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So You Want To / Write a Black Comedy

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A common actors' saying is "Dying is easy: comedy is hard." And Black Comedy, which uses dark and serious matters and themes as its subject matter to invoke laughter is one of the hardest things to write well. That doesn't mean you should try though, anything can be made into a joke, despite what the PC crowd may try and say, so give it a go. Even if you don't get it right first, keep it at. You didn't learn to walk in a day so how would you learn comedy, let alone this type, in a day?

Necessary Tropes

Black Comedy's main goal is not to try to make a dark subject look serious, but more so to show how anything can really be funny. Most jokes have their root based in something otherwise serious and this is more so taking that dark side Up to Eleven.

Choices, Choices

What is the main goal you hope to accomplish with this style of humor? Do you want to make a point with some political satire using comedy as a means to get your message across, do you want to offend as many people as possible just for the hell of it, or do you just want to try to be funny? Either way, there's many ways to accomplish any of those goals.

  • The Protagonist: Where does their morality lie? In most Black Comedy's the protagonist is a jerk or a really unlucky Nice Guy. The comedy of either type is the jerk getting his comeuppances for his misdemeanors, where as the nice guy being beaten up by the world the humor comes from how unlucky he is.

  • How far will you go? When it comes to black comedy how balanced will you keep the black with the comedy? Will you be mostly tame, neatly balanced, or extremely cruel? How many things can you joke about and how often? Decide on which controversial, depressing, or otherwise negative topics you want to cover: death, suicide, genocide, rape, drug addiction, abortion, bestiality, religion, disease, parental abandonment/abuse, and so forth. Just bear in mind what Seth MacFarlane once said: "It all can't be in the same place." As in, you probably shouldn't joke about all of those things at once. Tropes Are Tools, however, and what really matters is how you use it. You can try to have all of those things in one episode, but for the most part it's best to try and spread it out.

  • In making a setting, the most common type of world for this breed of comedy is a Crapsack World or a Crapsaccharine World. The world doesn't have to be either of those, but it makes the Jerkass main character's attitude more relatable or the Nice Guy's unluckiness more understandable.


  • Comedic Sociopathy— This is can make a Black Comedy become depressing or impossible to take seriously. Again, Tropes Are Tools and what counts is moderation. It's okay to be mean-spirited every so often, but using too much is a make or break.
  • Dude, Not Funny!The pitfall to avoid. You want to make your audience laugh, not alienate them.
  • Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: As said above, if the show's darkness is too much, it might just leave the audience bored and disinterested. If you have too much cruelty and not enough comedy, it's a deal breaker.

Potential Subversions

Writers' Lounge

Suggested Themes and Aesops

Potential Motifs

  • Death
  • Failure and Futility— See Kafka Komedy.
  • Freudian symbols

Suggested Plots


Set Designer / Location Scout

Props Department

Costume Designer

Casting Director

Stunt Department

Extra Credit

The Greats

  • Catch-22 - Allegedly the work the term "black comedy" was coined for. Combines increasingly hilarious running gags with an increasingly dark take on the horrors of war.
  • Dr. Strangelove - It's a bona fide classic. With the power of nuclear war, Stanley Kubrick crafted a satire like no other.
  • Network - Despite its dramatic elements, this film is still hilarious at times.
  • RoboCop (1987) - This is an odd example. It plays itself as an action film, but still satirizes the idea of large corporations. Watch it anyways.
  • Blackadder - One of the crappiest crapsack worlds with one of the most evil heroic sociopath.

The Epic Fails

  • Later episodes of Family Guy have had too much emphasis on jerkiness and not enough of the comedy that made it great.
  • Mr. Pickles: A violation of Seth MacFarlane's aforementioned quote, it crams all kinds of shocking themes and imagery in at once, leaving no room for the juxtaposition which gives said imagery weight. Unless you're a metalhead, you're either going to be left disgusted or bored.