I think dark comedy is the greatest of all comedies.
See, the power of comedy is in subversion. Comedic timing is about delivery, so we’ll put that aside – when it comes to the heart of comedy, we’re talking about subversion. Something that comes right out of left field and catches you in the most unexpected way. A little bit like horror: if you can see it coming, it’s not going to be half as good.
(but some are just so good that even half as good as they should be, they still blow most works out of the water. We won’t go into that either)
Years ago, I went for a boot camp of sorts. The hardest thing we had to do was to stay awake through the night. The second hardest thing was something that happened during the marching drills.
We were lined up, all 20 of us, in rows of 5. We must have been about 30 or 45 minutes into the exercise. It was 3 or 4 in the morning, everyone was tired, everyone was on edge, and there would be hell to pay if we did not get our marching right. Limbs operating on autopilot, brains torn between screaming for sleep, hating the camp, and processing the commander’s orders… It was a very serious moment.
Then we were standing at attention while the commander inspected us. And then, from the back, one of the younger recruits said something to the tune of “Sir, permission to sneeze, sir.”
Held breaths all around. The commander looked up, all serious.
“Sneeze not coming sir.”
I could feel eighteen faces going blue trying to control their laughter. The commander made a small chuckle, and then said, “You all may have five seconds to laugh.”
The whole place erupted into roaring, knee-slapping laughter as the commander counted the five seconds. And at the end of it, the laughter stopped as suddenly as it started, like someone put a cap on it.
For my part, I have never needed to laugh so badly.
Ever played one of those party games where everyone is supposed to look as solemn as they can, while one guy has to go around and try to make someone laugh? Knowing that we’re not supposed to be laughing only makes it harder not to. It’s like the comedic equivalent to the forbidden fruit.
In 2012, I participated in the 48 Hour Film Project in Kuala Lumpur. The genre my team got, by chance, was Dark Comedy. After some back-and-forth concerning the lines that separated dark comedy from plain old vanilla comedy, we decided that we could safely define dark comedy as “laughing at things you’re not supposed to be laughing at”.
And this is why dark comedy is the greatest of them all.
Silly things are silly, and witty things are witty. There’s a higher calling, however, in making people say “Oh my God” and making them laugh at the same time. There’s no laugh track to tell them when to laugh. There is nothing outright silly, no clever punchlines to give them the cue to laugh. Your audience are trying not to laugh – this is serious, dammit! They are decent people, and decent people don’t laugh at things like that! You’re practically wrestling their laughter out of them, and you have to be pretty damn good at it to succeed.
My team didn’t end up making much of a black comedy as we did some sort of fantasy drama. But I’d like to leave that in the past.
Earlier this evening, as I wandered over to Reddit to avoid agonizing over what to write for today’s entry, I stumbled upon what might be dark comedy gold. I’ll spare you the details. I will, however, give you a few keywords to work with: yo momma, pigs, bestiality. For a good 15 minutes, I was convinced that I was going to laugh myself to death, at the same time feeling a repulsion like no other. It was like looking at roadkill, only funnier. Which somehow made it more disgusting. Which somehow made it even funnier.
(I don’t actually know how I’m going to end this post in a satisfying way. I’ll hate myself for doing this cliche, but it has to be done, for the greater good)
And you? What are your favorite dark comedies?