What is a black comedy?
A black comedy is a genre of humor in which dark or morbid topics are addressed in a humorous and sometimes controversial manner.
Last Updated May 26, 2023.
Black or dark comedy is a genre in which dark or morbid topics are addressed in a humorous and sometimes controversially offhand manner. Black comedy can be found in many absurdist works, as the genre often takes a trivial approach to serious and taboo topics that can disrupt traditional plot structure. Many works of black comedy also deal with the futility of life and the nonsensicality of the universe, just as absurdism does.
Black is from the Old English word blæc, which is related to the Old Saxon blak, meaning “ink.” The word likely originates from the Latin flagrare, meaning “to burn,” from the Greek phlegein (“to burn, scorch”). Comedy derives from the Greek kōmōidia, a form of kōmōidos, meaning “comic poet.” The word is formed through combining kōmos (“revel”) and aidos (“singer”).
Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is an example of black comedy due to the way death is often trivialized for a humorous effect:
"Colonel Cathcart was impervious to the tingling white flashes of the four hundred guns that were going off in his head. Death was a boredom."
- Joseph Heller, "Catch-22"
Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is a play within the Theatre of the Absurd tradition that is regarded as a black comedy.
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