– Satyakam Ray
Here goes a 100% true story. Once, an IAS officer, respected for his work ethic and integrity, retired from service. His phone, emails, and social media accounts were inundated with congratulatory messages. But one question kept asking him what he would do to kill time. All the questions were good-intended, though they bothered 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 his composure graciously. In the meantime, the bureaucrat was calm like a cucumber, as if nothing had happened. That is a typical example of dark humor.
What’s Dark humor?
Dark humor, also known as black humor or gallows humor, is a comedy that deals with tough or taboo subjects like death, violence, sexuality, or discrimination light-heartedly. The dark comedy has broader aspects, while gallows comedy deals more specifically with death. Study shows that people who understand dark comedy have more I.Q. and are less prone to extreme behavior. It requires guts to appreciate dark comedy.
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 people who make themselves comfortable watching daily events. The calm demeanor of these persons might cause 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 on the context– whether the victim or someone else tells the joke. A minor sensitivity is also required while doing dark comedy, as it often dangles on the borderline of morality and unacceptable behavior.
A dark joke goes like this – if one door closes and one opens, your house is probably haunted! A reader might think after the door opens and closes, 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.
Dark humor: examples in History
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. The head dropped into the culprit’s hand as he raised himself, immediately aiming 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 (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. Inspired by that moment, Nike, the sports shoe company, created the tagline.
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 discuss if they were numbered in the covid death registrar.
We might unlikely find dark comedy funny or even consider it an art form. But the dark humor will survive as a substitute for all-too-good positivity vibes with self-deprecating morbid jokes. The Indian mentality is too retrogressive. Better to use it after a look at the audience!
The comedy clubs that sprouted up in every nook and corner of the metropolitan cities now use dark comedy to entertain the urban crowd. It belongs to the blue comedy but comes under the reach of the dark comedy. Mainly the jokes are based on the sexuality of both genders. It’s a welcome sign that young men and women are expressing themselves openly and exploring many taboo subjects until now, which have never been heard about 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 participants can comment on sexuality, intimate relationship, work, and even race. The roasting often crosses the line, and the situation becomes ugly. A liberal attitude and thick skin must digest the roasting without getting offended. Indian comedians don’t enjoy the privilege of foreign dark comedy artists. A few years ago, AIB, an Indian comedy group, 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 seen in many comedies or talk shows. It’s a form of body shaming that comes under dark humor. In the Kapil Sharma show, the master entertainer Mr. Sharma often jokes about body fats, height, color, or even the size of the lips! Due to the fear of getting booked by any religious or right-wing group, the artists practicing dark comedy often hide all the armor (jokes) while presenting it to the Indian audience. It will take years for the Indian audience to enjoy the dark comedy.
For now, 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 visited the ghats and decided to bathe 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!!
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