Black comedy

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"Hopscotch to oblivion", Barcelona, Spain Hopscotch to oblivion.jpg
"Hopscotch to oblivion", Barcelona, Spain

Black comedy, also known as black humor, dark humor, dark comedy, morbid humor, edgy humor, or gallows humor, is a style of comedy that makes light of subject matter that is generally considered taboo, particularly subjects that are normally considered serious or painful to discuss. Writers and comedians often use it as a tool for exploring vulgar issues by provoking discomfort, serious thought, and amusement for their audience. Thus, in fiction, for example, the term black comedy can also refer to a genre in which dark humor is a core component. Popular themes of the genre include death, crime, poverty, suicide, war, violence, slavery, genocide, discrimination, disease, and human sexuality.

Contents

Black comedy differs from both blue comedy—which focuses more on crude topics such as nudity, sex, and bodily fluids—and from straightforward obscenity. Whereas the term black comedy is a relatively broad term covering humor relating to many serious subjects, gallows humor tends to be used more specifically in relation to death, or situations that are reminiscent of dying. Black humor can occasionally be related to the grotesque genre. [1] Literary critics have associated black comedy and black humor with authors as early as the ancient Greeks with Aristophanes. [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]

Etymology

A cemetery with a "Dead End" sign, creating an amusing play on words Irony.jpg
A cemetery with a "Dead End" sign, creating an amusing play on words

The term black humour (from the French humour noir) was coined by the Surrealist theorist André Breton in 1935 while interpreting the writings of Jonathan Swift. [9] [10] Breton's preference was to identify some of Swift's writings as a subgenre of comedy and satire [11] [12] in which laughter arises from cynicism and skepticism, [9] [13] often relying on topics such as death. [14] [15]

Breton coined the term for his 1940 book Anthology of Black Humor (Anthologie de l'humour noir), in which he credited Jonathan Swift as the originator of black humor and gallows humor (particularly in his pieces Directions to Servants (1731), A Modest Proposal (1729), Meditation Upon a Broomstick (1710), and in a few aphorisms). [10] [13] In his book, Breton also included excerpts from 45 other writers, including both examples in which the wit arises from a victim with which the audience empathizes, as is more typical in the tradition of gallows humor, and examples in which the comedy is used to mock the victim. In the last cases, the victim's suffering is trivialized, which leads to sympathizing with the victimizer, as analogously found in the social commentary and social criticism of the writings of (for instance) Sade.

History

Among the first American writers who employed black comedy in their works were Nathanael West [16] and Vladimir Nabokov, [16] although at the time the genre was not widely known in the US. The concept of black humor first came to nationwide attention after the publication of a 1965 mass-market paperback titled Black Humor, edited by Bruce Jay Friedman. [7] [17] The paperback was one of the first American anthologies devoted to the concept of black humor as a literary genre. [8] With the paperback, Friedman labeled as "black humorists" a variety of authors, such as J. P. Donleavy, [7] [8] Edward Albee, [7] [8] Joseph Heller, [7] [8] Thomas Pynchon, [7] [8] John Barth, [7] [8] Vladimir Nabokov, [7] [8] Bruce Jay Friedman [7] [8] himself, and Louis-Ferdinand Céline. [7] [8] Among the recent writers suggested as black humorists by journalists and literary critics are Roald Dahl, [18] Kurt Vonnegut, [11] Warren Zevon, Christopher Durang, Philip Roth, [11] and Veikko Huovinen. [19] The motive for applying the label black humorist to the writers cited above is that they have written novels, poems, stories, plays, and songs in which profound or horrific events were portrayed in a comic manner. Comedians like Lenny Bruce, [12] who since the late 1950s have been labeled for using "sick comedy" by mainstream journalists, have also been labeled with "black comedy".

Nature and functions

Jewish humor book featuring Hershel of Ostropol Motke2.jpg
Jewish humor book featuring Hershel of Ostropol

Sigmund Freud, in his 1927 essay Humour (Der Humor), puts forth the following theory of black comedy: "The ego refuses to be distressed by the provocations of reality, to let itself be compelled to suffer. It insists that it cannot be affected by the traumas of the external world; it shows, in fact, that such traumas are no more than occasions for it to gain pleasure." Some other sociologists elaborated this concept further. At the same time, Paul Lewis warns that this "relieving" aspect of gallows jokes depends on the context of the joke: whether the joke is being told by the threatened person themselves or by someone else. [20]

Black comedy has the social effect of strengthening the morale of the oppressed and undermines the morale of the oppressors. [21] [22] According to Wylie Sypher, "to be able to laugh at evil and error means we have surmounted them." [23]

Black comedy is a natural human instinct and examples of it can be found in stories from antiquity. Its use was widespread in middle Europe, from where it was imported to the United States. [24] [ verification needed ] It is rendered with the German expression Galgenhumor (cynical last words before getting hanged [25] ). The concept of gallows humor is comparable to the French expression rire jaune (lit. yellow laughing), [26] [27] [28] which also has a Germanic equivalent in the Belgian Dutch expression groen lachen (lit. green laughing). [29] [30] [31] [32]

Italian comedian Daniele Luttazzi discussed gallows humour focusing on the particular type of laughter that it arouses (risata verde or groen lachen), and said that grotesque satire, as opposed to ironic satire, is the one that most often arouses this kind of laughter. [33] [34] [35] In the Weimar era Kabaretts , this genre was particularly common, and according to Luttazzi, Karl Valentin and Karl Kraus were the major masters of it. [35]

Black comedy is common in professions and environments where workers routinely have to deal with dark subject matter. This includes police officers, [36] firefighters, [37] ambulance crews, [38] military personnel and funeral directors, [39] where it is an acknowledged coping mechanism. Outsiders can often react negatively to discovering this humor; as a result, there is an understanding within these professions that these jokes should not be shared with the wider public. [37] [38]

A 2017 study published in the journal Cognitive Processing [40] concludes that people who appreciate dark humor "may have higher IQs, show lower aggression, and resist negative feelings more effectively than people who turn up their noses at it." [41]


Examples

An 1825 newspaper used a gallows humor "story" of a criminal whose last wish before being beheaded was to go nine-pin bowling, using his own severed head on his final roll, and taking delight in having achieved a strike. 18251112 Nine-pin bowler execution - gallows humor - Sag Harbor Corrector.jpg
An 1825 newspaper used a gallows humor "story" of a criminal whose last wish before being beheaded was to go nine-pin bowling, using his own severed head on his final roll, and taking delight in having achieved a strike.

There are multiple recorded instances of humorous last words and final statements. For example, author and playwright Oscar Wilde was destitute and living in a cheap boarding house when he found himself on his deathbed. There are variations on what his exact words were, but his reputed last words were, "Either that wallpaper goes or I do." [43] [44]

Gallows speeches

Examples of gallows speeches include:

Military

Military life is full of gallows humor, as those in the services continuously live in the danger of being killed, especially in wartime. For example:

Emergency service workers

Workers in the emergency services are also known for using black comedy:

Other

An example of black comedy appears in Laurence Sterne's 1759 English novel Tristram Shandy ; Tristram, five years old at the time, starts to urinate out of an open window for lack of a chamber pot. The sash falls and circumcises him; his family reacts with both hysteria and philosophical acceptance.

There are several titles such as It Only Hurts When I Laugh and Only When I Laugh , which allude to the punch line of a joke which exists in numerous versions since at least the 19th century. A typical setup is that someone badly hurt is asked "Does it hurt?" "I am fine; it only hurts when I laugh." [56] [57]

Ronald Reagan, after being shot by John Hinckley Jr. in 1981, is reported to have made multiple quips on his way to and inside the emergency room, including "Honey, I forgot to duck" to his wife, "All in all, I'd rather be in Philadelphia" in a note written to his nurse, and perhaps most famously to his doctors, "Please tell me you're Republicans." [58]

See also

Related Research Articles

Joke Display of humor using words

A joke is a display of humour in which words are used within a specific and well-defined narrative structure to make people laugh and is usually not meant to be taken seriously. It takes the form of a story, usually with dialogue, and ends in a punch line. It is in the punch line that the audience becomes aware that the story contains a second, conflicting meaning. This can be done using a pun or other word play such as irony or sarcasm, a logical incompatibility, nonsense, or other means. Linguist Robert Hetzron offers the definition:

A joke is a short humorous piece of oral literature in which the funniness culminates in the final sentence, called the punchline… In fact, the main condition is that the tension should reach its highest level at the very end. No continuation relieving the tension should be added. As for its being "oral," it is true that jokes may appear printed, but when further transferred, there is no obligation to reproduce the text verbatim, as in the case of poetry.

Satire Genre of arts and literature in the form of humor or ridicule

Satire is a genre of the visual, literary, and performing arts, usually in the form of fiction and less frequently non-fiction, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government, or society itself into improvement. Although satire is usually meant to be humorous, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit to draw attention to both particular and wider issues in society.

Humour Tendency of experiences to provoke laughter and provide amusement

Humour or humor is the tendency of experiences to provoke laughter and provide amusement. The term derives from the humoral medicine of the ancient Greeks, which taught that the balance of fluids in the human body, known as humours, controlled human health and emotion.

Humorist Intellectual who uses humor in writing or public speaking

A humorist (American) or humourist is an intellectual who uses humor, or wit in writing or public speaking, but is not an artist who seeks only to elicit laughs. Humorists are distinct from comedians, who are show business entertainers whose business is to make an audience laugh. It is possible to play both roles in the course of a career.

Karl Kraus (writer)

Karl Kraus was an Austrian writer and journalist, known as a satirist, essayist, aphorist, playwright and poet. He directed his satire at the press, German culture, and German and Austrian politics. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature three times.

A punch line concludes a joke; it is intended to make people laugh. It is the third and final part of the typical joke structure. It follows the introductory framing of the joke and the narrative which sets up for the punch line.

Deadpan, dry humour, or dry-wit humour is the deliberate display of emotional neutrality or no emotion, commonly as a form of comedic delivery to contrast with the ridiculousness or absurdity of the subject matter. The delivery is meant to be blunt, ironic, laconic, or apparently unintentional.

Self-referential humor Humor alluding to onself or the subject displaying the humor

Self-referential humor, also known as self-reflexive humor or meta humor, is a type of comedic expression that—either directed toward some other subject, or openly directed toward itself—is self-referential in some way, intentionally alluding to the very person who is expressing the humor in a comedic fashion, or to some specific aspect of that same comedic expression. Self-referential humor expressed discreetly and surrealistically is a form of bathos. In general, self-referential humor often uses hypocrisy, oxymoron, or paradox to create a contradictory or otherwise absurd situation that is humorous to the audience.

Daniele Luttazzi

Daniele Luttazzi, real name Daniele Fabbri, is an Italian theater actor, writer, satirist, illustrator and singer/songwriter. His stage name is an homage to musician and actor Lelio Luttazzi. His favourite topics are politics, religion, sex and death.

Karl Valentin

Karl Valentin was a Bavarian comedian, cabaret performer, clown, author and film producer. He had significant influence on German Weimar culture. Valentin starred in many silent films in the 1920s, and was sometimes called the "Charlie Chaplin of Germany". His work has an essential influence on artists like Bertolt Brecht, Samuel Beckett, Loriot and Helge Schneider.

Argentine humour

Argentine humour is exemplified by a number of humorous television programmes, film productions, comic strips and other types of media. Everyday humour includes jokes related to recurrent themes, such as xenophobic jokes at the expense of Galicians (Spaniards) called chistes de gallegos, often obscene sex-related jokes, jokes about the English, the Americans, blonde women, dark humour, word and pronunciation games, jokes about Argentines themselves, etc.

Hack is a term used primarily in stand-up comedy, but also sketch comedy, improv comedy, and comedy writing to refer to a joke or premise for a joke that is considered obvious, has been frequently used by comedians in the past, and/or is blatantly copied from its original author. Alternatively, it may refer to a comedian or performance group that uses hack material or similarly unoriginal devices in their act. Since comedians and people who work with comedians are typically exposed to many more jokes than the general public, they may recognize a topic, joke or performer as hack before the general public does; as a result, even performers who do well on stage may be considered hacks by their peers.

Joke theft is the act of performing and taking credit for comic material written or performed by another person without their consent and without acknowledging the other person's authorship. This may be a form of plagiarism and can, in some cases, be copyright infringement. A comic who is known to steal jokes may be labelled with the epithet "hack" by other comics. A "hack comic" uses material that is unoriginal or which is blatantly copied from its original author.

There are many theories of humor which attempt to explain what humor is, what social functions it serves, and what would be considered humorous. Among the prevailing types of theories that attempt to account for the existence of humor, there are psychological theories, the vast majority of which consider humor to be very healthy behavior; there are spiritual theories, which consider humor to be an inexplicable mystery, very much like a mystical experience. Although various classical theories of humor and laughter may be found, in contemporary academic literature, three theories of humor appear repeatedly: relief theory, superiority theory, and incongruity theory. Among current humor researchers, there is no consensus about which of these three theories of humor is most viable. Proponents of each one originally claimed their theory to be capable of explaining all cases of humor. However, they now acknowledge that although each theory generally covers its own area of focus, many instances of humor can be explained by more than one theory. Similarly, one view holds that theories have a combinative effect; Jeroen Vandaele claims that incongruity and superiority theories describe complementary mechanisms which together create humor.

Comedy Genre of dramatic works intended to be humorous

Comedy is a genre of fiction comprised of discourses or works intended to be humorous or amusing by inducing laughter, especially in theatre, film, stand-up comedy, television, radio, books, or any other entertainment medium. The term originated in Ancient Greece: in Athenian democracy, the public opinion of voters was influenced by political satire performed by comic poets in theaters. The theatrical genre of Greek comedy can be described as a dramatic performance pitting two groups, ages, genders, or societies against each other in an amusing agon or conflict. Northrop Frye depicted these two opposing sides as a "Society of Youth" and a "Society of the Old." A revised view characterizes the essential agon of comedy as a struggle between a relatively powerless youth and the societal conventions posing obstacles to his hopes. In this struggle, the youth then becomes constrained by his lack of social authority, and is left with little choice but to resort to ruses which engender dramatic irony, which provokes laughter.

Raffaele Palma is one of the most eclectic Italian satirical artists, and humorists. The holder of the Premio Satira Politica Forte dei Marmi a prize for Political Satire in the sculpture section of a national competition held in Tuscany, he has also organised numerous exhibitions himself in Italy, in various institutional contexts. He's also the author of various works on humor, several of which have been published by the press of Marco Valerio Edizioni of Torino.

The Bible and humor Topic in biblical criticism

The Bible and humor is a topic of Biblical criticism concerned with the question of whether parts of the Bible were intended to convey humor in any style. Historically, this topic has not received much attention, but modern scholars generally agree that humor can be found in biblical texts.

Lercio

Lercio is an Italian site of news satire providing humorous and grotesque articles, headlines, polls and other columns to satirize the tone and format of sensationalistic press, in the style of The Onion.

Edgar-Yves Monnouh Jnr., is a Beninese-born French Stand-up comedian. He is a member of The Golden Comedy Club of Paris.

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    The term was part of the language before Freud wrote an essay on it—'gallows humor.' This is middle European humor, a response to hopeless situations. It's what a man says faced with a perfectly hopeless situation and he still manages to say something funny. Freud gives examples: A man being led out to be hanged at dawn says, 'Well, the day is certainly starting well.' It's generally called Jewish humor in this country. Actually it's humor from the peasants' revolt, the forty years' war, and from the Napoleonic wars. It's small people being pushed this way and that way, enormous armies and plagues and so forth, and still hanging on in the face of hopelessness. Jewish jokes are middle European jokes and the black humorists are gallows humorists, as they try to be funny in the face of situations which they see as just horrible.
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    At least, Swift's text is preserved, and so is a prefactory note by the French writer André Breton, which emphasizes Swift's importance as the originator of black humor, of laughter that arises from cynicism and scepticism.
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    When it comes to black humor, everything designates him as the true initiator. In fact, it is impossible to coordinate the fugitive traces of this kind of humor before him, not even in Heraclitus and the Cynics or in the works of Elizabethan dramatic poets. [...] historically justify his being presented as the first black humorist. Contrary to what Voltaire might have said, Swift was in no sense a "perfected Rabelais." He shared to the smallest possible degree Rabelais's taste for innocent, heavy-handed jokes and his constant drunken good humor. [...] a man who grasped things by reason and never by feeling, and who enclosed himself in skepticism; [...] Swift can rightfully be considered the inventor of "savage" or "gallows" humor.
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  23. Wylie Sypher quoted in ZhouRaymond, Jingqiong Carver's short fiction in the history of black humor p.132
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    The term was part of the language before Freud wrote an essay on it – 'gallows humour.' This is middle European humour, a response to hopeless situations. It's what a man says faced with a perfectly hopeless situation and he still manages to say something funny. Freud gives examples: A man being led out to be hanged at dawn says, 'Well, the day is certainly starting well.' It's generally called Jewish humour in this country. Actually it's humour from the peasants' revolt, the thirty years' war, and from the Napoleonic wars. It's small people being pushed this way and that way, enormous armies and plagues and so forth, and still hanging on in the face of hopelessness. Jewish jokes are middle European jokes. And the black humourists are gallows humourists, as they try to be funny in the face of situations which they see as just horrible.
  25. Lynch, Mark A witch, before being burned at the stake: Typical man! I can never get him to cook anything at home (cartoon)
  26. Redfern, W. D. and Redfern, Walter (2005) Calembours, ou les puns et les autres : traduit de l'intraduisible , p.211 quote:
    Des termes parents du Galgenhumor sont: : comédie noire, plaisanterie macabre, rire jaune. (J'en offre un autre: gibêtises).
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    Walter Redfern, discussing puns about death, remarks: 'Related terms to gallows humour are: black comedy, sick humour, rire jaune. In all, pain and pleasure are mixed, perhaps the definitive recipe for all punning' (Puns, p. 127).
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    Les termes jaune, vert, bleu évoquent en français un certain nombre d'idées qui sont différentes de celles que suscitent les mots holandais correspondants geel, groen, blauw. Nous disons : rire jaune, le Hollandais dit : rire vert ( groen lachen ); ce que le Néerlandais appelle un vert (een groentje), c'est ce qu'en français on désigne du nom de bleu (un jeune soldat inexpéribenté)... On voit que des confrontations de ce genre permettent de concevoir une étude de la psychologie des peuples fondée sur les associations d'idées que révèlent les variations de sens (sémantique), les expressions figurées, les proverbes et les dictions.
  33. Pardo, Denise (2001) Interview with Daniele Luttazzi, in L'Espresso , February 1, 2001 quote:
    Q: Critiche feroci, interrogazioni parlamentari: momenti duri per la satira.
    A: Satira è far ridere a spese di chi è più ricco e potente di te. Io sono specialista nella risata verde, quella dei cabaret di Berlino degli anni Venti e Trenta. Nasce dalla disperazione. Esempio: l'Italia è un paese dove la commissione di vigilanza parlamentare Rai si comporta come la commissione stragi e viceversa. Oppure: il mistero di Ustica è irrisolto? Sono contento: il sistema funziona.
  34. Daniele Luttazzi (2004) Interview, in the Italian edition of Rolling Stone , November 2004. Quote:
    racconto di satira grottesca [...] L'obiettivo del grottesco è far percepire l'orrore di una vicenda. Non è la satira cui siamo abituati in Italia: la si ritrova nel cabaret degli anni '20 e '30, poi è stata cancellata dal carico di sofferenze della guerra. Aggiungo che io avevo spiegato in apertura di serata che ci sarebbero stati momenti di satira molto diversi. Satira ironica, che fa ridere, e satira grottesca, che può far male. Perché porta alla risata della disperazione, dell'impotenza. La risata verde. Era forte, perché coinvolgeva in un colpo solo tutti i cardini satirici: politica, religione, sesso e morte. Quello che ho fatto è stato accentuare l'interazione tra gli elementi. Non era di buon gusto? Rabelais e Swift, che hanno esplorato questi lati oscuri della nostra personalità, non si sono mai posti il problema del buon gusto.
  35. 1 2 Marmo, Emanuela (2004) Interview with Daniele Luttazzi (March 2004) quote:
    Quando la satira poi riesce a far ridere su un argomento talmente drammatico di cui si ride perché non c'è altra soluzione possibile, si ha quella che nei cabaret di Berlino degli Anni '20 veniva chiamata la “risata verde”. È opportuno distinguere una satira ironica, che lavora per sottrazione, da una satira grottesca, che lavora per addizione. Questo secondo tipo di satira genera più spesso la risata verde. Ne erano maestri Kraus e Valentin.
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