By Martha Reed
I’ve been grappling with a chapter in my new novel and it’s been rough going. I know the reason why: one of the characters has to deal with an emotional issue and that’s not my favorite arena. I prefer light-hearted action but this story really required that I dig in and dig deep, so I did. As I worked through the transition, I was focused on the reactions of the other characters when building my outline and then I discovered that when I went back to my protagonist something had happened: she was funny.
It wasn’t pleasant humor. It certainly wasn't light-hearted but it was funny. At first glance I wondered if funny was appropriate, given the situation but the more I thought about it the more I realized how often writers use dark humor to diffuse tough emotional situations. Mel Brooks is a past master of this type of thing: the perfect example is the musical number Springtime for Hitler from his classic 1968 movie The Producers:
Now tell me there is any way you can watch this and not cringe even while admitting the man is barking mad. It’s still happening out there, too: I cringed throughout the entirety of SlumDog Millionaire – exhausted when it was over and feeling uplifted but when I looked back on the whole gruesome storyline I wondered: ‘How did they do that’?
There’s another example of dark viral humor running around the Internet that I wanted to share. Canadian musician Dave Carroll says United Airlines broke his Taylor guitar and since they wouldn’t listen to him he wrote a song about it. I think his approach is hilarious – his music video has over four million (4M!) YouTube hits and United felt enough pressure from it to go public with an apology and make an offer of restitution.
This reminds me of some of the good old Saturday Night Live skits. What do you think?