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Black comedy


Black comedy

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Black comedy, also known as black humour, is a subgenre of comedy and satire where topics and events normally treated seriously – death, mass murder, sickness, madness, terror, drug abuse, rape, etc. – are treated in a humorous or satirical manner. Synonyms created to avoid possible racial overtones include dark humour, morbid humour, gallows humour and off-colour humour

Black humour is similar to sick humour, such as dead body jokes. However, in sick humour most of the humour comes from shock and revulsion; black humour usually includes an element of irony, or even fatalism. This particular brand of humour can be exemplified by a scene in the play Waiting for Godot: A man takes off his belt to hang himself, and his trousers fall down. Another example, "Suicide just isn't funny, no matter which way you slice it," is an effective satire at the way that suicide is treated in mainstream western culture, insinuating that attitudes towards suicide are even more morose or morbid than the act or mental condition leading to it.

In America, 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, Harlan Ellison and Eric Nicol have written and 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 Humour," assembles many examples of the genre.

The 1964 film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb presents one of the most well-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.




A Bucket of Blood, directed by Roger Corman, is about a busboy who becomes a success in the art world after accidentally killing his landlady's cat and covering it up in clay to hide the evidence. When he is pressured to deliver similar work, people start mysteriously disappearing. Remade in 1995.
After Hours
American Beauty is about Lester Burnham's (Kevin Spacey) last few weeks on Earth, with storylines of affairs, ephebophilia, drugs and homophobia.
Arsenic and Old Lace is about a pair of murdering old aunts discovered by their nephew, played by Cary Grant.
Bad Santa is about a wretched, drunk, perverse thief who poses as Santa Claus to rip off department stores.
The Bed-Sitting Room, about life in England after a nuclear war.
Being John Malkovich, a comedy dealing with identity, greed, lust, fame, transexualism, and exploitation.
The Big Lebowski, in which the shiftless "Dude" deals with bowling, nihilists, kidnapping, death, and having his favorite rug urinated on.
Brassed Off, about the brass band of a Yorkshire mining village, in the days when the mine closes. Those not familiar with the problems covered in the film often mistake it for a standard comedy film.
Brazil a comedic vision of a nightmarish 1984-like world of bureaucracy gone awry, featuring terrorism, torture, secrecy and paperwork.
The Cable Guy, a film starring Jim Carrey and Matthew Broderick about a man stalked by the psychotic cable company worker he makes friends with.
Children Of The Revolution, about the 'love child' of Josef Stalin.
The Chumscrubber
Citizen Ruth, a satire about the abortion rights battle.
Crazy People
La Comunidad
Dead Man On Campus, about the urban legend of a roommate's suicide and the resulting perfect grades in college
Death Becomes Her, about the downsides of immortality.
Death To Smoochy, a corrupt former children's TV icon plots revenge against his fuzzy purple replacement.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, a satirical film about an insane American General who orders a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, filmed during the Cold War.
Drop Dead Gorgeous, a parody of a beauty pageant for teenage girls in a small Minnesota town.
Eating Raoul, about a prudish couple who kill rich swingers by luring them to their apartment.
Fargo, a debt-ridden car salesman hires incompetent criminals to kidnap his wife in order to get a ransom from his rich father-in-law.
Four Rooms, four vignettes centered around a hapless bell boy, involving witchcraft, a rotting corpse, and a severed finger.
Grace Quigley, a film about euthanasia
Grosse Pointe Blank, about a hitman who returns to his hometown to attend his high school reunion.
Happiness deals unflinchingly with subjects designed to make audiences squirm (from suicide, rape, murder, pedophilia, and childhood masturbation). The treatment of the subjects is blunt, but also gleefully absurdist.
Harold and Maude, in which an alienated young man obsessed with staged suicides and the funerals of strangers falls in love with a vivacious octogenarian.
The Hospital, the story of a chief of surgery who is trying to figure out why a number of hospital employees begin dying under strange circumstances.
Heathers, about a disaffected, jaded couple who start killing members of popular cliques at their high school.
Intolerable Cruelty about a divorce attorney and a gold-digger.
Kind Hearts and Coronets, Ealing comedy in which the main character assassinates members of an aristocratic family to inherit a Dukedom.
The King of Comedy
The Ladykillers' (1955) and (2004) versions; a criminal professor tries to perform a sophisticated robbery while fooling an old woman.
The Last Supper, about a group of liberal grad students who proceed to murder right-wing individuals they cannot reform.
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, about three orphans who go through many tragic experiences.
The Life Aquatic Bill Murray leads a group of explorers on a revenge mission to kill a shark.
The Little Shop of Horrors, also directed by Roger Corman, features a nerd who resorts to murder in order to feed his blood-hungry talking plant. Remade as a musical, which later became a film in 1986.
Little Murders, written by Jules Feiffer
Live Freaky!, Die Freaky!
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, a Guy Ritchie film about the seedy underside of London crime.
Lolita - film version of the novel.
LolliLove, mockumentary about a wealthy, egotistical couple who believe they can change the lives of homeless people by giving them a lollipop with a life-affirming message on it - includes actual homeless people in the cast, and humor around the holocaust, bulimia, cleft palates, AIDS, and so on.
Loot by Joe Orton, dramatist of several black comedies.
The Loved One, film version of the Waugh novel.
Man Bites Dog, a disturbing mockumentary about a merciless hitman who takes a camera crew on a tour of his routine.
Monsieur Verdoux, about a suave serial killer who commits his crimes to support his family.
Penn & Teller Get Killed, in which the comedians/magicians are tracked by an assassin trying to kill them.
The Player, a satirical look at a Hollywood studio executive who is blackmailed for murder by an unknown screenwriter.
Prizzi's Honor, in which a Mafia hitman and hitwoman fall in love.
The Ruling Class, about an insane British nobleman who thinks he's Jesus.
Ruthless People, in which a businessman makes several failed attempts to kill is wife, and then celebrates when an inept husband and wife team kidnap her.
Serial Mom, about a suburban housewife who happens to be a serial killer.
Schizopolis, about a man working for a Scientology-like self-help corporation called Eventualism
Slither, gory dark humor infuses the story of an alien plague taking over a small town.
S.O.B., about a film director who turns a family-oriented flop musical into a hit psycho-sexual thriller.
Snatch a collection of inter-connecting mafia stories in London.
Swimming with Sharks
Thank You for Smoking, about an unapologetic but arguably likeable lobbyist for the tobacco industry.
Throw Momma from the Train, a comedic retelling of Hitchcock's thriller Strangers on a Train.
To Be or Not to Be, about the Nazi occupation of Poland during World War II.
Very Bad Things, about a group of friends who accidentally kill a hooker and murder a bellhop during a bachelor party. After burying the bodies, they begin killing each other when they fear that one of them might confess.
Visitor Q, absurdist, taboo-laden Japanese film with surprisingly moralistic undertones about the twisted redemption of a dysfunctional family involved in incest, rape, necrophilia, murder and mother-abuse.
The War of the Roses, about a couple going through a nasty divorce while still trying to live in the same house.
Weekend at Bernie's, two employees spend a weekend with the corpse of their former boss, while avoiding a mafia hitman and still trying to have fun and sexual misadventures.
What Are You Doing After the Orgy?, Swedish film from 1970.
The Wrong Box, from the story by Robert Louis Stevenson about the members of a tontine.



Wes Anderson
Stanley Kubrick
Alexander Payne
David Lynch
Joel and Ethan Coen
James Gunn
John Waters
Luis Buñuel
Trey Parker
Peter Jackson
Sam Raimi
Terry Zwigoff
Tim Burton
Quentin Tarantino
Terry Gilliam

See also

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This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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