"Whatever success I've had aside between you and me THIS (the stand up routine) right here, I've been doing it since I was 18, this is the difference between paycheck... and medication and bedcheck. And don't get me wrong I want to hear your pain, for gods sakes, just put it in joke form, that's all."
—Christopher Titus: Norman Rockwell is Bleeding
"You see, a laugh and a smile, and all of a sudden the job doesn't seem quite so bad after all, does it sir?"
—Edmund Blackadder's firing squad.
Quite often this world is filled with horrible things: disease, war, suicide, drive-by shootings, racism, terrorism, drug abuse, rape. Letting these things consume you is not healthy, psychologically or medically.
But there is a way to keep it in check... by joking about it. People who are easily offended will find such a joke horribly offensive, their reaction will be "This is not a laughing matter." But the truth is there is a healing power to comedy. If you can make fun of yourself, talk about your problems and have someone laugh with you, then your problems don't seem so bad anymore.
This is when you are able to make the best of a bad situation, this is finding something funny in Hell. Like the age-old adage, "Laughter is the best medicine."
Gallows Humor is, by definition, from the perspective of the victim. If anyone else delivers it or actually trying to make the situation funny, it's Black Comedy. This trope is generally when the joke itself or simple laughter allows you to deal with your problems.
Contrast Too Soon.
Anime and Manga
- The Trigun manga does this all the time, hence the Mood Whiplash and the sudden shifts to SD mode. Some Western fans complain that the bits of tragicomic laughter during gloomy, gritty fights become Egregious towards the end of the manga. The humour tied to characters such as Livio and Legato gets particularly disturbing and seemingly out of place at times. Vash and Knives's snarky banter has a weird edge too, and Cosmic Horror Knives yelling insults in SD form is possibly even creepier than his non-SD moments.
- Kimi no Kakera (Your Piece) contains a few outrageous cases too. A particularly jarring example is the Running Gag tied to Icolo's breasts, since the children are fascinated by them because they're all motherless and have had no substitute mom before teenage Icolo and Icolo/Cololi and a few other young girls are rape victims who went through forced prostitution.
- Half of Welcome to The NHK is nothing but this, particularly with Satou and Yamazaki.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: The short jokes and quirky personalities of the officers are the only thing keeping from being a being a manga about the horrors of war.
- At one point, the manga had Ax Crazy Serial Killer Barry the Chopper as comic relief. And he's really funny.
- One side story had Mustang comtemplating about his "work on Ishbal", then later we had his subordinates pushing paperwork on him.
- Izumi Curtis lost a good deal of her internal organs from a failed human transmutation. This doesn't stop her frequent vomiting of blood to be played for laughs.
- And the omakes didn't help, too. Especially the ones that mock her own Tear Jerker moments like Martel's death, Hughes' death, and the Rockbells' deaths.
- Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is full of this, being about a business that deals with dead people for a living.
- One Piece
- Brook constantly makes jokes and puns at his own expense over the fact that he is a skeleton. It lands solidly in this category when you realize that the series has more than once acknowledged that being reduced to a skeleton is not actually very funny, and that Brook knows it.
- Robin often combines this with Black Comedy; she never seems to tire of giving explicit details of the brutal, gory deaths she and the crew might have suffered had they not avoided some crisis or hazard, often making similar remarks when one of the Straw Hats is missing or unaccounted for. Note, this is what she says about people she likes. Those she doesn't like? Don't ask.
- John Callahan draws politically incorrect comics making fun of disabled people, which has to do with the fact that Callahan himself is seriously disabled.
- Lampshaded by Beast in an early issue of Grant Morrison's New X-Men, in the wake of the Genosha Massacre, when he tells Jean to tell Xavier that gallows humor is the only thing keeping them sane. The issue opened with him holding up a partial skeleton and saying "I don't know how to tell you this, my friend, but your dating days may be over."
- Watchmen has quite a bit of gallows humor. Moloch: "Well, now, y'know that kind of cancer that you eventually get better from? Well, that ain't the kind of cancer I got."
- Several [dead link] examples [dead link] by [dead link] Argentinian [dead link] cartoonist [dead link] Quino. Many [dead link] examples [dead link] indeed [dead link].
- Happens quite often in the swedish comic Hälge.
- Batman once chastised Superman for this when he was trying to remove a Kryptonite bullet from his chest.
Batman: The Kryptonite's near your heart. I don't know if I'll be fast enough to get it before the wound closes.
- The ending of Monty Python's Life of Brian looks heart-breaking at first... but it is rendered hysterically funny when everyone starts singing "Always look on the Bright Side of Life". The whole troupe later went on to sing this song at the funeral of Graham Chapman, after a speech loaded to the brim with this sort of humor. It's as funny as it is moving. They all sound like they're about to cry as they sing. Manly Tears.
- 1776 - The members of the Second Continental Congress employ this to get through signing the Declaration of Independence. Franklin's real life quip about the situation (as seen in the page quotes) is famous enough that he gets to give it in the movie as well.
- YMMV. They are basically looking out for themselves; very few of those present would escape being convicted for treason and hanged if the rebellion was surpressed.
- The Last Samurai: Katsumoto returns to his badly outnumbered and outgunned force after 'negotiating' with Omura, and tells his commanders: "Well, they won't surrender."
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. After being challenged to a knife fight:
Butch: There's a way to profit from this... bet on Logan (the other guy).
- Butch and Sundance have the choice of being shot dead by bounty hunters or jumping off a high cliff into a river. Butch keeps saying they should jump, but Sundance'd rather fight them (and probably get killed).
Sundance: "I can't swim!"
- Near the end of the movie, Butch and Sundance, badly wounded, are about to charge out from their cover into a firefight that'll most likely kill them.
Butch: Hey, did you see Lafors out there?
- Severance is a particularly good example of this. The comedy up until the middle of the movie is almost entirely Black Comedy, including the discovery that the meat pie the main characters have been eating contains a human tooth being met with the insistence that, "It's not all bad, I cooked it for the whole hour!" The movie actually ends with the four surviving characters, two of whom are strippers, rowing to escape in a small boat. Things look bleak and no one really has any hope for survival when the sole male in the boat turns to his coworker and says, "Foursome?" It is the last line in the film.
- Not actually that bleak: all the villains are dead and they should be able to get to relative safety. Unless of course you watch the original ending on the DVD: where it's shown they're unknowingly rowing towards a giant waterfall. Grim or not, it's still a little hilarious.
- Ingmar Bergman is pretty good at this - bits of The Seventh Seal are intentionally both disturbing and hilarious, as are the attempted suicides in both Smiles of a Summer Night and The Magic Flute. (Admittedly, the latter is Schikaneder's doing, not Bergman's.)
- Roy Andersson's Songs from the Second Floor manages to make murder, Nazi sympathizers, insanity, etc. really funny while still as horrifying as ever. One scene has a magician trying to saw a lady in half without really knowing how the trick is done. Ah, those Swedish filmmakers.
- In one scene in Cast Away, Chuck has developed a toothache during his stay on the island and is considering his options about extracting it (without anything close to the proper dental tools available), bouncing ideas off his buddy Wilson the volleyball, including the speculation that Wilson could be his dentist. Then he realizes (and shares) the ironic recollection that Chuck's actual dentist back home was named Dr. Spaulding (another brand of sporting equipment).
- The Devil's Rejects - The Firefly family: "We're sorry to inform you the Banjo and Sullivan show will be canceled for this evening!"
- Despite the inherent seriousness of the situation, after Richie's suicide attempt in The Royal Tenenbaums, a dark joke is thrown in:
Richie: I wrote you a suicide note.
- Outtake first seen in the ABC-TV version of Star Trek: The Motion Picture
After the transporter is fixed following a nightmarish transporter error that resulted in two crewmen being turned inside out, an arriving crewman says "Someone wanted to first see 'how it scrambled our molecules'".
- From Star Wars:
Han: One thing's for sure, we're all going to be a lot thinner!
Han: How we doin'?
- Present quite often in A Night to Remember, from the 'You and I will be in the same boat later' conversation, to an aristocratic lady moaning about being out of bed due to the Titanic being 'unsinkable', cut to the boiler room flooding and the stokers desperately evacuating.
- Due to a long, long history of persecution, Jews are generally acknowledged as the grand masters of Gallows Humor; this is highlighted in one scene in Schindler's List which features a group of ghetto residents tossing around very dark jokes about the number of people forced to move into their houses.
- Sin City: Marv does this right before their own execution.
[Reverend reads a bible passage]
- Pirates of the Caribbean: in Curse of the Black Pearl, Pintel and Ragetti tell Will the story of how, only after they sunk his father to the bottom of the ocean, did they learn they needed his blood to lift the curse. They then have a laugh at the cruel irony of their situation.
- Harry Potter frequently makes these types of jokes, which for some reason are usually followed by a variation of the phrase "Ron laughed, but Hermione didn't".
- Especially true of Fred and George, who are known for making jokes about everything.
With the whole world of ear-related humor before you, you go for holey?
- The Discworld series does this all the time, and points out why it works with Vimes musing "We who think we are about to die will laugh at anything."
- Similar musings played straight in The Last Hero: Carrot takes a moment to work out that the motto Rincewind recommends be sewn on Leonard's space suits translates from Canis Latinicus as "We who are about to die, don't want to".
- Another good one is Moist Von Lipwig in Going Postal. As he is about to be hanged, he says "I commend my soul to any God that can find it!"
- A Wrinkle in Time. Mrs. Which: "We mustn’t lose our senses of humor! The only way to cope with something deadly serious is to try to treat it a little lightly."
- In New Jedi Order, a lot of businesses in Nova Station (in the remains of the Carida system) had names referring to the system's destruction (e.g. Big Boom Cantina).
- In House of Leaves, Johnny Truant describes the Gallows Humor:
Johnny Truant: Zampanò, I've come to recognize now, was a very funny man. But his humor was that wry, desiccated kind soldiers whisper, all their jokes subsurface, their laughter amounting to little more than a tic in the corner of the mouth, told as they wait together in their outpost, slowly realizing that help's not going to reach them in time and come nightfall, no matter what they've done or what they try to say, slaughter will overrun them all.
- Some characters in Dune, such as Gurney, shows this kind of humor.
- Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar series is notable for this, but Prince of the Blood has one mercenary who just takes the cake.
"My mother always wanted me to go into an honorable trade, like grave-robbing. But did I listen? Nooooo. Be an assassin, like your uncle Gustav. But nooooo. Apprentice to the Necromancer..."
- In Cold Blood by Truman Capote: Perry Smith was reportedly joking with the hangman the night before his death.
- Eat Your Feelings by Heather Whaley (based on a blog of the same name) is essentially relentless mockery of life under mental illness and other forms of stress. As a cookbook. Sort of "Sarah Silverman cooks" kind of thing.
- Harry Dresden is, along with his Sad Clown ways, a master of this form of humor. Somewhat unusual in that he deals in post-gallows humor as well.
Live Action TV
- Dean from Supernatural when he has a year to live. To the point where it becomes disturbing.
Bobby: So now we're having bacon cheeseburgers for breakfast?
- M*A*S*H is a great example. The theme tune is "Suicide is Painless". The episode Rainbow Bridge had a high-stakes turnover of prisoners to the M*A*S*H doctors, and Frank nearly screwed it all up by bringing a gun. In reflex, Frank reached for his gun and stopped, but the enemy soldiers were not happy about this violation. Upon command, Frank revealed his gun, a very tiny pistol, which made the enemy soldiers laugh so hard that they forgave him and the turnover went smoothly from then on.
- Frasier. In "Murder Most Maris", Frasier attempts gallows humor, and in a running gag, keeps bringing up the fact he was punched by a man now dead, repeatedly, even days after the fact, to win an argument. The funny part? It works each time.
- Titus - The entire show was about finding something funny about dark things.
"It actually comforts me to know that when I was in Kindergarten, gluing macaroni to paper plates, my Mom was in therapy... gluing macaroni to paper plates."
- Parodied on Arrested Development:
Lucille: "Oh, it's so good to laugh again."
- Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia has an entire episode of this, appropriately titled "Dennis and Dee's Mom is Dead".
- The Mary Tyler Moore Show "Chuckles Bites the Dust"
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
- An episode of where the Defiant was hit with a warhead, and Quark and a Gamma Quadrant merchant are stuck right next to it. It turns out the merchant sold that kind of warhead to the Defiant's attackers, but it was designed to go off on impact. Quark jokes that they deserve a refund. To a Ferengi, that would be almost a sin, but considering they were that close to death, he and the merchant burst into laughter.
- Another episode had several Starfleet officers casually discussing the merits and drawbacks of various ways of dying as they awaited a battle they had little chance of winning. Maybe not strictly humour, but the nonchalance is quite chilling, especially for one character who tells them to knock it off.
- In the same episode when they are taking a break to eat, Bashir talks about slicing up his food as if he was conducting an operation. This causes Jake to throw up in the corner.
- Star Trek: The Original Series - In the "Catspaw" episode, Kirk and Spock are shackled with their arms raised against a wall next to a skeleton in the same position. At one point while discussing the situation with Spock, Kirk pauses as he looks at the skeleton, momentarily cocks his head in the same position as the skeleton's, then turns back to continue talking to Spock.
- Earlier, when Dr. McCoy was also in the dungeon, Kirk turned his head to ask if 'Bones' was all right, saw the skeleton, and called McCoy 'Doc' for the rest of the episode.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the final episode of Season Six. Buffy is updating the recently returned Giles on the horrible things that happened to her and her friends (her masochistic relationship with Spike, Xander and Anya's altar break-up, Dawn's shoplifting, etc.) After this laundry list of soul-crushing defeats, both Buffy and Giles suddenly break out laughing. Buffy even recounts the particularly traumatic events of Normal Again (where she's hallucinating that her entire time as the Slayer was just a delusion from a mental hospital, and she tried to kill everyone to stop the delusion...) in a fit of giggles.
- Hogan's Heroes - This partially explains why several Jewish actors (one or two of whom narrowly escaped the Holocaust) were willing and eager to play Those Wacky Nazis (including the main four Nazis, Klink, Schultz, Burkhalter, and Hochstetter). That, and the chance to make a career out of Take That. John Banner (Sergeant Schultz) supposedly told someone, "Who better to make fun of them than us?" There's a reason you never see any of the Germans with their forearms bared, after all.
- The jokes present in This Hour Has 22 Minutes are only rarely Gallows Humor, but in a commercial for the show in the nineties, Rick Mercer had this to say on the subject, after musing on why Canadians seem to take such glee in lambasting not only their politicians, but themselves: "If ya can't laugh, ya might as well cry."
- Scrubs can feature quite a bit of this although sometimes they advise against it if it's not really helping, it can make you even more miserable. J.D. and Turk once explained to a dying patient that because they are around it so much they need to make it clear they aren't afraid of death. And there are other examples such as regarding Doug, a doctor and later pathologist, who has killed numerous patients and treats dead bodies like "giant children", Dr. Kelso, who has a habit of cracking extremely morbid and perverse jokes that horrify his colleagues, and Ted the lawyer, who comedically threatens to kill himself numerous times over the course of the show.
- Ted also makes the occasional oblique reference to murdering Dr. Kelso. "Bloop..." certainly comes to mind
- Top Gear
- Richard Hammond's first episode after his 288 mph crash and subsequent recovery from a serious brain injury, with James May standing by with tissues in case Hammond starts "dribbling" and Jeremy Clarkson asking if he was now "a mental."
- Virtually every time one of the presenters has a big crash there's some variation on the theme of "We've just killed [presenter]. If you want a job on Top Gear, write to 'I'm Better Than [Presenter] Was', BBC TV Centre, Wood L... no, wait, he lives!"
- After Jeremy blew a tire on a Bentley, Jeremy looks at Richard and says "I had a blowout, and I held it."
- The presenters allegedly have a pact that, should any of them die, the others will appear at the beginning of the next episode, make a mournful comment, and then say "Anyway.." and cheerfully continue with the show.
- Firefly has its fair share of this, but the most literal example has to be River giggling at the irony of being tied to a pyre on the same day as she learnt what a "post-holer, for digging holes for posts" looked like in "Safe".
- Criminal Minds makes use of this frequently, which is probably a good thing on a show that has had cannibals, killer clowns, guys that kill people and do experiments on them before feeding them to pigs, people that remove their victims eyes, people that kill others randomly, people that do live autopsies on others, and people that set up death traps to watch their victims suffer. And that's only a few. Gallows Humor is probably one of the only reasons any of the (current) main cast is at all sane.
- Red Dwarf is full of this. One episode deals with Lister losing his arm. Doug Naylor(who wrote the episode) is missing a leg.
- The Job, and even more so its Spiritual Successor Rescue Me.
- A recurring theme throughout the various Blackadder series, although special mention should be granted to 'Goodbyeeee...', the final episode of 'Blackadder Goes Forth', where the constant threat of death has finally... pushed them over the top.
- Of particular note is the episode "Corporal Punishment", where Blackadder jokes constantly about his imminent and ultimately avoided doom.
Blackadder: "Can I ask you to leave a pause between the word 'aim' and the word 'fire'? Thirty of forty years, perhaps?"
Melchett: "I therefore have absolutely no hesitation in announcing that the sentence of this court is: that you Captain Edmund Blackadder be taken from this place and shot to death by shooting tommorrow at dawn. Do you have anything to say?"
- Home Improvement had an episode where Jill's dad died and the family had to to Texas for the funeral. Randy was constantly making jokes about it and upsetting Mark. He later admitted to Tim he didn't know why he was acting that way. Tim said he was the same way when he was 11 and his dad died, and suggested to just be careful around certain people like Mom and Mark.
- That 70's Show had an episode where Eric was driving his grandmother home, and the lady was not well liked by anyone for her fault finding and meanspiritedness. When Eric finally tells her that she isn't very well liked, she just suddenly drops dead. Interestingly no one, not even her son Red, cried at her passing and while the show had plenty of jokes happening, the funeral was a rather standard ordeal. After the funeral Eric confessed to Red that she died immediately after he told her off, Red chuckled saying "It could only happen to you." Kitty then came in, after spending the entire time just cooking things and finding herself with nothing left to keep her busy, and started to break down in tears. The three of them then cried together for a moment of grieving.
- Specifically, Eric said "It wouldn't kill you to be nice", hence this trope and Red's reaction.
- Oz: An awful lot of it. No matter how brutal or horrific a situation, someone is going to make a joke about it.
Warden Glynn: The M.E. has ruled McCullum's death as suicide. He bit into his skin, chewing off chunks of muscle over the course of a week or so, causing himself to bleed out.
- Doctor Who had this exchange between Sarah Jane Smith and the Third Doctor as they're trapped in a web in Planet of the Spiders:
Doctor: I think they'll find I'm rather a tough old bird.
- Tom Lehrer's song "We Will All Go Together When We Go" is all a touching, hilarious example of this kind of humor, applied to Cold War fears of nuclear annihilation: "We will all go together when we go / All suffused with an incandescent glow / No one will have the endurance to collect on his insurance / Lloyd's of London will be loaded when they go"
- Strangely, there is no literal Gallows Humor in Creature Feature's "A Gorey Demise," a song that is an ABCs of a year's Obituaries. This is perhaps out of difficulty of using the word "hanged" in a song. Though "hung" (although not proper grammar) would provide a lot of comedy, all by itself. (W is for William who was very well hung?)
- In Cage's "Suicidal Failure", the lyrics are partly Gallows Humor, partly Nightmare Fuel. An example is Cage walking past a group of Crips bleeding, hoping that they would kill him (implying that they would think he was a member of rival gang the Bloods).
Stand Up Comedy
"How come Mom's crazy and I'm not? It's possible she could have got up every night in front of this many people, talk about all the CRAP in her life and those people sat around and laughed with her, would have meant nothing and she could have moved on cool. It's also possible she also could have taken out the front row with a large caliber weapon, she was, whew, out there. And maybe things would be different for Mom, she would have gotten her own show and you would read about me in 'The Inquirer' as her heroin addicted son. Oh, we can dream!"
- The Dutch stand up comedian Herman Finkers does it literally: "Two gallows are walking down the street...".
- George Carlin did an entire bit about how for some people, committing suicide must be like just checking off yet another something off of that long list of chores. Especially in his later work, much of his material was this trope.
- Jerry Seinfeld did an old bit on suicide protocol as well, on how it only seemed courteous for the suicidee to leave at least a note behind.
- Roughly ninety percent of all humor in Warhammer 40,000 is of this variety, for good reason.
- Deadlands characters can use this trope, if they've purchased the aptly-named "Gallows Humor" ability. It allows any character to replace a guts roll (made when facing virtually anything frightening, from a rattlesnake to an Eldritch Abomination) with a ridicule roll (made to crack wise)...provided the character has the ability to speak, and the character's player can think of something witty to say.
- The card game Nuclear War is built on this.
- This exchange in Romeo and Juliet during Mercutio's death in Act 3, Scene 1.
Romeo: Courage, man; the hurt cannot be much.
- Fiddler on the Roof notes that Jews laugh because if they didn't, they'd have to cry.
- This is also said in the stage musical of Hedwig and The Angry Inch, though the movie itself has plenty of such jokes, like "During my first performance, the audience threw tomatoes at me, and afterwards I had a nice salad"
- In Hugh Wheeler's libretto for Candide, Dr. Pangloss gets in a few optimistic words as he stands on the gibbet, just before the executioner releases the trap:
"Ladies and gentlemen, one final word in praise of the universal laws of Science. God in his wisdom made it possible to invent the rope and what is the rope for but to create a noose? And, Glory be to the Greatest Philosophers, what is a neck for but to be...
- The Mikado derives considerable merriment from the subject of execution by beheading.
- The increasingly inaccurate title Final Fantasy was given to the first game because Square was in trouble at the time, and had it not been a hit, it would have been Square's last game. It looks like Final Fantasy's Hironobu Sakaguchi is attempting it again, with a Wii game titled The Last Story.
- Moira Brown of Fallout 3 is always making little Gallows Humor jokes in her conversations. You can amplify the effect by nuking Megaton and turning her into a ghoul.
- Protagonists in Resident Evil games (particularly after their second game, when they've become more Genre Savvy) tend to have this reaction to the villain's One-Winged Angel forms.
- During the boarding of the Normandy in Mass Effect 2, EDI makes an inappropriate joke about the sight of human on their knees.
- Chopping Block: Butch always felt the term 'gallows humour', while accurate, was redundant.
- This The Perry Bible Fellowship strip has literal Gallows Humor
- Xkcd: "Oh, Jesus, he's pulled out another rulebook
- Penny Arcade: Gabe even says it himself.
- THe FReCKLeD FINGeR got a lot of this. How about suicide bomber fishing?
- South Park put it best when saying that it's been long enough to make it joke about 9/11 and AIDS, because if you keep taking it so seriously then the terrorists win.
- Similar to the Final Fantasy example above, the ironically named Happily Ever After was Filmation's last film before going bankrupt.
- In Kung Fu Panda 2, after being captured by Shen and going to be executed, Mantis makes this quip.
Mantis: I thought I'd meet a nice girl, settle down, and then she'd eat my head.
- "Soon, we will be able to take a tram from one theater of the war to the other." Reportedly said to Hitler during the last days of World War II.
- And in a similar vein a popular German joke of the period:
Eins: I was thinking, after the war ends I will go for a walk around the perimeter of the Greater German Empire.
"Berlin is the city of warehouses. 'Where's my house?' 'Where's my house?'"
- German humor is pretty fond of gallows humor. Another old literal one: "Back in the middle ages the criminal who was about to be hanged on Monday tells the judge 'Great start of the week, huh?'" (Please note that in many countries, the calendar week begins on Monday.)
- Mexican Calaveras (joking poems on someone's encounter with the Grim Reaper—even if not dead yet) are all about this. Then there are Posada's engravings, many of them satirical. Also, skull shaped candy!
- Indeed, it might be said that the holiday of Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is about this: rather than a grim mourning of those who have died, it's a celebration featuring all sorts of skeletal decorations (juxtaposed with bright colors and flowers). The reasoning behind this is that one should celebrate the lives of those who have passed on, not dwell on the fact that said lives are over. It also has the effect of making death somewhat less frightening.
- An anecdote involving Yogi Berra: When his wife asked him whether he'd prefer to be buried in Montclair, New York, St. Louis (three cities he'd lived in most of his life) he thought for a minute and then said, "I don't know, Carmen, why don't you surprise me?'"
- Truth in Television: Rudy Giuliani's appearance on the first ep of Saturday Night Live to air after 9/11.
"Can we be funny again?"
- A couple of near-literal examples from real world criminals sentenced to death:
- "Well, gentlemen, you are about to see a baked Appel." George Appel, executed in New York's electric chair, 1928.
- "How about this for a headline for tomorrow's paper? French Fries." James French, executed in Oklahoma's electric chair, 1966
- "I'd rather be fishing." Jimmy Glass, executed in Louisiana's electric chair, 1987
- "This is the first time authorities helped me escape prison." George Sitts, executed in South Dakota's electric chair, 1947.
- As they were being taken to the guillotine, the poet Fabre lamented to Georges Danton that he would not be able to finish his verse drama, The Neapolitan Orange. Danton replied: « Des vers ! Avant huit jours tu en feras plus que tu ne voudras, et nous aussi ! » ("Verses/worms! (The French « vers » means both.) In a week you'll be making more of them than you want, and so will we.)"
- Another story tells of a commoner who was being tried and faced the guillotine. Assuming he was a nobleman, the court called out for him to stand, adding a "de" in front of his name. The prisoner stood up and testily replied : "Je ne suis pas ici pour qu'on m'allonge, mais qu'on me raccourcisse" (translation : I'm here to be shortened, not made longer). Reportedly, the judge liked his wit and answered "Eh bien, qu'on l'élargisse !" (lit. "very well then, let him be widened !", but in French legalese meaning "release him")
- During the Winter War, the Soviet Union dropped large numbers of incendiary cluster bombs on Finnish cities as part of their attacks. The Soviet foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, went out in the international press and claimed that this 'bombardment' was a filthy lie; they were actually food drops to help feed Finnish refugees from the war. The Finnish responded by naming the bombs "Molotov bread baskets" in his honor and began referring to the mass-produced incendiary bomb (filled with high-proof vodka provided by the state liquor monopoly) they used on the Soviet as the Molotov Cocktail; "a drink to go with the food".
- People in the medical business do this a lot. Making jokes about patients, disease, etc.
- What's the difference between a doctor and a lawyer? A lawyer will rob you; a doctor will rob you and kill you too.
- Police also tend toward very dark humor, for a similar reason.
- The military.
- Nuclear scientists in particular, especially the ones who have to plan for The End of the World as We Know It.
Stuart Slade, on the effects of direct radiation from a nuke: "Once thermal blast and concussion have reduced you to the size, shape, and color of a McDonald's hamburger patty, irradiating you as well would be incredibly superfluous."
- French comedian Pierre Desproges
- After he was diagnosed with cancer: "If it weren't for science, how many of us could enjoy cancer for more than five years?".
- You can add: "plus cancéreux que moi, tumeur" (more cancer-afflicted than me, tumor). The pun is the homophony of tumeur (tumor) and tu meurs (you die).
- Also this one: "Noël au scanner, Pâques au cimetière". Desproges was playing on an old saying that went "Noël au balcon, Pâques au tison" (Christmas on the balcony, Easter by the chimney), effectively saying Christmas at MRI, Easter at the grave. Morbid, but since he kept saying it with an exhilarating smile, it still elicited laughter.
- Desproges also justified Gallows Humour in his mock-prosecutor's charge against french right-wing extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen, explaining that "On peut rire de tout, mais pas avec tout le monde" (You can laugh about anything, but not with everybody).
- He justified it even better when he told "On peut rire de tout. On doit rire de tout. Même de la mort. Surtout de la mort. Après tout, la mort se prive-t-elle de se rire de nous ?" (We may laugh about everything. We must laugh about everything. Even death. Especially death. After all, does death show any qualm about laughing at us?) (this is a simplified version of the original quote, which is even more awesome)
- And of course, his book "L'Almanach", which he wrote while in the final stages of his cancer, and was published after his death, is literally rife with Gallows Humour. Including, but not limited to, one different darkly sarcastic subtitle for Picasso's Guernica for each week of the year.
- George Harrison had coincidentally hired new groundskeepers about a week before a crazed fan broke into his house and stabbed him nearly to death. As he was being taken away by paramedics, with stab wounds in his chest and a punctured lung, he reportedly looked up at the new groundskeepers and asked "So how do you like the job so far?"
- Voltaire was reported to, on his deathbed have said "Now, now my good man, this is no time for making enemies." He said this after being asked to renounce Satan.
- Another one from the U.S.A.'s Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence.
Benjamin Harrison: "I shall have a great advantage over you, Mr. [Elbridge] Gerry, when we are all hung for what we are now doing. From the size and weight of my body I shall die in a few minutes, but from the lightness of your body you will dance in the air an hour or two before you are dead."
- Yet another political one: when Ronald Reagan was shot, his first words to his wife were "Honey, I forgot to duck." And when the surgeons were about to operate on him to remove the bullets, he told them "I hope you're all Republicans."
- A doctor (who was a Democrat) replied: "Today, Mr. President, we're all Republicans."
- According to medieval Catholic legend, Saint Lawrence of Rome was martyred by being roasted to death on a gridiron. After roasting over a hot fire for a while, he supposedly told his torturers, "I am done on this side; you may turn me over". The Catholic Church decided that because of this, he should be considered the patron saint of cooks and chefs, making this first-rate Black Comedy as well. Lawrence is also the patron saint of stand-up comics for just this reason.
- St. Sebastian (the one who was tied to a tree and shot full of arrows) is the patron saint of lacemakers. Bartholomew the Apostle—the one who was flayed alive and then crucified—is the patron saint of tanners and leather-workers.
- The crew of a British warship sunk in the Falklands sang "Always look on the Bright Side of Life" from Monty Python's Life of Brian while waiting for rescue. The entire British Armed Forces basically runs on bleak gallows humour.
- Military units in general, particularly in combat zones do. And IED has been said to be the terrorists way of making you obey the speed limit. You get nailed by one, you were driving too slow.
- Terry Pratchett said he was going to take his Alzheimer's with him - and he did. He also described it in his initial announcement as "an embuggerance".
- Russell Means once said American Indians should be placed on the endangered species list, much like the aforementioned Star Trek example.
- As Sir Walter Raleigh approached the executioner's block, he looked at the axe and whispered to the executioner, "Tis a sharp cure, but good against all ills."
- Philosopher and cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek has a fondness for gallows humor. It was part of the language of academics living in the East Bloc, and his fondness for this type of humor carries through. He's also argued that in many circumstances, like the Holocaust, the monstrosity of the situation is "too strong for tragedy", and so the only decent response is one of comedy, ridiculing the brutality of the situation.
- Christopher Hitchens, during his losing battle with cancer, loved this trope - he announced he had it in an article called "Topic of Cancer," and said that, because his cancer was so developed he had "joined the cancer elite." He also said: "I make preparations for living and dying every day. But with the emphasis on not dying, and on acting as though I was going to carry on living."
- When asked how he was coping, he replied "Well, there are the bad days and then there are the worse ones."
- Add firefighters and EMTs to the other occupations that do it. Stand near some firefighters as a building, despite best efforts, burns to the ground and almost inevitably someone will ask who brought the marshmallows.
EMT 1 (after moving a very heavy patient): "When I die, you can wait until I'm rotted down to a skeleton so I'm easier to move."