An Overview of Black Comedy
In May of 2015 Louis CK spoke about child molesters, saying “there is no worse life available to a human than being a caught child molester, and yet they still do it. Which from, you can only really surmise, that it must be really good”. He then went on to compare his love for the candy bar Mounds, to child molesters’ pedophilia. Now I am not saying that this joke is funny, or that you should find it funny, but I believe that this joke has value and that all black comedy has value. The child molester joke delivered to audiences of SNL brought Louis CK under extreme criticism with many people saying that he crossed a line, but his raunchy joke brought the topic of child molestation out of the dark and under the spotlight. This is not a bad thing as well, due to the increase of child molester priests being caught. Whether you like it or not, specific black comedy is beneficial to audiences as well as the preforms and writers of the black comedy.
Black comedy is therapeutic for audiences. The taboo topics that appear in black comedy, if done well, can produce laughter which is a major stress reliever for audiences who may be experiencing the same hardships as the character presented. A study conducted by Sven Svebak, a Professor at the The Norwegian University of Science and Technology, looking at the survival rate of patients with end stage renal failure found that patients with a higher sense of humor than the median of the group studied were 31% more likely to survive. In the study they also observed age, gender, education, duration of the disease, number of dialysis per week, and co-morbidity, found them to be insignificant to the survival rate of the patients. Although this doesn’t correlate directly with black comedy it does show how the effects of laughter or the ability to find something funny is useful. Also, similar to the child molestation joke, black comedy allows people to ring up taboo topics and act on them. When 9/11 happened it broke the nation. Nobody thought anything would be funny again especially not anything having to do with the attacks, until a well crafted Onion article appeared. The article was well crafted because it was poking fun at the people who caused the tragedy and put them in a terrible situation rather than making fun of the victims. In an article written by Stephen Hoban about the role of comedy after a tragedy he said, “Normally, we wouldn’t describe our reason for enjoying comedy as comfort, but comedy might be more immediate and central to our healing than even our political leader”. I believe this is exactly what The Onion article did for the US, providing comfort in a time when comfort was a rare commodity.
Black comedy is therapeutic for the performers and brings up the topic in an organic way? In the movie 50/50, a comedy-drama, a young man who doesn’t do anything to endanger himself finds out that he has cancer. The movie is about the way that he and his loved ones deal with the unexpected cancer. The performers in this movie go through things similar to what a person who has cancer would actually go through, like shaving their head and seeing people who are in similar situations to them die to the disease. Through the performance the actors involved with the movie can better understand the stress that a person and their family members go through when dealing with something as serious as this. The same can be said for movies about other tragic things. Similar to 50/50 Tig Notaro uses comedy to show a tragic experience that occured in her life. In a bit performed by Tig Notaro, an American stand-up comic, writer, radio contributor, and actress, she joked about her breasts wanting to get back at her for making so many flat chested jokes over the years, so they got breast cancer on purpose. This was one of the jokes that got the largest reaction from the audience. The joke is extremely beneficial for Tig Notaro herself because it allows her to have positive memories associated with breast cancer rather than just negative ones. Using her own personal suffering she spins it in a way that the audience understands and people can watch and understand what was going on. It also allows Tig Notaro to talk about something that you can’t really talk about in your daily lives because it can feel like a burden for people. Which leads into an internet video that recently gained a lot of popularity. In this video people were playing the a video game called VR Chat. This game involves people wearing VR goggles and using handheld controllers to interact with other people in virtual reality while being wacky avatar. In this internet video a kid talks about being bullied and not having a lot of friends all while having the avatar of kermit the frog. This is ironic because kermit the frog is supposed to be a jolly, fun-loving character from a kid’s TV show and would never talk about something with this serious tone. The outlet given to this kid by having a funny avatar made it easier for to listen to the content that he was saying and put a light hearted tone it what otherwise would be a very serious talk. A large part of why this was good and not bad was that
While black comedy is a great tool, it should not be used to avoid something. Black comedy cannot be used to brush aside a topic and not have a conversation about it. One correct use of the black comedy tool was when Seth MacFarlane made a joke about Harvey Weinstein before all of the allegations came out that he did terrible things. This joke was used to spark conversation about the horrendous acts and was used as an underling warning to the acting community about Harvey Weinstein. However in the case of Louis CK his jokes about masturbating in front of his coworkers, was used as a tool to brush off the things that he did and say it was just a joke. Avoiding the horrendous acts is not what black comedy is meant to do and is not what black comedy should be used for. There is also a time specifically between a major disaster such as 9/11 when people don’t feel like it is right to do comedy, and that is ok. Good comedy takes time and people using the dark topics to create comedy that is beneficial should not be rushed.
Black comedy is a tool, and when used correctly it can benefit the people performing the comedy as well as the audience watching the comedy. Laughter itself is a very powerful tool and can have major health benefits which is why it is so important to have comedians create humor about dark topics because that is when we need to laugh the most.