Canada Laughs’ Ben Miner on dark comedy

dark comedy
Comedian George Carlin (1937 - 2008) performs in Chicago, Illinois, February 3, 1982.

Dark comedy – it’s a very specific thing. In my opinion, it’s the hardest kind of comedy to do. As comics, we’re used to tiptoeing around all sorts of topics and social mores. Dark comedians don’t tiptoe, they calmly walk up to the line and then move it. These are the comics that make me feel like a huge wuss.

Some of the greatest comedians of all time embraced dark humour – Carlin, Pryor, Hicks, Bruce could all work dark, and contemporary comics like Amy Schumer can work that side too. What does working dark entail? It means tackling subjects like death, disease and other topics that can make people cringe in conversation let alone joke about it. It’s a muscle comics like to work out but don’t necessarily use all that often, it’s still very much a part of the comedy anatomy though.

Kenny Robinson is THE legend in Canadian comedy and a master of all styles. I asked him why people enjoy dark comedy and he had the following to say:

“Because EVERYONE has a dark side. It’s rebelling against imposed decencies, its the thrill of hearing what you have been told you should never think”

Does that mean that dark comedy should be considered the purest form of stand-up? The art itself is at its best when it challenges audiences, at least in my opinion. What’s more challenging than making cancer funny? Or death?  You’re not exactly going out on a ledge when you say racism is wrong or such and such politician is a bozo – those are things that are easily processed. But making fun of cancer-killing people? Man, that better be funny. Like, really really really funny. And when that joke hits? It isn’t just hilarious, it’s therapeutic. We’ve all lost people to cancer and I bet some of you reading this right now are living with it. Fuck you, cancer. You’re an asshole and you deserve no reverence. Same with you, death. And you too, awful upbringing.

When Richard Pryor talked about growing up in a whorehouse, people were stunned. It was honest and raw and incredibly vulnerable – it also drew attention to the fact that other children may be living in similar situations. It was an important bit if not uncomfortable and shined a light on a part of society that got overlooked and ignored. Dark comedy is valuable to society and gets us talking about things we weren’t initially comfortable talking about because someone just showed us the humour in it. It prompts discussion and makes scary things a little less scary. Dark comedy addresses horrible situations and takes them off their pedestal. I think that’s pretty awesome.

And wouldn’t you know it, I’m a part of the Yuk Yuk’s Cold Dark January tour happening all month. I’m touring with Michelle Shaughnessy and Tyler Morrison, two of the funniest comics in Canada, and the shows are so fun. So fun. It’s great being able to really let loose and this tour gives us that ability. Cold Dark January isn’t just featuring us though. You can catch kick stand-ups such as Darren Frost, Shannon Laverty, Hunter Collins, Dom Pare, Cal Post, SiriusXM’s Top Comic Derek Seguin and, of course, Mr. Kenny Robinson. Open up your mind to some rad comedy and go check out a show! Good chat.