Black comedy  

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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 purpose of black comedy is to make light of serious and often taboo subject matter, and some comedians use it as a tool for exploring vulgar issues, thus provoking discomfort and serious thought as well as amusement in their audience. Popular themes of the genre include murder, suicide, depression, abuse, mutilation, war, barbarism, drug abuse, terminal illness, domestic violence, sexual violence, paedophilia, insanity, nightmare, disease, racism, homophobia, sexism, disability (both physical and mental), chauvinism, corruption, and crime.



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.

Notable directors of black comedy films include Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, The Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese, Ralph Bakshi, Peter Jackson, & Stanley Kubrick.

Today, black comedy can be found in almost all forms of media.

In the United States

American black comedy

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.


In France

French black comedy

Anthology of Black Humor, first published in 1940 as Anthologie de l'humour noir (Paris, Éditions du Sagittaire) is an anthology of 'black humor' texts edited and commented upon by André Breton.

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.


In Germany

German black comedy


  • 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



See also

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