From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Black comedy, also known as black humor is a sub-genre of comedy and satire where topics and events that are usually treated seriously — death, mass murder, suicide, sickness, madness, terror, drug abuse, rape, war, etc. — are treated in a humorous or satirical manner. Synonyms include dark humor, morbid humor, gallows humor and off-color humor. A seminal anthology in this category is Anthology of Black Humor (1940) by André Breton.
The 1964 film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb presents one of the best-known examples of black comedy. The subject of the film is nuclear war and the extinction of life on Earth. Normally, dramas about nuclear war treat the subject with gravity and seriousness, creating suspense over the efforts to avoid a nuclear war. But Dr. Strangelove plays the subject for laughs; for example, in the film, the fail-safe procedures designed to prevent a nuclear war are precisely the systems that ensure that it will happen. The film Fail Safe, produced simultaneously, tells a largely identical story with a distinctly grave tone; the film The Bed-Sitting Room, released six years later, treats post-nuclear English society in an even wilder comic approach.
Today, black comedy can be found in almost all forms of media.
In the Great Britain
In the United States
In the United States, black comedy as a literary genre came to prominence in the 1950s and 1960s. Writers such as Terry Southern, Joseph Heller, Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut and Harlan Ellison have published novels, stories and plays where profound or horrific events were portrayed in a comic manner. An anthology edited by Bruce Jay Friedman, titled Black Humor: Anthology was published in 1965.
The anthology not only introduced some until then almost unknown or forgotten writers, it also coined the term "black humor" (as Breton said, until then the term had meant nothing, unless someone imagined jokes about black people ). The term became globally used since then.
- André Breton: Anthologie des schwarzen Humors, München: Rogner und Bernhard, 1971
- Reinhard Federmann: ...und treiben mit Entsetzen Scherz. Die Welt des Schwarzen Humors, Tübingen: Erdmann, 1969
- Michael Hellenthal: Schwarzer Humor. Theorie und Definition, Essen: Verlag die Blaue Eule, 1989, ISBN 3-89206-303-6
- Gerd Henniger: Zur Genealogie des Schwarzen Humors. In: Neue Deutsche Hefte 13 (1966), Verlag Neue Deutsche Hefte, Berlin, S. 18–34
- Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
- Christian Dietrich Grabbe
- Friedrich Nietzsche
- Franz Kafka
- Jakob van Hoddis
- British humour
- Crude humor
- Dark romanticism
- Gallows humor
- Grotesque literature
- Problem plays
- Black Comedy, a play by Peter Shaffer
- Shock value