Periscope Depth

we'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when

President Merkin Muffley: General Turgidson, I find this very difficult to understand. I was under the impression that I was the only one in authority to order the use of nuclear weapons.

General “Buck” Turgidson: That’s right, sir, you are the only person authorized to do so. And although I, uh, hate to judge before all the facts are in, it’s beginning to look like, uh, General Ripper exceeded his authority.

I love dark comedy.

My theory of comedy is that the humor in a situation depends on how you pronounce “absurd.” If you say it with furrowed brows and thunderous contempt (e.g., “that’s absurd!”), it’s not funny. If you say it with a stifled chuckle and bright, wide eyes (e.g., “that’s absurd!”), it’s funny.

Humor is a reaction to the unnatural: the surprising, the shocking, the Not-How-Things-Should-Be. Even the most lowbrow comedy – a man falling down a flight of stairs, for instance – works on this principle. People aren’t supposed to fall. They’re supposed to walk upright. Whoops.

However, humor’s not the only way we can react to the unnatural. We have our choice of reactions: terror, anger, abject disbelief, etc. Seeing someone get hit by a bus while you’re crossing the street will shock you into silence. Seeing someone get hit by a bus during a Doritos commercial will probably get a chuckle.

On the spectrum of absurdity, there’s a line somewhere. For each of us this line is personal. Before that line, our reaction to the absurd is a laugh. Past that line, our reaction is a gasp.

Dark comedy works because it pushes that line, inch by inch.

The biggest nations in the world control weapons capable of destroying most mammalian life on this planet, including us. These weapons rest under the hands of people we wouldn’t trust to audit our taxes. Funny, right?

Having big dreams does not make you any more likely to succeed. In fact, following your dreams no matter what can shield you from the kind of feedback that would warn you of failure. You might be spending your whole life in pursuit of something pathetic. Hilarious, I know.

A mom who’s a serial killer. An assassin who gets a change of heart at his high-school reunion. Three doctors cracking wise during the Korean War. Ha ha.

This is why I like dark comedy, irony and cynicism so much. I love any attempt to carry a tiny light into the dark corners of irrationality. I rejoice for anyone who can find the humor in tragedy. I prefer laughing over crying. Dark comedy’s tricky, of course, because it doesn’t always work. But when it works, not only does it kill, but I think it uplifts as well.

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