Why do we laugh about the morally bad (seriousness is a moral category), about discrimination, pain, offences, grief, hurting, and the like? What is funny about de Sade writing in Juliette about chairs and tables made of naked women? Wherein lies the humour of Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s short story “The Swan-Killer” about a man choking a black swan in order to listen the swans’ beautiful song? Or why did the joke “the birthrate in Austria is in the basement” took its course after the scandal of Joseph Fritzl (locking up his own daughter for about 24 years and fathering her several times) became public?
Usually we wouldn’t laugh about all of this when we could cut into such situations by acting on ourselves.
In short, why is black humour funny?
Black humour isn’t (spiteful, affectionate, or overcoming) schadenfreude. Neither is it sarcasm nor cynicism nor a resigned nor fatalistic laughter. The reason is, they all are applied in interactive situations whereas black humour isn’t.
Anyway, I cannot answer the question why it is funny and why we do laugh. Rather I try to describe some of the black humour experience and show ways of its justification.
First, take the daring Fritzl-joke. After his bestiality became public people fell into sensationalism. Just to name two examples. The Austrian weekly newspaper News published “Die Memoiren eines Monsters” (“The memoirs of a monster”) accompanied by a large-scaled advertising. Besides, people wanted to know how Fritzl’s daughter, and their children, look like. The Austrian daily newspaper Österreich (which probably actually didn’t know how she looks like) presented a computer simulated picture of her (on the basis of a photograph of her before she was maltreated and raped) how she may look like today – restricted with the ridiculous remark that this “picture” (age simulation) was manipulated in order to protect her from being recognised. Rather abysmally wicked was a Belgian photographer (and his clients). Papers were ready to pay 200.000 € for a photo of the Fritzl family. This photographer masqueraded as a therapist, sneaked into the clinic, and entered the family’s therapy session. Thus, this black joke has an ironic function. It’s to reveal the sensational masses: they are absolutely morally degenerated. Many would be offended by this joke, although they supported this horrible journalism. (Hence, the joke doesn’t refer to the Fritzl family, rather to those being cruelly interested in then.) Of course this joke has its value of its own. “In the basement” means in German “low”. Actually the birthrate in Austria is low. But it was raised by Joseph Fritzl.
Second, the whims of de Sade and Villiers de l’Isle-Adam are totally surprising and unusual. (Furthermore) they are aesthetic through and through. So because of this uniqueness it’s difficult to determine the path they beaten towards their morally bad action.
Third, we find black humour to be a way of dealing with one’s own weaknesses and failures. Certain ideas of perfectionism and normality tend to extinguish individuality and human reality.
As a matter of course one could give many more examples, functions, and the like. (Black humour can be used against the absolutism of political correctness, against certain arguments or ideas, as over-exaggeration, and so on.) But this should be enough for the moment. Finally let me give a summing-up: black humour has critical and liberating functions and operates in a situation in which we are relieved from action.
A perfect example are some of the comic strips the ingenious Danish duo Wulffmorgenthaler (Anders Morgenthaler: comic artist, children’s book author, film director, creator of children’s TV show; Mikael Wulff: illustrator, comedian) creates.
What do you think about black humour and Wulffmorgenthaler? Do you think all of the comic strips are funny or some are not?
WARNING! Since this is about black humour, some of the comic strips maybe really offending to some people. Please do not have a look if you are easy to hurt by rude and rough humour!