The Art of Writing: Dark Humor

by Nichole Parks

I don’t write dark humor on my best behavior.

There’s no holding Mom’s hand in a gift shop where glass trinkets, home décor, and china tea cups are made for looking, not touching.

I don’t write on my best behavior. I break things. Mainly, walls. When humor writer Jim Watkins taught a series of lectures on writing comedy, he explained how comedy effectively reaches the heart stuff by addressing the hard stuff in a light manner.

“Humor plays on taboos,” says Peter McGraw, author of The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny. “It talks about things that are wrong. You have to act a little foolishly and disclose information that makes people laugh.”

Dark humor is satire that addresses ugly topics (torture, for example, and environmental disaster, serial killings, or even simply fear).

You’d think dark humor would dumb down the ugly.

I mean, murder is murder. Poking fun or understating that tragedy would be a crime in itself. It’s easy to say you can take the darkness out of the humor. But you can’t take the humor out of the dark. Every darkness has its monster. When I was little, the monsters hid under the bed or in the closet. Now that I’m bigger, the monsters lie in the shadows of parking garages and behind shower curtains.

Fears like these can be so irrational. You know what else is irrational? Funny.

If you have ever spooked someone right as she’s wound up for a scary moment in the movie, you know screams can get laughs.

Nicole Parks PIC

That’s what’s special about dark humor.

Dear person reading, when terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad days happen, I don’t have the finances to pick up and move to Australia. Which means I’m stuck in my depressing circumstances. Which also means I’m forced to deal with them or become obsessed with them. Which might make me go crazy.

I need to compartmentalize. I have to break the situation down before it breaks me down.

It’s not irreverent to stave off insanity. Law enforcement officers use dark humor to soothe the hurt they witness every day. It eases stress. It creates bonds. And it actually increases empathy.

Dark humor heals deep wounds . . . and God knows we all have those.

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