Opponent that he's even willing to lend him a horse. One of his recently assigned subordinates, however, accuse Tai of disrespecting the Taguaran dead. Tai's response is to ask him to point them out, so he could get started with the disrespect.
  • The Machineries of Empire: As the military faction in a Magitek-driven fascist Galactic Superpower, the Kel have a Martyrdom Culture, an unenviable long-term survival rate, and a reputation for cracking dark jokes about the horrors of war.
    Shuos Jedao: How do you tell the difference between a violin and a Kel?
    Kel Khiruev: The Kel burns longer.
  • The Way of Kings (2010): When Syl comes to talk Kaladin down from jumping to his death, she brings him a particular leaf because she had seen him take an interest in the plant before. It happens to be a deadly poison that he'd been considering as a suicide method. The irony of the gesture almost makes him laugh, and after a heart-to-heart, he decides to keep on living.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones:
    • When Arya learns that yet another death has prevented yet another homecoming, she simply bursts into laughter.
    • The Hound acknowledges he's dead meat "unless there's a maester hiding behind that rock".
  • Supernatural:
    • Dean from when he has a year to live. To the point where it becomes disturbing (given the world they live in, most of the humor on the show is this type).
      Bobby: So now we're having bacon cheeseburgers for breakfast?
      Dean: I got a year to live, I'm not worried about the cholesterol.
    • When Dean and Sam go undercover at a church abstinence group, Sam tells the group that he's slept with women in the past and it always ends up badly. Dean adds, "He ain't lying."
  • M*A*S*H:
    • The theme tune is "Suicide is Painless".
    • The episode Rainbow Bridge had a high-stakes turnover of prisoners to the MASH doctors, and Frank nearly screwed it all up by bringing a gun. In reflex, Frank reached for his gun and stopped, but the enemy soldiers were not happy about this violation. Upon command, Frank revealed his gun, a very tiny pistol, which made the enemy soldiers laugh so hard that they forgave him and the turnover went smoothly from then on.
    • In another episode, a no-nonsense visiting Colonel takes Hawkeye to task over his constant cracking of jokes. Hawkeye points out that, given the horrors he witnesses on a daily basis, making a joke is the only way he can open his mouth without screaming.
    • "The Late Great Captain Pierce" has Hawkeye declared dead, so B.J. throws a wake for him. The P.A. announcer:
      Attention, all personnel. Come one, come all to a wake for the late great Captain Pierce. There will be mourning all afternoon and evening. The deceased will deliver the eulogy and the guests will have ten minutes for rebuttal. Remains to be seen in the Swamp.
  • Frasier. In "Murder Most Maris", Frasier attempts gallows humor, and in a running gag, keeps bringing up the fact he was punched by a man now dead, repeatedly, even days after the fact, to win an argument. The funny part? It works each time.
  • Titus: The entire show was about finding something funny about dark things.
    "It actually comforts me to know that when I was in Kindergarten, gluing macaroni to paper plates, my Mom was in therapy... gluing macaroni to paper plates."
  • Parodied on Arrested Development:
    Lucille: Oh, it's so good to laugh again.
    GOB: Oh, feels good.
    George, Sr.: It does.
    Michael: They say seven minutes heals all wounds.
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has an entire episode of this, appropriately titled "Dennis and Dee's Mom is Dead".
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
      • In "Starship Down", the Defiant is hit with a torpedo that fails to go off, leaving it embedded in the hull halfway into the compartment where Quark was talking business with a Karemma merchant named Hanok, who it turns out works for the company that manufactured the weapon. Hanok deadpans that perhaps he should offer the Jem'Hadar a refund, which sends the both of them into gales of helpless laughter for the remainder of the scene while they fumble their way through trying to disarm the torpedo.
        Quark: I thought you said you never sold substandard merchandise. (Beat) This was supposed to explode on impact, wasn't it?
        Hanok: Hmmm... Maybe I should offer them a refund. (they both burst out laughing)
      • "Nor the Battle to the Strong" is a kiss to M*A*S*H. Three Starfleet surgeons casually discuss the merits and drawbacks of various ways of dying as they await a Klingon assault they have little chance of withstanding. Over breakfast.
        Kirby: Decapitation has its virtues. Nice clean blow with a sharp bat'leth.
        Bolian Doc: The brain lives on for five, ten seconds at least. In theory, your headless corpse could be the last thing you see.
        Nurse: You're so negative.
    • Star Trek: The Original Series: In "Catspaw", Kirk and Spock are shackled with their arms raised against a wall next to a skeleton in the same position. At one point while discussing the situation with Spock, Kirk pauses as he looks at the skeleton, momentarily cocks his head in the same position as the skeleton's, then turns back to continue talking to Spock. Earlier, when Dr. McCoy was also in the dungeon, Kirk turned his head to ask if 'Bones' was all right, saw the skeleton, and called McCoy 'Doc' for the rest of the episode.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Buffy has always had a morbid sense of humor; in Season Six after she's brought back from the dead it tends to get a Dude, Not Funny! reaction from the Scoobies.
    • "Grave": Buffy is updating the recently returned Giles on the horrible things that happened to her and her friends (her masochistic relationship with Spike, Xander and Anya's altar break-up, Dawn's shoplifting, etc.) After this laundry list of soul-crushing defeats, both Buffy and Giles suddenly break out laughing. Buffy even recounts the particularly traumatic events of "Normal Again" (where she's hallucinating that her entire time as the Slayer was just a delusion from a mental hospital, and she tried to kill everyone to stop the delusion...) in a fit of giggles.
    • They attempted to use this when Xander got his eye poked out by Caleb in "Empty Places". Sitting in the hospital bed, Xander tried to crack a few jokes about the situation, which was hardly working for him let alone an emotionally frail Willow, which ended up being Dude, Not Funny!. Though a bit later in "End of Days":
      Xander: And you know what's even worse? All the stupid "it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye" jokes. "Hey, —Xander, so no more fun and games, huh?"
      Dawn: Giles was just having fun with you.
      Xander: That's not the point. It's an obvious joke. It would be like someone calling me a cyclops ... I mean, give me some "eye of the beholder" jokes, you know? Or some "eye for an eye" jokes or maybe even a post-modern I, Claudius joke. It's about standards, Dawnie.
  • One particularly gallows example from the Angel episode "Loyalty" has Angel cut during an earthquake, the blood drip onto his son's sheets, and him mentioning that if they did get trapped at least they would have food. As Wesley had learned of the prophecy that Angel would kill his own son everything that happens after this is really his fault.
  • Hogan's Heroes - This partially explains why several Jewish actors (one or two of whom narrowly escaped the Holocaust) were willing and eager to play Those Wacky Nazis (including the main four Nazis, Klink, Schultz, Burkhalter, and Hochstetter). That, and the chance to make a career out of Take That!. John Banner (Sergeant Schultz) supposedly told someone, "Who better to make fun of them than us?" There's a reason you never see any of the Germans with their forearms bared, after all.
  • The jokes present in This Hour Has 22 Minutes are only rarely Gallows Humor, but in a commercial for the show in the nineties, Rick Mercer had this to say on the subject, after musing on why Canadians seem to take such glee in lambasting not only their politicians but themselves: "If ya can't laugh, ya might as well cry."
  • Scrubs can feature quite a bit of this although sometimes they advise against it if it's not really helping, it can make you even more miserable.
    • J.D. and Turk once explained to a dying patient that because they are around it so much they need to make it clear they aren't afraid of death.
    • Doug, a doctor and later pathologist, has killed numerous patients and treats dead bodies like "giant children".
    • Dr. Kelso has a habit of cracking extremely morbid and perverse jokes that horrify his colleagues.
    • Ted the lawyer comedically threatens to kill himself numerous times over the course of the show. Ted also makes the occasional oblique reference to murdering Dr. Kelso. "Bloop..." certainly comes to mind
  • Top Gear:
    • Richard Hammond's first episode after his 288 mph crash and subsequent recovery from a serious brain injury, with James May standing by with tissues in case Hammond starts "dribbling" and Jeremy Clarkson asking if he was now "a mental."
    • Virtually every time one of the presenters has a big crash there's some variation on the theme of "We've just killed [presenter]. If you want a job on Top Gear, write to 'I'm Better Than [Presenter] Was', BBC TV Centre, Wood L... no, wait, he lives!"
    • After Jeremy blew a tire on a Bentley, Jeremy looks at Richard and says "I had a blowout, and I held it."
    • The presenters allegedly have a pact that, should any of them die, the others will appear at the beginning of the next episode, make a mournful comment, and then say "Anyway..." and cheerfully continue with the show.
  • Firefly has its fair share of this, but the most literal example has to be River giggling at the absurdity of being tied to a post so she can be burned at the stake on the same day as she learned what a "post-holer, for digging holes for posts" looked like in "Safe".
  • Criminal Minds makes use of this frequently, which is probably a good thing on a show that has had cannibals, killer clowns, guys that kill people and do experiments on them before feeding them to pigs, people that remove their victims' eyes, people that kill others randomly, people that do live autopsies on others, and people that set up death traps to watch their victims suffer. And that's only a few. Gallows Humor is probably one of the only reasons any of the (current) main cast is at all sane.
  • Red Dwarf is full of this. One episode deals with Lister losing his arm. Doug Naylor(who wrote the episode) is missing a leg.
  • The Job, and even more so its Spiritual Successor Rescue Me.
  • A recurring theme throughout the various Blackadder series.
    • Special mention should be granted to "Goodbyeeee...", the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth, where the constant threat of death has finally... pushed them over the top. The final few minutes of "Goodbyeeee..." has a few parting shots.
    • Of particular note is the episode "Corporal Punishment", where Blackadder jokes constantly about his imminent and ultimately avoided doom.
      Blackadder: Can I ask you to leave a pause between the word "aim" and the word "fire"? Thirty of forty years, perhaps?
      Blackadder: [asked by the marksmen where they should hit] Just above my head might be a good spot.
      Blackadder: Robinson, good to see you! [gun gestures]
    • Another example is at the Kangaroo Court where he was sentenced to death to begin with:
      Melchett: I, therefore, have absolutely no hesitation in announcing that the sentence of this court is: that you Captain Edmund Blackadder be taken from this place and shot to death by shooting tomorrow at dawn. Do you have anything to say?
      Blackadder: Yes, can I have an alarm call, please?
  • Home Improvement had an episode where Jill's dad died and the family had gone to Texas for the funeral. Randy was constantly making jokes about it and upsetting Mark. He later admitted to Tim he didn't know why he was acting that way. Tim said he was the same way when he was 11 and his dad died, and suggested to just be careful around certain people like Mom and Mark.
  • That '70s Show had an episode where Eric was driving his grandmother home, and the lady was not well-liked by anyone for her fault finding and meanspiritedness. When Eric finally tells her that "It wouldn't kill you to be nice", she just suddenly drops dead. Interestingly no one, not even her son Red, cried at her passing and while the show had plenty of jokes happening, the funeral was a rather standard ordeal. After the funeral Eric confessed to Red that she died immediately after he told her off, Red chuckled saying "It could only happen to you." Kitty then came in, after spending the entire time just cooking things and finding herself with nothing left to keep her busy, and started to break down in tears. The three of them then cried together for a moment of grieving.
  • Oz: An awful lot of it. No matter how brutal or horrific a situation, someone is going to make a joke about it.
    Warden Glynn: The M.E. has ruled McCullum's death as suicide. He bit into his skin, chewing off chunks of muscle over the course of a week or so, causing himself to bleed out.
    Sister Pete: Sweet Jesus!
    Officer Murphy: Like a cannibal!
    Tim McManus: A cannibal eats somebody else's flesh.
    Murphy: So what do you call a guy who eats his own flesh?
    Tim McManus: Inventive.
  • Doctor Who:
    • This exchange between Sarah Jane Smith and the Third Doctor as they're trapped in a web in "Planet of the Spiders":
      Doctor: I think they'll find I'm rather a tough old bird.
      Sarah Jane: An old boiler, in fact.
      Doctor: [chuckles] Yes, yes. I would make a good item on the agenda of the next Spider Council meeting. Whether to stew a Time Lord or roast him in a slow oven?
      Sarah Jane: That will give them something to chew over.
      Doctor: Yes, something they can get their teeth into, hmm?
    • In "The Sound of Drums", The Master gasses the cabinet to death. So what's so funny about it? The Master gives an enthusiastic double thumbs up after one member of the cabinet tells him "You're Insane!".
    • Anita in "Forest of the Dead" copes with the knowledge that she's about to be Stripped to the Bone by living shadows by cracking grim jokes.
      Doctor: Can I get you anything?
      Anita: An old age would be nice.
    • In "The Time of the Doctor", when the Eleventh Doctor is dying of old age and out of regenerations, surrounded by Daleks, on the planet Trenzalore where he is destined to die, he tells some to Clara.
      Doctor: The trouble with Daleks is, they take so long to say anything. Probably die of boredom before they shoot me.
    • One of the soldiers being chased by murderous ghosts in "Under the Lake": "If I die, you know that I will come back to haunt you."
    • Done literally in "The Woman who Lived", with highwayman Sam Swift waiting to be executed stretching out his life with stand-up comedy, mostly puns on "hanging about" and "well hung" because the crowd will be angry if they hang him while he's still funny.
    • "The Happiness Patrol", being set on a planet where being a Stepford Smiler is enforced at gunpoint, has a fair bit. A despairing Susan Q., for example, says that nobody will shed any tears for her...and even if they wanted to, they wouldn't be allowed.
    • In "The Night of the Doctor", with four minutes to live, the Eighth Doctor cracks jokes about how that's just enough time to get bored and demands to be brought some knitting to do.
  • Sketch comedy shows like The Kids in the Hall and The State will sometimes do a sketch in the recovery room of an attempted suicide. Expect no one to have read the attempter's (long and detailed) suicide note.
  • In Never Wipe Tears Without Gloves Paul whines about people who commit suicide when they find out they have AIDS, saying that they are mean to make their friends carry the coffin with their heavy body and that they should have the decency to wither away from the disease and make the coffin lighter to carry.
  • Only Fools and Horses:
    • Most of "The Russians Are Coming", where Rodney convinces them to build a nuclear fallout shelter after Del unknowingly buys a kit along with a shipment of lead. Most of the episode highlights just how unprepared the average person in 1981 was to cope with the possibility of nuclear war and life afterward, particularly with only a "four-minute warning" to seek shelter.
      Del: By the way, how are we doing?
      Rodney: We're dead. We died 45 seconds ago.
    • The final reveal makes it even more poignant, revealing that the "Safe as houses" location that they decided to build their shelter was on top of Nelson Mandela House.
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air uses this trope a few times, the most memorable being after Will got shot. He spent most of his hospital stay cracking jokes to distract both his loved ones and himself from the emotional distress they were all feeling.
    Signal Axe: Wait for it!
    Banno: Wait! Please wait, Gou! Don't rob the world of my glorious mind!
    Signal Axe: Go for it!
    Banno: Gou!
    Gou: It said "go for it"...didn't it?
  • In the third Horatio Hornblower telefilm, Horatio accidentally sails his tiny dispatch ship into an enemy fleet thanks to the fog—several Spanish frigates of which anyone could reduce his vessel into splinters if they make a fight of it. Horatio tries to play it off lightly.
    Horatio: Still, I imagine it would be a damn close-run thing.
    Styles: [utterly expressionless] Damn close, sir. It'd take at least a minute to sink us.
  • Sesame Street likes to parody numerous adult television and media, but may have reached their zenith with Game of Chairs. For those who had not seen it just rest assured that the Wham Episode moments are squarely addressed.
    Robb: Can we hurry this up? I've a wedding to get to.
  • In China Beach, the characters are trapped in a bunker under heavy fire. Some of the men spontaneously burst into song.
    Soldiers (singing): “Mama said there’d be days like this”
  • Babylon 5 has a good line in this, but G'Kar is notable for reacting to several absurd, awful situations by laughing at them. When he begs allies for help with a war effort and their best offer is some paltry aid to refugees, he doesn't know whether to laugh or cry, so he does both. When he's stuck in a burning elevator with his worst enemy and decides he'd rather burn to death with him than cooperate to escape, he's giggling so hard he can barely get the words out. And when a challenger asks G'Kar what he has personally suffered that could equal the suffering of his people, G'Kar, who has just spent the last week being horribly tortured and is quite obviously missing an eye, can only stare at the man and then walk out chuckling.
  • In the second season premiere of The West Wing, we find out President Bartlett was shot by skinheads, and at the hospital, when an attending nurse asks him if he has any pre-existing conditions, he replies, "Well, I've been shot." Lampshaded by his daughter Zoey:
    Zoey: And dad's making jokes.
    Abby: Good ones, or-?
    Zoey: No.
    Abby: Okay.
  • Farscape: The crew of Moya spend so much time in serious trouble that it would be surprising if they didn't periodically deliver wisecracks on the edge of death. At one point, Scorpius learns that the gun Crichton gave him is completely empty; just before the bounty hunters open fire, he deadpans, "Thank you, John."
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus has both the Navy Cannibalism Sketch (which involves sailors who are stranded in a lifeboat at sea who resort to cannibalism a little too enthusiastically) and the Undertaker Sketch (about the most tasteless undertaker who ever lived). The big joke here is that both of those sketches appeared on Royal Episode Thirteen, the episode that was supposed to be watched by the Queen.
  • One episode of Foyle's War centers on a hospital specialized for airmen who suffered severe burns. When Andrew Foyle comes to visit an injured friend, one recovering airman warns him not to stand still too long or they'll have his arse off to mend some other chap with. The same airman later jokes with Sam that he's not likely to take up a career in film or modeling.

  • Shel Silverstein:
    • "25 Minutes to Go" (also recorded by Johnny Cash) features a man counting down the minutes before his execution, with a variety of often comedic observations for each minute.
    • Silverstein also helped start the Old Dogs, a one-shot supergroup consisting of Waylon Jennings, Jerry Reed, Bobby Bare, and Mel Tillis. The group recorded a double album's worth of Silverstein-penned material for a single album in 1999. Lead single "Still Gonna Die" features the four recounting various things that one can do for one's health, each capped off with "but you're still gonna die" and building up to the end line of "So you better have some fun before you say bye-bye".
  • Frank Zappa's "Suicide Chump" is about the importance of just getting your damn suicide over with.
  • Tom Lehrer's songs:
    • "We Will All Go Together When We Go", on An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer, is all a touching, hilarious example of this kind of humor, applied to Cold War fears of nuclear annihilation: "We will all go together when we go / All suffused with an incandescent glow / No one will have the endurance to collect on his insurance / Lloyd's of London will be loaded when they go".
    • His song for World War 3, "So Long Mom (I'm Off To Drop The Bomb)", on That Was the Year That Was.
  • In Cage's "Suicidal Failure", the lyrics are partly Gallows Humor, partly Nightmare Fuel. An example is Cage walking past a group of Crips bleeding, hoping that they would kill him (implying that they would think he was a member of rival gang the Bloods).
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic:
  • Steve Goodman's "A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request" is about a dying Chicago Cubs fan poking fun at his beloved team's futility and ultimately deciding, between dying and cheering for the Cubs, dying is the less miserable prospect. Crosses over into real life: Goodman was a Cubs fan; he died of leukemia the year after writing the song, days before the Cubs clinched the National League East for what would have been their first playoff appearance in his lifetime.
    He said, "But you, the living, you're stuck here with the Cubs
    So it's me who feels sorry for you!"
  • Squaddie songs - songs written and sung by the soldiers very low on the military food chain - tend to be of very much Gallows Humor when they aren't Black Humor. A very good example is the Airborne troops' song Blood on the Risers.
  • The Johnny Cash song "Joe Bean" is about a young man sentenced to death by hanging on his birthday. He's hoping for a pardon from the governor (because even though he's a mass murderer and bank robber, he didn't do the killing he was convicted for) but, instead, the governor sends birthday greetings to him. And the last verse goes:
    Happy Birthday Joe Bean
    Happy Birthday Joe Bean
    Happy Birthday dear Joe
    (sound of a gallows platform dropping and a rope tightening)
    Happy Birthday to you.


    Tabletop Games 
  • Deadlands characters can use this trope if they've purchased the aptly named "Gallows Humor" ability. It allows a character who fails a guts roll (made when facing virtually anything frightening, from a rattlesnake to an Eldritch Abomination) to try again with a taunt roll (more usually used to goad an opponent)...provided the character has the ability to speak, and the character's player can think of something witty to say about whatever the scary thing is. If the taunt roll also fails, the joke falls flat, which gives a penalty on the roll to determine the consequences of succumbing to fear.
  • The world of Psionics: The Next Stage in Human Evolution is pretty bleak, so some of the characters display this. Even when faced with imminent grievous bodily harm, Lucky refuses to stop quipping, and Mama Bear makes light of PTSD, (citing that it's very common in The Zodiac Order) even while working on getting help for a character who is suffering from it.

  • This exchange in Romeo and Juliet after Mercutio has been (mortally) wounded in a duel:
    Romeo: Courage, man; the hurt cannot be much.
    Mercutio: No, 'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door; but 'tis enough, 'twill serve: ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.
  • Fiddler on the Roof notes that Jews laugh because if they didn't, they'd have to cry.
  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch has a similar joke about Jews finding comfort in humour, though the movie itself has plenty of such jokes, like "During my first performance, the audience threw tomatoes at me, and afterward I had a nice salad"
  • In Hugh Wheeler's libretto for Candide, Dr. Pangloss gets in a few optimistic words as he stands on the gibbet, just before the executioner releases the trap:
    "Ladies and gentlemen, one final word in praise of the universal laws of Science. God in his wisdom made it possible to invent the rope and what is the rope for but to create a noose? And, Glory be to the Greatest Philosophers, what is a neck for but to be..."
  • The Mikado derives considerable merriment from the subject of execution by beheading.
  • During the signing of the Declaration in 1776- inspired by their actual conversation in real life- Franklin jokes about their impending treason and McKean speculates on which one of them will hang the easiest, to great laughter — which gets louder when Hancock points out:
    Hancock: Gentlemen, forgive me if I don't in the merriment, but if we're arrested now — my name is still the only one on the damn thing!
  • In Hamilton, Burr and the title character once talk about an old war general called Mercer, who just got a street named after him. "The Mercer legacy is secured." "Sure." "And all he had to do is die." "Well, that's a lot less work!" "We oughta give it a try..." - and they actually sound like they are considering it for the moment!
  • In Frozen (2018), Wandering Oaken's Act II opener "Hygge" evokes this in the face of the intensifying Endless Winter.

    Video Games 
  • Afterlife - Hell has a punishment known as the "Deadly Serious Caverns". Any of the damned who get caught trying to make their suffering more tolerable through humor are sent there to have it beaten out of them.
  • The increasingly inaccurate title Final Fantasy was given to the first game because Square was in trouble at the time, and had it not been a hit, it would have been Square's last game. The creator of Final Fantasy, Hironobu Sakaguchi, presumably attempted to do it again, with a Wii game titled The Last Story, though he himself said it wasn't directly intended (and The Last Story became a success anyway).
  • The online game West of Loathing is full of this. Your character can even get a ring that is basically made from a skeleton’s, er, butthole.
  • Moira Brown of Fallout 3 is always making little Gallows Humor jokes in her conversations. You can amplify the effect by nuking Megaton and turning her into a ghoul.
  • Mass Effect 2:
    • During the boarding of the Normandy, EDI makes an inappropriate joke about the sight of humans on their knees. When Joker just glares, she clarifies "That is a joke."
    • As he notices that they're about to start fighting through a hospital, Garrus Vakarian cracks "That's unfortunate. Hospitals aren't very much fun to fight through." Late in 3 he says "I thought hospitals were ugly to fight through. This is so much worse," making the joking sentiment suddenly seem much more serious.
  • Dragon Age II - if you play a consistently Snarky Hawke, you'll run into this more than a few times given they live in one heck a Wretched Hive. You can expect either Sarcasm Failure or party members going Dude, Not Funny! if you pick *really* bad times to joke.
  • Gears of War does this quite often - no wonder, considering the Crapsack World they're in.
  • Darkest Dungeon:
    • The Gravedigger's "Gallows Humor" camping skill can either recover the stress of your party members by rather sizable amount, or stress them out even more.
    “How many adventurers does it take to die in a pit?”
  • In Pillars of Eternity, a literal case is Edér's Establishing Character Moment: he's more than happy to quip about the dead tree filled with hanged bodies that he fully expects to join.
    • For an even more literal case, when you have a chat with the soul of one of the people hanging from the tree, she's awfully cheerful for a lynched woman, cracking a few jokes about her fate.
  • In Episode 5 of The Walking Dead: Season One, Lee can choose to get his left arm cut off since it was bitten by a walker the previous episode. When contemplating the long climb up a ladder in an elevator shaft, he concludes that his severed arm would just have got in his way. Other dialogue options allow him to continue in this vein.
  • Some messages in The Talos Principle show that some people reacted to the end of the world with comedy, such as a novelty song titled "He's Got It" or an e-mail ending with a link to Monty Python's Dead Parrot sketch.

    Web Comics 
  • Batman: Wayne Family Adventures has a variant of this with Jason Todd often making jokes about his own death, such as asking someone to "kill [him] again" after overhearing Batman and Catwoman flirting in "TMI". The "Strong Enough" two-parter confirms that this is a coping mechanism for PTSD brought on by being murdered.
  • Girl Genius: After Lars suffers a mortal wound, a panicked Agatha, who is trying to administer medical attention, tells him not to move. He wryly answers, "Oh, that'll happen soon enough."
  • Otterly Human: In Pumpkin Spice, a pumpkin reveals that he is the main ingredient in pumpkin spiced lattes and that the drinks are slowly killing him.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • South Park put it best when saying that it's been long enough to make jokes about 9/11 and AIDS, because if you keep taking it so seriously then the terrorists win.
  • Surprisingly, an example is found in a House of Mouse segment where Mickey, Donald, and Goofy are hired to bring an organ to a demented toymaker that wants Mickey's heart to bring his doll bride to life.
    Mickey: He didn't want to donate an organ! He wanted me to donate my organs!
    Goofy: And you're not even done with them.
  • Another Disney example, in an episode of Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers, Fat Cat is using a device that makes cows unable to give milk. When the protagonists question the cows, they're clearly nervous, because if they "don't think milk, the farmers will start thinking hamburger!" (The heroes manage to destroy the device, but seeing as this is the eventual fate of most cows anyway...)
  • Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers. While most of Doc's dialogue is delivered in Sarcasm Mode, and often lampshades the team's status as Surprisingly Elite Cannon Fodder (being as he's the team's Badass Normal, his sarcasm isn't misplaced), his casual contemplation on what proper attire would be to wear to his execution on Tarkon was probably his most literal case of it.
  • Taken literally in the Mr. Know-It-All segment from Rocky and Bullwinkle "How to Water Ski." When Bullwinkle asks for a length of rope, Boris Badenov lowers a hangman's noose.
    • Boris was pretty quick at this himself:
      Boris: Double-cross my heart and hope you die!
  • In Bojack Horseman, it is heavily implied that Sarah Lynn's stepfather was worse than her manipulative mother. Every time she brings either of them up, it's either with total apathy or humor.
    Sarah Lynn after licking fur: It's bear fur.
    BoJack, Joelle, Bradley: -look utterly horrified-
    Sarah Lynn: What? My stepdad was a bear.

    Flashback!Sarah Lynn: I'm homeschooled by my stepdad. He's a photographer.
  • The appropriate-titled Looney Tunes cartoon Good Noose pretty much revolves around this. In this cartoon, a sea captain threatens to execute by hanging any and all stowaways on his ship. He sends out his pet parrot to find any stowaways. Sure enough, the parrot discovers a stowaway on the ship: Daffy Duck, who tries to elude death by hanging by trying to pass himself off as a Stage Magician, with questionable results.

    Real Life 
  • This is what is said about the final hour of Thomas More: "And so was he by Master Lieutenant brought out of the Tower, and from thence led towards the place of execution. Where, going up the scaffold, which was so weak that it was ready to fall, he said merrily to Master Lieutenant, “I pray you, Master Lieutenant, see me safe up, and for my coming down, let me shift for myself.”
  • Benjamin Franklin: One of his most famous quotes, referring to the Revolution, was "Yes, we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately." A rather literal use of gallows humor indeed.
    • Along with the ever-infamous "Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead." (Though this might an adaptation from Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet - "two may keep counsel, putting one away"—there's little doubt Franklin said this.)
  • "Soon, we will be able to take a tram from one theater of the war to the other." Reportedly said to Hitler during the last days of World War II. (A variant goes "when will the war be over?" - "When the Volkssturm (last reserves) takes the S-Bahn (commute trains) to the front" - in April 1945 it did.
    • Speaking of the Volkssturm, it was sardonically referred to as "Gulash", because it consisted of old meat and fresh vegetables. By the end of the war, nearly all of Germany's prime fighting men were either dead or captured, so they were reduced to recruiting underage boys and old men - anyone who could hold a rifle basically.
    • A popular German joke of the period:
      Eins: I was thinking after the war ends I will go for a walk around the perimeter of the Greater German Empire.
      Zwei: Oh? And what are you planning to do in the afternoon?
    • A joke popular among German soldiers in the last weeks of World War II goes (in the original German):
      "Berlin ist die Stadt der Warenhäuser. Hier war'n Haus, da war'n Haus" (literally "Berlin is the city of warehouses. Here was a house and there was a house").
    It was adapted to English (as featured in Downfall) as:
    "Berlin is the city of warehouses: 'Where's my house?' 'Where's my house?'"
    • How did you tell an Optimistic German from a Pessimistic German in late 1944? An Optimistic German would study English while a Pessimistic German would study Russian.
    • Attention soldiers! Here is a guide on how to tell which airplane is in question. If it is grey, it is British. If it is aluminium, it is American. If it is green, it is Russian. And if it is invisible, it is ours!
    • German Humor is pretty fond of gallows humor. Another old literal one: "In the Middle Ages, a criminal was to be hanged on a Monday. He told the judge: 'Great start of the week, huh?'" (Please note that in many countries, the calendar week begins on Monday.)
  • Mexican Calaveras (joking poems on someone's encounter with the Grim Reaper —even if not dead yet) are all about this. Then there are Posada's engravings, many of them satirical. Also, skull-shaped candy!
    • Indeed, it might be said that the holiday of Día de Muertos* (Day of the Dead) is about this: rather than a grim mourning of those who have died, it's a celebration featuring all sorts of skeletal decorations (juxtaposed with bright colors and flowers). The reasoning behind this is that one should celebrate the lives of those who have passed on, not dwell on the fact that said lives are over. It also has the effect of making death somewhat less frightening.
    • Dionisio Pulido was wrapping up a long day in his cornfield near the small town of Paricutín, Michoacán on February 20th, 1943, when a crack opened in the ground and began spewing ash, noxious gases, and molten rock. Over the next two days, as the Mexican Army frantically evacuated everyone from the vicinity, Pulido was allowed to return to his farmhouse to gather what belongings he and his family could carry before the rapidly-growing Volcan Paricutín buried it. On his way out, Pulido posted a sign on the front gate that read in Spanish: "This volcano owned and operated by Dionisio Pulido."
  • Truth in Television: Saturday Night Live
    • Rudy Giuliani's appearance on the first ep of SNL to air after 9/11.
      Lorne Michaels: Can we be funny again?
      Rudy Giuliani: Why start now?
    • The 2019 monologue for Eddie Murphy's hosting gig. On stage was Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, and Tracy Morgan, who is still recovering from an accident that killed his friend and left Tracy in a coma for weeks.
      Chappelle: This is half of Netflix's budget on stage.
      Tracy Morgan: Not me. I made millions on the road.
      Eddie: Touring?
      Tracy: No, I got hit by a truck!
  • A couple of near-literal examples from real-world executions:
    • "Well, gentlemen, you are about to see a baked Appel." George Appel, executed in New York's electric chair, 1928.
    • "How about this for a headline for tomorrow's paper? French Fries." James French, executed in Oklahoma's electric chair, 1966
    • "I'd rather be fishing." Jimmy Glass, executed in Louisiana's electric chair, 1987
    • "This is the first time authorities helped me escape prison." George Sitts, executed in South Dakota's electric chair, 1947.
    • A more literal example is "Black Jack" Ketchum, hanged in New Mexico Territory, 1899. There are at least three reports of his last words.
      "Good-bye. Please dig my grave very deep. All right; hurry up."
      "I'll be in Hell before you start breakfast! Let her rip!"
      "Hurry up! I'm due in Hell for dinner!"
    • Another literal example is William Palmer, who exclaimed while looking at the trapdoor:
      "Are you sure it's safe?"
    • Some rumors said Henri Landru refused the last cigarette before entering the guillotine because it would be bad for his health.
    • John Albert Taylor asked for a bulletproof vest before being Shot at Dawn.
    • Kind of a traveling legend, but Andreas Hofer who fought against Napoleon's forces in Tyrol is said to have said "mei schießt's ihr schlecht" (Austrian dialect for "you are truly bad shots") after the first volley missed him, before giving the order to fire himself on the subsequent volley.
    • Serial killer Carl Panzram to his executioner: "Hurry up, you Hoosier bastard! I could kill ten men while you were fooling around."
    • As Sir Walter Raleigh approached the executioner's block, he looked at the ax and whispered to the executioner, "Tis a sharp cure, but good against all ills."
    • As they were being taken to the guillotine, the poet Fabre d'Églantine lamented to Georges Danton that he would not be able to finish his verse drama, The Neapolitan Orange. Danton replied: « Des vers... Avant huit jours tu en feras plus que tu ne voudras, et nous aussi ! »: "Verses/worms ("vers" means both in French)... In a week you'll be making more of them than you want, and so will we!"
    • Another story of the Terror tells of a commoner who was being tried and faced the guillotine. Assuming he was a nobleman, the court called out for him to stand, adding a "de" in front of his name. The prisoner stood up and testily replied : "Je ne suis pas ici pour qu'on m'allonge, mais qu'on me raccourcisse" (translation: I'm here to be shortened, not made longer). Reportedly, the judge liked his wit and answered "Eh bien, qu'on l'élargisse !" (lit. "very well then, let him be widened !", but in French legalese meaning "release him").
    • Georges Cadoudal, a Catholic Royalist guerrilla fighter during the French Revolution, was arrested and sentenced to death in 1804 after a failed assassination attempt on Napoléon. On the guillotine, as he was reciting the "Hail Mary", he stopped at "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now". As the priest who assisted him encouraged to finish the prayer, he answered: "Why? Isn't now "the hour of our death"?"
    • Robert-François Damiens was a Frenchman executed on the 28th of March 1757 for attempting to murder King Louis XV with a knife. The execution involved crushing his legs, then torturing him with red hot pincers. His hand that held the knife was burned with molten sulphur. Molten lead, wax and boiling oil were then poured into the wounds made by the pincers. After being emasculated, his four limbs were tied to horses so they could dismember him. When his limbs didn't tear off easily, his tendons were cut, which did the trick. His (apparently still living) torso and head were then burnt at the stake. His words when waking up that day? "La journée sera rude" (The day will be rough).
  • During the Winter War, the Soviet Union dropped large numbers of incendiary cluster bombs on Finnish cities as part of their attacks. The Soviet foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, went out in the international press and claimed that this 'bombardment' was a filthy lie; they were actually food drops to help feed Finnish refugees from the war. The Finnish responded by naming the bombs "Molotov bread baskets" in his honor and began referring to the mass-produced incendiary bomb (filled with high-proof vodka provided by the state liquor monopoly) they used on the Soviet as the Molotov Cocktail; "a drink to go with the food".
  • People in the medical business do this a lot. Making jokes about patients, disease, etc.
    • What's the difference between a doctor and a lawyer? When the lawyer's done robbing you, at least you're still alive.
    • One particularly disturbing example of just how dark doctors and nurses' senses of humor can get, there's the medical term "CTF," or, "Cletus the Fetus," referring to a child born before 23 weeks. There are no cases of a child born before 22 weeks surviving. (With one exception thus far.)note 
      • And on the other end of the age spectrum, you'll know that a patient that was CTD (Circling the Drain) is now GFPO (Good For Parts Only: ring the organ donor desk and see if there's anything they want) when he/she gives the Q sign (Tongue lolling out of a slacked jaw. Mouth now looks like the letter Q.). Meanwhile, you can take the GOMER (Get out of my emergency room! Person whose injury does not rate the ER) aside and practice your PRATFO (Patient reassured and told to...) technique.
      • Classic signs of a concussion include being Disoriented, Irritable, Confused, and Combative.
      • A psychiatric hospital was once on trial over its practices and a doctor was asked what the term "FITH" stood for. After trying to dodge the question by saying it was highly technical, he was finally forced to answer: "Fucked In The Head".
      • A patient who refuses life-saving treatment or has a Do Not Resuscitate order may get AMFYOYO written on their charts ( Alright, motherfucker, you're on your own.)
      • In Russia, there is a famous joke about a new doctor who saw a lot of patients with "GAK" as the diagnosis. It turns out to mean "God Alone Knows".
      • At least that's how it looks in published joke collections. Spoken audibly it would rather be "FIIK" ("Fuck If I Know").
    • Before it became better-known thanks to the internet, EMTs and Paramedics could sometimes be caught referring to a call as being a "LOLFDGB" (Little Old Lady Fall Down Go Boom).
    • FUBAR/TF BUNDY: Fucked Up Beyond All Recovery/Totally Fucked, But Unfortunately Not Dead Yet.
    • The cardiac care unit is also known as the CABG Patch (Coronary Artery Bypass Graft).
    • Eleventh Floor Transfer: In a ten-floor hospital, this refers to a patient near death; i.e. soon to be transferred to the afterlife. A Rocket Room is a ward with a high rate of these.
    • SBI: Something Bad Inside. There's definitely something wrong with you, but the doctor has no clue exactly what it is.
      • SVBI: Something Very Bad Inside. There's definitely something wrong with you, but the doctor has no clue exactly what it is, other than it's terminal.
    • from Pediatrics “FLK” (Funny Looking Kid), a child whose behavior and appearance seems a bit “off”, but doesn’t quite rise to the level of any recognized syndrome or disease.
  • Police also tend toward very dark humor, for a similar reason. The slogan "Our day starts when your day ends" has been used by a number of homicide units.
    • As noted on the page for Vomiting Cop, if a rookie officer doesn't blow chunks after seeing a grisly murder scene, the other officers might treat him to a dinner (or breakfast, time permitting) of scrambled eggs and brains, with LOTS of ketchup. That usually does the trick.
  • Police and paramedics frequently refer to anyone instantly killed in an accident as DRT (Dead Right There); Stephen King has had a few police characters use the acronym. In particularly gruesome cases, you might see DRTTT (Dead Right There, There, and There)
  • The military.
    • Nuclear scientists in particular, especially the ones who have to plan for The End of the World as We Know It.
      Stuart Slade: [on the effects of direct radiation from a nuke] Once thermal blast and concussion have reduced you to the size, shape, and color of a McDonald's hamburger patty, irradiating you as well would be incredibly superfluous.
    • Phrase commonly seen on T-shirts among Explosive Ordinance Disposal personnel: "I am a bomb technician. If you see me running, try to keep up!"
    • Navy jokes:
      • "Any ship can be a minesweeper. Once."
      • "Every ship carries at least one torpedo."
      • "A submarine is a ship for which the number of sinkings is equal to the number of surfacings. Hopefully."
      • Ships escorting a high-value ship, like an aircraft carrier, are often called "missile sponges" or "torpedo sponges". This is especially the case for relatively small and more lightly armed frigates, where the implication is they're not useful for much else.
    • Pilot jokes:
      • "Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing. A 'great' landing is one where you can use the airplane again."
      • Helicopter pilots refer to the bolt that attaches the main rotor assembly to the rest of the aircraft as the Jesus Pin or Jesus Bolt, held on by the Jesus Nut, because if it breaks or comes unscrewed your last words will be "Oh Jesus...", and/or you're about to meet him face to face. Note the odds of it failing are very low and there are many other things that are much more likely to down the aircraft, but it is a disconcerting single point of failure none the less.
    • A combat medic morale patch reads: "The louder you scream, the faster we get there".
    • The crew of the HMS Sheffield, a British destroyer sunk in the Falklands in 1982, sang "Always look on the Bright Side of Life" from Monty Python's Life of Brian while waiting for rescue. You might recall that one of the lines is a cheerful "Worse things happen at sea, you know!"
    • The Fleet Air Arm squaddie song "The A.25 Song". The song itself contains some 20 or so verses, each describing various ways a naval aviator can screw up his plane, landing, or himself. The name of the song, A.25 itself, refers to Fleet Air Arm damage report form, very detailed, and agonous to fill.
      They say in the Air Force the landing's okay
      if the pilot can get out and still walk away
      But in the Fleet Air Arm the prospect is dim
      if the landing is poor and the pilot can't swim
    • Military units in general, particularly in combat zones do. IEDs have been said to be the terrorists' way of making you obey the speed limit. You get nailed by one, you were driving too slow.
    • The anthem of American paratroopers is "Blood on the Risers", a song about a paratrooper whose parachute didn't open during a jump.
      There was blood upon the risers, there were brains upon the chute,
      Intestines were a'dangling from his Paratrooper suit,
      He was a mess; they picked him up, and poured him from his boots,
      And he ain't gonna jump no more
    • The song Blood on the Risers also serves to illustrate another purpose behind a lot of Gallows Humor: the cautionary tale. In the song, the paratrooper does all his equipment checks except his static line ("He jumped into the icy blast, his static line unhooked"). A static line is a cord on a military parachute that attaches to a cable inside the plane. When the trooper jumps out of the plane the static line deploys his parachute for him, just in case he should happen to freeze up or pass out from the fall, or if he jumps from very low altitude. The song is a warning for paratroopers (and by extension soldiers in general): ALWAYS remember to check ALL your equipment.
    • In the same vein, the German paratroopers' squaddie song, Abgeschmiert aus hundert Metern (Bought the Farm at 100 Meters), describing a similar accident.
    • Skippy's List has some choice example:
      54. “Napalm sticks to kids” is *not* a motivational phrase
    • The original "Napalm Sticks to Kids" song is a really really bleak example of this trope:
      Children suckin' on a mother's tit?
      Gooks down in a .50 pit?
      Dow Chemical don't give a shit!
      Napalm sticks to kids.
    • How do you recognize a Russian nuclear submarine sailor? Answer: They glow in the dark. The Russians used to tell it about the Northern Fleet sailors - the submarines there seemed to be most unlucky at one point.
    • When military humor isn't Gallows Humor, it is often Black Humor that Crosses the Line Twice.
    • In Finland, whose army is based on conscription, military slang and prison slang tend to overlap a lot.
  • French comedian Pierre Desproges
    • After he was diagnosed with cancer: "If it weren't for science, how many of us could enjoy cancer for more than five years?".
    • You can add: "plus cancéreux que moi, tumeur" (more cancer-afflicted than me, tumor). The pun is the homophony of tumeur (tumor) and tu meurs (you die).
    • Also this one: "Noël au scanner, Pâques au cimetière". Desproges was playing on an old saying that went "Noël au balcon, Pâques au tison" (Christmas on the balcony, Easter by the chimney), effectively saying Christmas at MRI, Easter at the grave. Morbid, but since he kept saying it with an exhilarating smile, it still elicited laughter.
    • Desproges also justified Gallows Humour in his mock-prosecutor's charge against French right-wing extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen, explaining that "On peut rire de tout, mais pas avec tout le monde" (You can laugh about anything, but not with everybody). He justified it even better when he told "On peut rire de tout. On doit rire de tout. Même de la mort. Surtout de la mort. Après tout, la mort se prive-t-elle de se rire de nous ?" (We may laugh about everything. We must laugh about everything. Even death. Especially death. After all, does death show any qualm about laughing at us?). This is a simplified version of the original quote:
      "S'il est vrai que l'humour est la politesse du désespoir, s'il est vrai que le rire, sacrilège blasphématoire que les bigots de toutes les chapelles taxent de vulgarité et de mauvais goût, s'il est vrai que ce rire-là peut parfois désacraliser la bêtise, exorciser les chagrins véritables et fustiger les angoisses mortelles, alors, oui, on peut rire de tout, on doit rire de tout. De la guerre, de la misère et de la mort.". Translation
    • His book "L'Almanach", which he wrote while in the final stages of his cancer, and was published after his death, is literally rife with Gallows Humour. Including, but not limited to, one different darkly sarcastic subtitle for Pablo Picasso's Guernica for each week of the year.
  • The American aircraft carrier USS Forrestal had a number of fires on board during her deployment. The worst fire happened in 1967 and killed 134 people. Sailors jokingly referred to the ship as the "USS Zippo," "Forest Fire," and "Firestal." And the USS Enterprise (CVN-65), the first USN nuclear supercarrier, has nicknames "Three-Quarter Mile Island" and "Mobile Chernobyl".
  • During World War II the USS William D. Porter, which already had a reputation as a bad-luck ship, had the misfortune to launch a torpedo...right at the USS Iowa, which was then carrying President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Iowa had to turn hard to avoid the torpedo, and for the rest of the war, the William D. Porter had to put up with every other US Navy ship they sighted signalling: "Don't shoot! We're Republicans!"
  • US Navy hull designation codes themselves are a source of Gallows Humor:
    CVE (escort carrier; Cruiser Hull (C), Heavier than Air Aircraft (V), Escort (E)) = Combustible, Vulnerable, Expendable
    LST (Landing Ship, Tank) = Large Slow Target
    LSD (Landing Ship, Dock) = Large Sitting Duck
  • Pilots have often strong opinions with the planes they have to fly, making Fun with Acronyms: LaGG-3 (Soviet fighter) = "Lakirovanny Garantirovanny Grob" (Varnished Guaranteed Coffin), SB2C (USN dive bomber) = "Son-of-a-B*tch, Second Class", SB-2 (Soviet bomber) "Svoloch Bezdarnaja" (lousy product), etc
    • Il-2 had a sights device called PBP-1b (Dive Bombing Sights 1b). During rough or crash landings, it tended to hit the pilot, often lethally, so the people started joking the letters actually meant "Pribor Byushchiy Pilota 1 Raz Bol'no" - A Device Hitting the Pilot 1 Time, Painfully.
  • George Harrison had coincidentally hired new groundskeepers about a week before a crazed fan broke into his house and stabbed him nearly to death. As he was being taken away by paramedics, with stab wounds in his chest and a punctured lung, he reportedly looked up at the new groundskeepers and asked: "So how do you like the job so far?"
  • On his deathbed, Voltaire, a fervent deist, received a Catholic priest who asked him to renounce Satan and thus be accepted in Heaven. He reportedly replied, "Now, now my good man, this is no time for making enemies".
  • Another one from the U.S.A.'s Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence.
    Benjamin Harrison: "I shall have a great advantage over you, Mr. [Elbridge] Gerry, when we are all hung for what we are now doing. From the size and weight of my body, I shall die in a few minutes, but from the lightness of your body you will dance in the air an hour or two before you are dead."
  • Yet another political one: when Ronald Reagan was shot, his first words to his wife were "Honey, I forgot to duck." And when the surgeons were about to operate on him to remove the bullets, he told them "I hope you're all Republicans." A doctor (who was a Democrat) replied: "Today, Mr. President, we're all Republicans."
    • According to his memoir, before Joe Biden had emergency surgery for a brain aneurysm, he used this as an homage to then-president Reagan, saying he wanted his tombstone to say "Father, son, brother, athlete" and asking all Democrats in the operating room to raise their hands.
  • Saint Lawrence of Rome was a deacon who was martyred by being roasted to death on a gridiron. After roasting over a hot fire for a while, he supposedly told his torturers, "I am done on this side; you may turn me over". The Catholic Church decided that because of this, he should be considered the patron saint of cooks and chefs, making this first-rate Black Comedy as well. Lawrence is also the patron saint of stand-up comics for just this reason. The Royal Seat of San Lorenzo de El Escorial is built in the form of a grill just for this.
  • St. Sebastian (the one who was tied to a tree and shot full of arrows) is the patron saint of lacemakers. Bartholomew the Apostle — the one who was flayed alive and then crucified — is the patron saint of tanners and leather-workers.
  • Terry Pratchett said he was going to take his Alzheimers with him. He also described it in his initial announcement as "an embuggerance".
  • Russell Means once said American Indians should be placed on the endangered species list, much like the aforementioned Star Trek example.
  • Philosopher and cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek has a fondness for gallows humor. It was part of the language of academics living in the East Bloc, and his fondness for this type of humor carries through. He's also argued that in many circumstances, like the Holocaust, the monstrosity of the situation is "too strong for tragedy", and so the only decent response is one of comedy, ridiculing the brutality of the situation.
  • Christopher Hitchens:
    • During his losing battle with cancer, he announced he had it in an article called "Topic of Cancer," and said that, because his cancer was so developed, he had "joined the cancer elite." He also said: "I make preparations for living and dying every day. But with the emphasis on not dying, and on acting as though I was going to carry on living."
    • When asked how he was coping, he replied: "Well, there are the bad days and then there are the worse ones." To the first friend he spoke to after learning of his cancer and its advanced state he said, "I had plans for the next ten years. I expect I shall have to cancel them."
    • When he wrote his short book on the subject of cancer (published posthumously) his reaction to the diagnosis, considering his nicotine and whisky vices? "It's so predictable and banal, it bores even me."
  • Add firefighters and EMTs to the other occupations that do it. Stand near some firefighters as a building, despite best efforts, burns to the ground and almost inevitably someone will ask who brought the marshmallows.
    EMT 1: [after moving a very heavy patient] When I die, you can wait until I'm rotted down to a skeleton so I'm easier to move.
    EMT 2: I have a carving knife. I don't have to wait that long.
  • United Airlines flight 232 was a DC-10 that suffered a total failure of all its hydraulics in flight, making it all but impossible to control. During the coordination of the emergency landing attempt, the following conversation occurred between ATC and flight captain Alfred Haynes*:
    Sioux City Approach: United Two Thirty-Two Heavy, the wind's currently three six zero at one one; three sixty at eleven. You're cleared to land on any runway.
    Haynes: [laughter] Roger. [laughter] You want to be particular and make it a runway, huh?
  • The obituary of a lifelong Cleveland Browns fan: "He respectfully requests six Cleveland Browns pallbearers so the Browns can let him down one last time."
  • From the obituary: of another Cleveland Browns fan:
    Paul Stark passed away Dec. 27, 2017, of complications from a brief illness, exacerbated by the hopeless condition of the Cleveland Browns, at Stein Hospice, Sandusky.
  • Three years after British comedian Rik Mayall almost got killed in a quod bike accident, he could joke about it in the fourth live version of Bottom:
    Richard Richard: That actor who plays me... You know... the tosser who fell off his bike?
    • When Rik did finally die in 2014, his frequent comedy partner Adrian Edmonson commented that he died "without me. Selfish bastard."
  • During The World Cup semifinal in 2014, hosts Brazil faced Germany without two key players. At first incentive hashtags such as "#PrayForBrazil" were common, especially once the Germans scored first. Then the Germans quickly built a 5-0 lead over a clearly lost and unprepared adversary (final score: 7-1), and soon the Brazilians were resorting to Self-Deprecation gallows comedy instead. The Shocking Defeat Legacy remains to the point of Memetic Mutation— the phrases "Germany goal!" and "7-1 wasn't enough!" are still used in Brazil to joke about the country's disgraces, football-related or not.
  • After the accident that left him quadriplegic, Christopher Reeve was visited in the hospital by Robin Williams who, dressed in medical garb and talking in a Russian accent, said he was a proctologist and was going to perform an analysis. Reeve burst into laughter for the first time since the accident.
  • A boot hill grave for one Lester Moore, a Wells Fargo clerk who was shot by an irate customer, reads "Here lies Lester Moore, four slugs from a .44, no Les, no more". Whether or not Lester Moore ever existed or not is a matter up for much debate.
  • In March 2019, when Alex Trebek publicly disclosed that he'd been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he still managed to find humor in the situation:
    Alex: And with the love and support of my family and friends, and with the help of your prayers, also, I plan to beat the low survival rate statistics for this disease. Truth told, I have to. Because under the terms of my contract, I have to host Jeopardy! for three more years.
  • Chess champion Garri Kasparov has recounted how he once met the former World Champions Tigran Petrosjan and Michail Tal, both of whom were marked by serious illness, and expressed his awe at being in the presence of "two living legends":
    Tal: Well... living and living...
  • On December 7, 1941, Enterprise sent a number of aircraft into Pearl Harbor. The first group, consisting of a flight of SBD Dauntless bombers led by air group commander Howard Young, arrived right in the middle of the attack. While several of the planes were downed by Japanese fighters, others were hit by frantic American air defenses. Later that evening, a group of F4F Wildcats also arrived only to get shot at by nervous gunners. These tragic friendly fire incidents led Enterprise to have her aircraft repainted with comically oversized national insignia for several months afterwards.note 
  • During the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, a Belgian supermarket generated buzz by proposing a sale consisting in "buy two Corona [the beer brand], get one Mort Subite for free". While it refers in context to a Belgian beer brand, "Mort Subite" literally means "sudden death" in French...
    • Beer brands in general tend to have gallows humor names: since of course, alcohol is in fact poisonous.
  • While on the COVID-19 Pandemic, Todd in the Shadows took the opportunity to highlight in his One Hit Wonderland show Corona's "The Rhythm of the Night", and also show that the video's comments were rife with people trying to laugh at how the other corona was hindering their lives ("1994: Corona went viral. 2020: Same.", "Today, Corona is the most popular group of the year #1 trend in China, Italy and America and goes viral in Europe, Iran, Arab countries, Brazil,Turkey, Argentina Chile and East Asia", etc.).
  • In 1943, actor Van Johnson was involved in a serious car crash, which left him severely injured, with damage to his face, skull, and neck, and had severed an artery, causing massive blood loss; in fact, he had just narrowly avoided getting decapitated by the accident. The accident had occurred right on the county border between Los Angeles City and Culver City, and had in fact thrown Johnson right across said border onto the Culver City side. When the Los Angeles police arrived on scene, Johnson, despite his serious injuries and bleeding profusely, was still, somehow, conscious, and as such they informed him that due to being on the other side of the dividing line, he would have to wait for an ambulance from Culver City. In response, the heavily injured Johnson was said to have quipped: "Tell me where the right side is, and I'll crawl there!"
  • Chocolate desserts have a bizarre tendency to be named things like "death by chocolate" or "grave dirt": despite chocolate neither being poisonous nor in any other way deadly. In fact, cocoa has medicinal properties. At most, there's obesity-related health hazards of eating too much of those desserts. Its dark brown color, uncannily similar to freshly dug soil, probably doesn't help matters.
  • Tennis player Luisa Stefani was in the US Open semifinal when she suffered a freak knee injury. It ended her season but not her sense of humor, as that same day she posted Instagram stories updating her condition, one of whom had a song saying "if my knees didn't hurt anymore". And then there's the way she sent congratulations to the winner of the men's tournament.
  • Pete Davidson began doing comedy to cope with the death of his father on September 11th and his subsequent depression and trauma. These are frequent subjects in his standup comedy and correspondent pieces on Saturday Night Live (one piece had him lament that getting a sketch to air would help his depression, but all his sketches suck because "they're written by a depressed guy"). He also incorporated these themes into the dramedy film The King of Staten Island.
  • When preparing for what would become thethe Battle of Jutland in World War I, the German Navy decided to bring along 6 of their older, obsolete "pre-dreadnought" battleships to help make up for their numerical disadvantage against Britain's Grand Fleet, even though those ships were less armed, slower and most importantly less armored than even the weakest British battleships. The crews of the pre-dreadnoughts took to calling them "five minute ships"...because that's how long they expected to survive once anybody shot at them.
    • Similarly, at the start of the war the British 7th Cruiser Squadron (consisting of even more hopelessly obsolete 19th century armoured cruisers) were used to patrol the English Channel despite their combination of large size slow speed making them exceptionally vulnerable to submarine attack, because there weren't yet enough fast scout cruisers to go around. They came to be known as the "Live Bait Squadron"...and were completely wiped out in a submarine attack less than 2 months into the war.
  • After the former The Price Is Right host Bob Barker passed away on August 26, 2023, 4 months before what would have been his 100th birthday, many people paid tribute to him by saying that he got close to 100 without going over, referring to TPIR's Showcase Showdown, where the player who spun 100 cents ($1) on the big wheel or as close to it without going over in 1 or 2 spins would win a spot in the Showcase round.

"Who do you think pays for all this rubbish?"


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Gallows Humour


Prawnie's "Bulls-eye"

An older gentleman named Prawnie walks to the medical tent after accidentally taking a throwing dart in his eye. They're initially horrified, but Prawnie starts joking about his predicament, releasing the tension, and Matty plays along.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / EyeScream

Media sources: