Conventional wisdom says that horror and comedy are two sides of the same coin because they rely on surprise and subversion to evoke a visceral reaction – whether that reaction is a man’s hyena laugh seeing an old woman fall down the stairs or her hyena-like screams as her zombified corpse rises to chase him through the streets.
But surprise is nowhere near as crucial to both genres as the marriage of outrage and realism. A good comedy or horror should take an outrageous premise and follow it to its logical endpoint in a way that feels uncomfortably truthful to the reader (or viewer). To be truly satisfying, comedy and horror must abandon all devices that shine and polish the uncomfortable and the taboo. Not for a momentary surprise, but to tell an unbearable truth that other genres are almost designed to avoid. Conventional storytelling is the pinnacle of ‘must’, horror and comedy deal with what ‘is’.
Whether that truth is the unfortunate but likely consequences of a broken down car next to a house full of a psychotic family of chainsaw enthusiasts, or the ordeal of a flatulent man eating bean stew alongside ‘a monastic brotherhood that has taken a vow of silence, the audience takes a premise as a bet with the creator and dares the material to go all the way.
To the extent that the material is truthful and specific, the higher the horror or comedy will be. Twenty years ago, the British Desk was as painful to watch as Hotel because the two constructed wildly outrageous moments from uncomfortably recognizable premises. More recently, Nathan Fielder’s comedy Repetition and the function Hereditary take recognizable characters in familiar settings criss-crossed with mundane details, then spin those characters through the highest concept and mind-bending premise: the more outrageous the premise, the more unwavering the realism, the greater the challenge come and see.
Nowhere is this challenge between audience and creator more vivid than in a book. A moviegoer can cover their eyes and return to the narrative flow with an awkward moment removed (personally, I’m more likely to do this while watching Stephan Merchant than Stephen King). But a book doesn’t exist until a reader envisions it, so the tightrope game has real stakes: if the author is going to follow the outrageous premise to its insufferable conclusion, has the reader he the nerve to follow him there?
Because comedy and horror tap into the same tensions, books that switch well between them are a particularly rich experience.
Perhaps the best-known example of this subgenre that I just made up (Dark Funny? Dark Funny it is) is that of Bret Easton Ellis. American psychowhich bled cutting satire around 80s corporate, yuppie culture into scenes of the most graphic violence and heightened outrage by flattening all effects to reflect Bateman’s dissociation.
Another more recent entry is Things have gotten worse since our last conversation, by Eric LaRocca. Absolutely nailing the stilted tone of two strangers trying to buy and sell an antique cooking gadget online, this short story puts us completely on the hook for their escalation in trust, oversharing, dissolving boundaries and ultimately the descent into a two-man madness of gross horror. If the challenge of the premise is: imagine the worst thing you can think of that someone you’ve only met online could make you do in real life, LaRocca doesn’t flinch crossing that line. arrival.
As a lighter variation on the Dark Funny theme, I offer My Best Friend’s Exorcism. Even people for whom the ’80s are more of a concept than a memory can enjoy the familiarity of America’s favorite decade juxtaposed with a lost war with the Prince of Darkness. It happened in real life, after all, the Satanic Panic of the 80s may have faded as a cultural concern, but its fashions live on forever in Phil Donahue’s gritty music videos. As the outrageous premise of exorcising the devil himself from a modern American teenager plays out, the darkest truth of the story lies in our necessary submission to the unseen, unshakable forces that exile us from our childhood state. of innocence in the corrupt purgatory of “growth”. at the top.”
Finally, a questionable ancestor of the Dark Funny genre, had it not been released so recently, is The cocktail waitress by James M. McCain. That this first-person account by a much younger woman of the death of her husband and lover is an outright lie is established in the opening pages: Joan Medford begins by recounting the funeral of her first husband, and how she decided to driving around the block offering to mow lawns for honest pay until a nice cop points him in the direction of a seedy cocktail bar. From this point on, the reader knows what the game is and reads the double meaning behind all of Joan’s selfish sobbing stories, but she and Cain will continue to play you. Joan’s sly apology for her grossly inappropriate actions – she has to speak to a lot of graphic evidence already known to the public – makes the story feel more evocative and sinister than if she admitted everything openly, and the ending still disturbs me deeply.
And that’s kind of the point. Some stories are designed to help us get past the hard truths, but Dark Funny lays them bare and challenges us not to look away. There you are, naked mass of flesh and blood, piloted in turn by divine sparks or dubious vapours: is it funny, or terrifying? There are perhaps too many ridiculous and disturbing things in our real lives to bear; but we can walk to the edge with our fictional counterparts and laugh at our own audacity.