– Satyakam Ray
Here goes a 100% true story. Once, an IAS officer, very respected for his work ethics and integrity, retired from service. His phone, emails, and social media accounts were inundated with Congratulatory messages. But one question kept on coming asking him what he would do to kill time. All the questions were good-intended though bothering the “recently retired” bureaucrat. One day upon being asked the same question again by a well-wisher friend, the soft-spoken civil servant answered he would search for his obituary in the newspapers! The former became dumbfounded for a moment before regaining the composure graciously. In the meantime, the bureaucrat was calm like cucumber as if nothing had happened. That is a typical example of dark humor.
Dark humor is also known as black humor or gallows humor, is a type of comedy that deals with very serious or taboo subjects like death, violence, sexuality, or discrimination in a light-hearted manner. It requires guts to appreciate the dark comedy. Study shows that people who understand dark comedy have more I.Q. and are less prone to extreme behavior. The dark comedy has broader aspects, while gallows comedy deals more specifically with death.
It’s a natural human instinct and often practiced among people in a profession related to dark subjects, for example- firefighters, funeral workers, soldiers, medical staff, etc. The morbid reality seldom provokes these persons who made themselves comfortable by watching the events daily. The calm demeanor of these persons might be a cause of bewilderment for general folks who rarely witness death in close quarters. For obvious reasons, they keep the joke to themselves.
However, Paul Lewis, a professor of English and humorist, warns that dark humor depends upon the context– whether the joke is told by the victim or someone else. A little bit of sensitivity is also required while doing dark comedy as it often dangles in the borderline of morality and unacceptable behavior.
A dark joke goes like this – if one door closes and one opens, then your house is probably haunted! A reader might be thinking after the door opening and closing, the second line might be you will find a way or God has a solution for every problem or something else. But the dark humor catches you unguarded with a twist.
The most famous dark story belongs to a criminal in 1825 whose last wish was to play nine-pin bowling before execution. When the game was all set to play and the criminal stopped by to bowl, the executioner struck the fatal blow at that moment. Thereby the head dropped into the culprit’s hand as he raised himself, be immediately aimed at the nine considering the head as the bowl. All nine falling, the head exclaimed loudly, “I have won the game.” That may sound gruesome to almost everyone, but the executioner had the best laugh of his life, and so did the culprit (also the last one!)!
During the French revolution, Georges- Jacques Danton told the executioner: “don’t forget to show my head to the people, it’s well worth it!” Danton had scars from smallpox. Gary Gilmore, a convict, told the firing squad, Let’s do it. Taking inspiration from that moment, Nike, the sports shoe company, came up with the tagline just do it.
In the Indian context, dark comedy is relatable after seeing so many corona deaths. In a hypothetical scenario, if the dead bodies found on the Ganga riverbed could talk to each other in their newly acquired after-life state, they might be discussing if they were numbered in the covid death registrar or not.
The Indian mentality is being too retrogressive. It’s unlikely that we might find dark comedy funny in any way or consider it as an art form even. But the dark humor will survive as a substitute for all-too-good positivity vibes with self-deprecating morbid jokes. Better to use it after a look at the audience!
The comedy clubs sprouted up in every nook and corner of the metropolitan cities are now using dark comedy to entertain the urban crowd. Mainly the jokes are based on the sexuality of both genders. It belongs to the blue comedy but comes under the reach of the dark comedy. It’s a welcome sign that both young men and women are expressing themselves openly and exploring many taboo subjects till now never heard in Indian households. Dark comedy is informal sex education for some. But still, some comedians are leveled as amoral disturbed youngsters by those who pretend to be the guardian of our “lost” culture.
In western countries, dark comedy is well established as an art form in comedy circles. Roasting is a type of dark comedy where the participants are allowed to comment on sexuality, intimate relationship, work, and even race. Many times, the roasting crosses the line, and the situation becomes ugly. A liberal attitude and thick skin are required to digest the roasting without getting offended. The Indian comedians don’t enjoy the privilege of foreign dark comedy artists. A few years ago, AIB, an Indian comedy group, had organized a roast, which received severe criticism before it went offline. Many Indian celebs enjoyed the show to the fullest, however.
Indian roasting is all about body shaming, as it seems in many comedies show or talk shows. In the Kapil Sharma show, the master entertainer Mr. Sharma often cracks jokes on body fats, height, color, or even the size of the lips! It’s a form of body-shaming but comes under the subject of dark comedy. Due to the fear of getting booked by any religious or right-wing group, the artists practicing dark comedy often hide all the armors(jokes) while presenting it to the Indian audience. It will take years for the Indian audience to enjoy the dark comedy.
For the time being, dark comedy clubs can operate in the dark only. If a Myntra logo is a disgraced pervasive creation, then appreciation of proper dark comedy is a distant dream.
Concluding the discussion, with a Ganga Jal dark comedy. Cosmetic companies often use natural and organic ingredients for their product. Imagine a situation when a famous leader of Varanasi paid a visit to the ghats and decided to take a bath at the Ganges. But, he didn’t have the shampoo packed in his million-dollar suitcase. He didn’t need to worry. Having a dip in the Ganga River, he could shine his white beard as the holy water enriched by the organic contents from the dead bodies dumped before!! Swallow that!!