The Origins of a Dark Sense of Humor

Unlike the humor of parodies, satires, and slapstick pratfalls, dark humor derives fun out of the not-so-funny events in life. Dark humor, also known as gallows humor, is a juxtaposition of morbid elements coupled with a comical spin. This type of comedy plays a part in theater, movies, television, works of literature, and now social media. 

The Greeks And Dark Satire

greek literatureSource: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

Greek literature and plays, peppered with dark humor, garnered laughter in this humor’s earliest form. One such early Greek playwright that dabbled in this type of theatrics is Aristophanes. His famous plays hid grotesque comedic ridicule of the most political and powerful people. Aristophanes also mocked the time’s cultural issues, which provided a glimpse into the social outlook of ancient Greece.

A Dark Freudian Slip

Sigmund freudSource: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

Sigmund Freud wrote papers, conducted studies, and spoke on an idea regarding the correlation between dark humor and the psyche. One such view more or less pertained to how some humans derive pleasure in sharing with others their off-kilter comedic outlook on a horrific situation. Like when the teller of a dark joke receives a fulfilling pleasure through another person’s laughter or display of disgust every time they tell the morbid joke.

A Whimsical Look At The Art Of Warfare

Even the atrocities of war weren’t safe from pitch black whimsy.

dark humorSource: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

The 1961 famed literary work by Joseph Heller, Catch 22, centers around a comical look at the climate of the Second World War and Captain John Yossarian’s efforts to stay alive.

Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five is a science fiction based anti-war book. It takes the reader on a dark, tongue-in-cheek trip through the life of character Billy Pilgrim.

Dark Comedy On The Big Screen

Movies have portrayed the same contradictive push and pull of the Greek tragic comedies that came centuries before. One movie representative of dark humor is Dr. Strangelove by Stanley Kubrick. He looks at the Cold War with a satirical side-eye. Monty Python’s History Of The World takes a look at the less hilarious historical events throughout periods in time, including war, famine, scourge, and disasters of biblical proportions.

Gallows humor has cast its dark shadow from the past into the present by way of social media. Those funny little memes and jokes that aim at the more appalling events in the here and now. However, there is nothing that stands the test of time like a dark joke. I’ll Never forget my dad’s last words to me just before he died. “Are you still holding the ladder?”


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