Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Catch-22
Joseph Heller

Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 was published in June 1961 just as the American involvement in the Vietnam War was escalating. You have probably read Catch-22 (and if you haven’t then you are missing out). This book is one of the blackest examples of black Humour, also known as black comedy or dark humor, but there are many more novels written in the same vein.

The actual term ‘black Humour’ was coined by Frenchman André Breton, who said Jonathan Swift was the first author to use this style of writing. In 1939, Breton wrote a book called Anthology of Black Humour (Anthologie de L’Humour Noir) and put this comedy sub-genre on the literary map. The author of Gulliver’s Travels was ahead of his time and loved satire. Written in 1729, Swift’s A Modest Proposal suggests the impoverished Irish should sell their children as food for rich folks and shows that black comedy has been around for centuries.

The most common theme in black Humour is death but many taboo subjects, or matters that usually require serious consideration, are satirized, including depression, drug and alcohol addiction, disabilities, violence, mental illness, poverty, sex and bodily functions. Bruce Jay Friedman’s book Black Humour is also worth a look for further analysis of the dark comedy genre that can offend and entertain.

An effective piece of black Humour will provoke laughter but also have the reader squirming in discomfort. Aside from Heller, the great practitioners of this art include Kurt Vonnegut, Edward Gorey and Chuck Palahniuk. Some people also put Roald Dahl on this list. Palanuik is an interesting example as he has taken black Humour into his book tour appearances where one particular gory tale usually has a few audience members fainting.

Catch-22 is set during the later stages of World War II. It tackles the madness of war and asks questions about who is sane and who is mad. It was crazy for the American airmen to keep flying bombing missions and yet they needed to be sane to do their job. But if they were crazy they wouldn’t be allowed to fly. That’s Catch 22.

A Selection of Black Humour Books

Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut
Bluebeard
by Kurt Vonnegut
Choke by Chuck Palahniuk
Choke
by Chuck Palahniuk
The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey
The Gashlycrumb Tinies
by Edward Gorey
My Crowd by Charles Addams
My Crowd
by Charles Addams
Vernon God Little by D.B.C. Pierre
Vernon God Little
by D.B.C. Pierre
Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
Trainspotting
by Irvine Welsh
Basket Case by Carl Hiaasen
Basket Case
by Carl Hiaasen
Sabbath’s Theater by Philip Roth
Sabbath’s Theater
by Philip Roth
The Magic Christian by Terry Southern
The Magic Christian
by Terry Southern
Choice Cuts by Thomas Boileau and Pierre Narcejac
Choice Cuts
by Thomas Boileau and Pierre Narcejac
Cultural Slag by Felicia Lamport
Cultural Slag
by Felicia Lamport
Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis
Lives of the Monster Dogs
by Kirsten Bakis
Heads: An Entertainment by Edward Stewart
Heads: An Entertainment
by Edward Stewart
The Serial Killers Club by Jeff Povey
The Serial Killers Club
by Jeff Povey
A Fine Madness by Elliott Bake
A Fine Madness
by Elliott Bake
Accordion Crimes by E Annie Proulx
Accordion Crimes
by E Annie Proulx
Recycling Jimmy by Andy Tilley
Recycling Jimmy
by Andy Tilley
Rant by Chuck Palahniuk
Rant
Chuck Palahniuk

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