Okay, so I have this girl friend. She’s not my girlfriend, she’s my girl friend. Anyway her name is Jill. That’s not her real name, well actually it is. But for the sake of discretion, let’s pretend it isn’t. So if you think you know who I’m talking about – or should I say whom I’m talking about or of whom I am talking – you don’t. At least pretend you don’t. Not that she’d actually care! I mean, it’s not as though I’ve said anything nasty about her. Not yet anyway. Maybe she doesn’t even read this stuff. So unless you tell her, how’s she going to know? Besides I don’t plan to say anything nasty about Jill. Or about anyone else for that matter. It’s not my intention. If I’m going to be nasty I’ll be far more subtle about it. I’m just trying to relate some information, that’s all. I want to share something with you.
Anyway, I have this friend, Jill, and she says she has a black sense of humour. I get it, the “dark side”, the “macabre”. Maybe even just “dry”. But just in case I don’t fully fathom the gist of the expression, I figured I should do a bit of research. In my limited sphere of investigative journalism that translates into checking what Wikipedia has to say on the topic. So what I’ve discovered – in a word – is that black humour is about being politically incorrect. It deals with delicate subjects, things we’re instinctively wary of satirizing, like ballet. It was Jill who first introduced me to this “genre”. How’s that for attempting to turn this dribble to an artistic exposition! She mockingly blurted out, “Ballet is stupid!” Honestly, to this day, I have no idea on earth why she said that or how the subject even surfaced in our otherwise contained conversation. We were merely going somewhere for a civilized cup of coffee (strong, black, double-shot Espresso, spoon-stand-straight-up-in-the-mug coffee), but nothing approaching anything weird or hideous. That’s the thing about Jill, out of nowhere come these sudden and private revelations which clearly have the force of studied examination. It’s like tapping into a mine! You never know what you’ll hear.
But I’m getting lost in this so here’s what I found on the web (summarized and editorialized to fit your screen):
A black comedy (or dark comedy) is a comic work that employs farce and morbid humor, which, in its simplest form, is humor that makes light of subject matter usually considered taboo. Black humor corresponds to the earlier concept of gallows humour. Black comedy is often controversial due to its subject matter.
The term black humour was coined by the surrealist theoretician André Breton in 1935 to designate a subgenre of comedy and satire in which laughter arises from cynicism and skepticism.
Popular themes of the genre include murder, suicide, depression, abuse, mutilation, war, religion, barbarism, drug abuse, terminal illness, domestic violence, rape, pedophilia, child sexual abuse, insanity, nightmare, disease, racism, homophobia, sexism, disability (both physical and mental), chauvinism, terrorism, genocide, political corruption, torture, and crime.
Comedians, like Lenny Bruce, that since the late 1950s have been labeled for using “sick comedy” by mainstream journalists, have also been labeled with “black comedy”.
By contrast, blue comedy focuses more on crude topics such as nudity, sex, and bodily fluids. Although the two are interrelated, black comedy is different from straightforward obscenity in that it is more subtle and does not necessarily have the explicit intention of offending people.
If you’re still having trouble grasping the concept, think of the movie “Dr. Strangelove”:
Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr. Strangelove presents one of the best-known mainstream examples of black comedy. The subject of the film is nuclear warfare and the possible annihilation 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 instead 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.
So I left off by saying that when Jill gets going on something – and it’s usually something venomously funny – it’s like an eruption, a gusher! She has cultivated incredibly peculiar observations, no doubt the product of years of artistic training (pointedly doing comical things like drawing cartoons – real cartoons, not the computer-generated ones) and her fraternity with zany colleagues who give unspeakably lewd Christmas gifts. Jill prefers to excuse her black humour by blaming a decade of lost hopes and foundered dreams, but I know she had it in her long before that. She has the capacity to see the absurd in society’s cherished customs and undertakings. Take synchronized swimming for example, just another of the unfortunate targets of Jill’s toxic humour. Her dramatic rendition of see-saw hand movements and neck-breaking Janus-faced turns is guaranteed to have you in convulsions of laughter! But it certainly isn’t these Olympic-style artistic expressions which monopolize her concentration. You should hear Jill’s muted account of her former employer attempting to be “one of the boys”! What is so killing is her aptness at capturing the cynical thoughts of the actors involved. To Jill there is nothing black about her humour, it’s the truth! She’s not attempting to taint the reality or dim the fidelity through obscurity, just the opposite. She touches that raw element of sometimes hideous candour.
So where was I going with this monologue? I appear to have lost the thread for which I trust you will excuse me. Oh yes, my friend Jill. And about how ballet is stupid. I guess that’s all, nothing more. There.