I heard that people who appreciate dark humor are more intelligent on average.

I also read the following:

Willinger and her team said their findings suggested black humour processing is a “complex information-processing task”.

But that's not true as some dark humor is rather simple and dull. Like saying "These burnt corpses reminds me of the burnt corpse in Skyrim", which is just a simple observation.

So how do we determine if something is dark humor or not. Is there a set of criteria for determining it?

I assume something like "She used to be a soldier until she took a bullet to the knee" would be considered dark humor.

I am asking, because I want to write a short story with a lot of dark humor.

  • 11
    Those are terrible dark humor examples and I'm not even sure they count.... How about this “Say what you want about the deaf…”
    – Shadowzee
    Feb 1, 2019 at 3:50
  • 2
    It's an alien experiment, obviously. Feb 1, 2019 at 8:11
  • 4
    Quoting skyrim is just a pop-culture reference, it hasn't much to do with dark humor per-se.
    – Liquid
    Feb 1, 2019 at 11:19
  • 4
    You have a couple of comments here saying "The question, although not explicitly stated, was..." Just like dark humor must actually be funny to count as such, a question must be explicitly stated to count as a question. (Don't edit this one though, because you'll invalidate the answers.)
    – Cyn
    Feb 1, 2019 at 15:05
  • Is there a reason why this keeps getting downvoted for no reason? There's no comment that points out the reason why.
    – Sayaman
    Feb 3, 2019 at 3:48

6 Answers 6


Dark humour is more about the situation. The theme can be anything - including death and dismemberment. A soldier in battle could notice a fallen comrade and remark about a poker debt he will never collect.

Dark humour can be used as a defence mechanism, distancing a person from tragedy and misery if only for a moment.

In Les Miserables, Thenardier inadvertently saves the life of Colonel Pontmercy by reviving him while rifling through his pockets. He was robbing the dead. The contrast between his intentions and the recipient’s perception of it, which leads him to offer a reward, has some humour to it.

She used to be a soldier until she took a bullet to the knee

That strikes me as a simple statement of fact regarding an injury that ended a career. Dark, but humorous? Not really.

There is often contrast in humour.

She used to be a soldier until she broke a nail’ - but that shows a weak commitment.

Write your story and use some humour to leaven it. Dark stories tend to invite dark humour.

I have a scene where a character has been given sodium pentothal and is about to be interrogated. Before it takes effect, I have this brief exchange.

Looking into Edgar’s eyes, Alex said, “If I confess to something I didn’t do, just shoot me.”

“I will render you unconscious first, if you keep talking then I will shoot you.”

My character also tries to refuse the drug - saying he’s cutting back on his salt.

Humour is often about the absurdity of life, which can be found in almost any situation.

Create a witty character and see how he or she sees the world.

  • Are you saying those aren't instanced of dark humor, because it's not funny? What are the criteria aside being dark and funny and is there an objective way to assess whether a joke is funny?
    – Sayaman
    Feb 1, 2019 at 11:46
  • 4
    @repomonster Is your real name Data? youtube.com/watch?v=vfF4Jq478_s
    – user30254
    Feb 1, 2019 at 14:45
  • 3
    @repomonster - Humour by definition must be funny. It can be mildly so or completely hilarious. Not everyone will find it funny, but those with more of a wry humour will. It need not elicit a laugh or guffaw, but a smile. It is said that certain words sound funny but that does not mean using those words will make something funny. Contrast, surprise and pulling humour out of a situation where it seems unlikely but is essential to a character can give a wry twist to a dark scene
    – Rasdashan
    Feb 1, 2019 at 17:00
  • I am not sure if I am insane, but I find those two mildly funny. Does that make them bad jokes?
    – Sayaman
    Feb 1, 2019 at 17:01
  • Mildly funny is fine. Each has a different sense of humour, but if the soldier getting shot makes you chuckle, you migh have to reframe it to make it more evident as a quip. There is an old movie that I cannot watch without laughing and it has a scene of very black humour. An artist has lost his vision and describes his masterpiece to a colleague - unaware that it is but a smear. Her reaction to this and disappeance from his life sets it up, but the model’s apology and the artist’s realization why his friend left his life tipped it over to black humour - for me.
    – Rasdashan
    Feb 1, 2019 at 17:07

Dark humor (aka black humor) is about finding something funny in a difficult situation, one where humor is usually not acceptable.

Dark humor is not about being offensive. While some humor is deliberately offensive (and much unintentionally so), being "dark" has nothing to do with it. Though there can be offensive in finding humor at all in a very serious circumstance, such as murder, rape, genocide, etc. The actual jokes may or may not be offensive, depending on how they're written.

As for humor, yes, something has to be funny to count as dark humor, or any other kind. What's the measure? Humor is like selling something; you determine its worth based on how much people are willing to pay for it. It's funny if people laugh.

  • The question, although not explicitly stated, was something along the line of "what makes an unfunny dark humor joke a joke still?"
    – Sayaman
    Feb 1, 2019 at 14:59
  • 4
    If it's not funny, it's not a joke. You can have a bad joke, which used to be funny but is now overused, or that is funny to a group of people other than the ones you are speaking to (for example, fart jokes don't tend to be funny to middle-aged women). There are also times when you can tell the writer was trying to make a joke but failed utterly. To be dark humor something has to be dark and humorous. No way around that.
    – Cyn
    Feb 1, 2019 at 15:02
  • 1
    A lot of dark jokes would be funny or unfunny depending on who's telling them. Going with @hszmv's Saint Lawrence example, imagine if it were the Romans making the same joke - that would be cruel. Feb 1, 2019 at 22:11
  • 2
    @Galastel well it's a much larger discussion about what humor means, when something is or isn't funny, etc. My point was just that, to be funny, somebody's got to laugh. And yes, who tells the joke is pretty important.
    – Cyn
    Feb 1, 2019 at 23:30

One of the best known examples of Dark Humor that I can think of on the spot was the line from the first Harry Potter film:

Hermione: I'm going to bed before either of you get us killed or worse... expelled

Ron: (To Harry) She needs to get her priorities straight.

Another real life example would be Saint Lawrence of Rome, an early Christian Martyr who is believed to have been executed for his faith by being grilled alive. During the process of his execution, he yelled at his executioner "Turn me over, I'm done on this side!" For this, Saint Lawrence became the patron Saint of, among other things, "Cooks, Chefs, and Comedians". The last one was certainly deserved without the line as Saint Lawrence was famous in his day for his collection of Joke Books that he would read from to any and all dinner guests (apparently, they he favored the Dad Jokes) so clearly he died as he lived, telling groan inducing jokes. The other two patrons... yeah, that's dark on the churches part.

Your first example is not a joke at all, just an ovservation and will fall flat without some serious work. Your second one, maybe, but it's more of setting the situation. For example, if it's an episode of CSI: Miami and Horatio Cane is rolling up to the scene of a dead video gamer and the coroner learns that COD was "a gunshot wound severing the Superficial Femorial Artery just above the Poplitical artery, causing bleed out. She was dead in minutes, poor baby". Cane stands and begins to take out his sunglasses.

"So what you're saying is he used to be an adventurer," Cane puts his glasses on, "Before he took a bullet to the Knee."


Sorry... Sorry... couldn't resist.

Here it's funny because it's summing up a very grim situation, in a very funny way. The joke isn't inappropriate in the sense that it's an offensive joke or covers offensive materials. It's offense comes from the dis-congruity of a CSI summing up a murder in such a fashion. The TV show didn't help by cutting to the theme song, The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" which starts with a loud drawn out shouting of "Yeah", making it seem that Cane quipped solely for the amusement of some DudeBro watching just off screen and following Cane everywhere. In fact, it was mostly the drawn out scream that generated the humor because of how inappropriate it seemed. All the CSI's did this. Back when CSI was just one show, Grissom (Cane's equivalent in that show) was almost exclusively the character to get this because his character was quirky and went to show that he dealt with situations with an off color humor. The jokes most got minor cracks of laughter but weren't as outrageous as Canes appeared to be.

One of the most beloved villains on Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the Mayor, who was hinted at in Season 2 as being someone the towns folk in on his scheme feared, but only appeared on camera in Season 3... and had a public persona that was so squeaky clean, he was practically a living breathing sitcom dad, full of platitudes and pleasantness... so we get to see his office where he is in private. He's talking about his plans and opens a book case to a collection of nasty pentagrams, skulls, candles, and other occult looking things. He reaches in and pulls out... a sanitary wipe and proceeds to clean his hands because he's also a germophobe of the highest order. This character was as chipper and sunny in private (where he was also perfectly willing to discuss all manor of black magic practices) as he was in public. The character is Black Comedy incarnate because he can be so lovable and so evil in the same scene. Buffy did have a lot of dark humor, but the Mayor was the cherry on top.


Humor is notoriously difficult to analyze. Different cultures have different senses of humor, and so do different individuals and different generations. A lot of times you need to "be on the right wavelength" to get the joke.

Dark humor is basically something that would normally arouse negative feelings such as horror, fear, sadness, pity or disgust, but that instead makes you laugh --sometimes in spite of the nastiness of it, but just as often because of it. It can sometimes be the funniest humor, because it's intensified by the underlying negativity, and the need for a release.

I wouldn't advise pursuing dark humor unless you have a natural gift for it. (To be brutally honest, this seems unlikely, given your examples. :o ) Some people just tend to find the humor in dark situations. A normal joke that falls flat is harmless, but dark humor that fails can get you in serious serious trouble. If you want to work on dark material, I would just write it as it comes to you, without forcing the humor --everyone will view it through their own lens anyway. For example, my wife and I both love the movie Welcome to the Dollhouse. But she views it as a comedy, and I see it as a tragedy.

  • 1
    Loved that movie. It's both!
    – Cyn
    Feb 1, 2019 at 14:47
  • but are my dark humor jokes unfunny dark humor jokes then? I wasn't trying to be funny, I just needed some good examples that aren't funny, but could technically be passed as dark humor jokes.
    – Sayaman
    Feb 1, 2019 at 14:54
  • 1
    No, they aren't dark humor. Because they're not funny. And now I see they aren't failed attempts at humor; you weren't even trying!
    – Cyn
    Feb 1, 2019 at 15:03
  • 1
    @repomonster - But humor isn't objective. Otherwise it wouldn't be the case that people find such different things funny. Feb 1, 2019 at 15:12
  • 1
    @repomonster Ah, now I understand. You're a philosopher, interested in the science of humor. That's an interesting topic, although not necessarily the right one for this forum. But if you're looking for formulas, how about this one. Surprise + Taboo + Absurdity = Dark Humor. Your examples don't count because they have nothing in them to surprise you. Feb 1, 2019 at 15:34

The Dark part of "dark humor" is easy. It just has to be dark, and I think you got that. The question is what is humor. Humor is something that people find funny. As others have stated it is very hard to explain or nail down, but I am going to try.

Humor is an evolutionary behavior that humans have learned to make it easier to change your mind about something. I know this sounds weird but stick with me. Humans find it very hard to be wrong. When someone tells you you are wrong the natural instinct very of ten is to dig in. When a person acts in some way, then realities that they are incorrect they are very likely to just keep going the wrong way to save their ego.

This is where funny comes in. If we think something is one thing, but then we realize it's another we laugh, release endorphins, feel good and change our mind. Like a caveman hearing rustling in the bushes, "is that a tiger?" "No it was a rabbit, hahaha"

So humor, or a joke is something that sets us up to think one way, and then abruptly takes us down a different significant path. The more abrupt the turn, the funnier something is.

Let's take the classic joke "why did the chicken cross the road". Why is it funny? Because the audience thinks that they are going to get a punchline, but they don't. When this turn happens people laugh. Also this is why a joke is not funny a second time. Once we know the turn, we expect it and our mind is not changed.

So now we can come back to dark humor.Dark humor makes this turn using a dark subject. This often involves death, pain or such. These things put people into very ridge mindsets. Because of that it is often easier to make a twist when society has set the lanes much more tightly.

If I ask you "How do you get 100 apples in a box?" and the answer is "with a blender" it's not funny, because we don't really feel ridged about apples. Whatever happens to them does not matter, I did not alter your perception of anything by saying that. There was no perceivable turn. I will now just leave you with the same idea but using something where your thinking is a lot more set in it's lanes.

How do you get 100 dead babies into a box?
With a blender! How do you get them out?
With a bag of chips.

  • The question, although not explicitly stated, was something along the line of "what makes an unfunny dark humor joke a joke still?"
    – Sayaman
    Feb 1, 2019 at 14:58
  • 1
    @repomonster sorry I did not get that from the question. I am going to stick to my answer though, it's a joke, more importantly it's a punchline if it tries to alter your preconception in a jarring way. Weather or not it's funny, depends on if it successfully make the turn in the reader's head.
    – Andrey
    Feb 1, 2019 at 16:50

Dark humor is pretty simply... its offensive and funny. Now expressing a Dark joke can be hard and fly over most peoples head, especially when you write it on paper where tone and pacing aren't present and you have no way to imply actions without disturbing the joke. So instead of having some fun, you just leave a bunch of people confused or offended which isn't exactly good for your reputation.

For example, when I read "She used to be a soldier until she took a bullet to the knee" I don't see a joke. Being a soldier or getting discharged isn't offensive or funny. Taking a bullet to the knee is at best a parady of skyrims arrow to the knee, which was neither funny or offensive. Simply a meme all over the internet. So your joke has flow over my head, failed to offend me, and failed to be a joke to me.

Now if I change that to, "She used to be a soldier until she got on her knees" its a bit darker in my opinion. (Take a pause here and see if you can spot the joke) For me, the implication of "got on her knees" implies a sexual act, but not everyone will see this, in which case your joke has failed. Its a bit better than "bullet to the knee" which I think people will interpret literally. Finally, to try and seal the joke, you add in some extra dialogue from a nearby character "And a load on her face". And to really nail it home, have someone making blowjob actions nearby.

There is no way for you to tell if black humor is going to work or judge if your humor is dark enough. Why? it depends on your target audience. What do they find offensive and far do they read into it? A skyrim joke is meaningless to me. A rape joke could be too offensive and an anti-vax joke could be just the write amount of offensive to funny to work.

  • The question, although not explicitly stated, was something along the line of "what makes an unfunny dark humor joke a joke still?"
    – Sayaman
    Feb 1, 2019 at 14:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.