Dark comedy/ black comedy or black humor: definition, key aspects and examples

Dark comedy, also known as black comedy or black humor, is a genre of comedy that explores humorous or satirical elements in topics that are usually considered taboo, sensitive, or morbid. It often involves making light of serious or dark subject matter, such as death, violence, illness, or social issues, with the aim of provoking both laughter and discomfort. Dark comedy employs irony, sarcasm, and absurdity to challenge societal norms and conventions, using humor as a tool to highlight the absurdity or hypocrisy of the human condition.

Characteristics of dark comedy:

  1. Taboo subjects: Dark comedy often tackles taboo or controversial subjects that are typically considered off-limits for humor.
  2. Morbid humor: It uses humor to address death, tragedy, or other dark aspects of life.
  3. Satirical critique: Dark comedies often provide social commentary and critique by satirizing societal norms, institutions, or conventions.
  4. Absurdity: They frequently employ absurd or exaggerated situations, often pushing the boundaries of believability.
  5. Incongruity: Dark comedy often involves unexpected or incongruous elements, juxtaposing humor with serious or grim subject matter.
  6. Uncomfortable laughter: It elicits laughter that may be uncomfortable or unsettling due to the juxtaposition of humor and dark subject matter.
  7. Moral ambiguity: Dark comedies often challenge conventional notions of right and wrong, presenting morally ambiguous characters or situations.

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Examples of dark comedy:

  1. “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller (1961) – This satirical novel follows the experiences of American soldiers during World War II and explores the absurdity of war, bureaucracy, and the military system.
  2. “A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole (1980) – Set in New Orleans, this novel features an eccentric and bumbling protagonist, Ignatius J. Reilly, who navigates a series of comedic misadventures while critiquing societal norms and conventions.
  3. “The Crying of Lot 49” by Thomas Pynchon (1966) – Pynchon’s novel blends elements of conspiracy theory, dark humor, and satire as the protagonist, Oedipa Maas, becomes entangled in a complex and absurd mystery.
  4. “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov (1955) – Though controversial, “Lolita” is often considered a dark comedy due to its witty and ironic narrative style. The novel follows Humbert Humbert, a morally reprehensible protagonist, as he obsessively pursues his infatuation with a young girl.
  5. “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut (1969) – This anti-war novel combines elements of science fiction, satire, and dark humor. It follows the experiences of Billy Pilgrim, a time-traveling optometrist, as he survives the bombing of Dresden during World War II.

These works of literature use dark comedy to address serious themes, challenge societal norms, and provoke thought and introspection through a combination of humor, irony, and satire.

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