Black Comedy

March 20, 2006 | 44 comments
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So maybe I missed something, but I’m pretty sure that one genre the Saints haven’t touched is black comedy. I’m not much of a narrative writer, though, so think of the following as sitting on little scraps of paper on a rickety table in my front yard with a hand-lettered cardboard sign next to them reading ‘Free to a Good Home.’

(1) Sister Jones hates her new calling as First Counselor in the ward Relief Society presidency. She wants out. But, being the sweet spirit that she is, she won’t ask to be released. Instead, she’s going to commit every act of flaccidity, vapidity, turgidity, stupitidy, cupidity, et al., for which she can summon plausible deniability in the hopes that the RS President will release her.

(2) Sister Heath is your standard-issue Molly Mormon with one difference: her children keep dying. Tragically. For a variety of reasons. Before they turn eight. It takes an intrepid visiting teacher to pick up on the clues that lead to unraveling Sister Heath’s warped theology: she thinks she is guaranteeing her kids a spot in the CK by offing them before they are accountable.

(3) Ward Primary President Sister West has had it with irreverent, wiggling children. One night, in the quiet of the wee hours, she makes a bargain with a mysterious stranger that results in the children behaving perfectly. You know, like, a Faustian bargain.

(4) Bishop Brown figures that the one place in the ward where Sister Ellmsworth, the ward ‘intellectual,’ can’t do any damage is in the nursery. Boy, was he wrong. Imagine the reaction when prim Sister Young walks by the nursery door to hear a high-pitched, engaging voice saying, “Repeat after me, children: PAHL-ee-an-dree. That’s good. Let’s try it one more time in your big, big voices: PAHL-ee-an-dree.”

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44 Responses to Black Comedy

  1. haha on March 20, 2006 at 9:24 am

    Oh you mean dark comedy. I thought of this as black people comedy when I first clicked on it. I’m probably racist or something.

  2. jjohnsen on March 20, 2006 at 10:11 am

    #2 needs to go into development right away. I’d go see that in a second.

  3. DKL on March 20, 2006 at 10:24 am

    I’ve tried to engage Mormons in the bloggernacle with black comedy on several levels, including my comments. The responses have been overwhelmingly negative (with a few exceptions, like this one, which is really only very slightly dark). I just don’t think that Mormons have the stomach for dark comedyy; either that or they just don’t “get it.”

    I like your idea #1. It’s has the ring of a Mormon version of Office Space: the more inept the counselor behaves, the further she goes in the church. But this strikes me more as standard satire than dark comedy.

  4. S. P. Bailey on March 20, 2006 at 10:55 am

    Mormons have touched black comedy. See for example Brian Evenson’s story “The Prophets” anthologized in the collection In Our Lovely Deseret. I don’t want to ruin the fun—I think you can get the collection on Amazon for approximately $5—but there is ardent belief in (and some shuffling abroad of) a particular modern (and no longer with us) prophet.

    And haven’t versions of No. 2 actually taken happened in the past few years, although not among Mormons? May ruin the balance between black and humor.

    All the same, some real potential here. Very funny!

  5. Lisa F. on March 20, 2006 at 11:48 am

    One of the funniest, blackest BYU moments was a testimony meeting. The chorister, who had been missing for two months, appeared that Sunday and bore her testimony. She described in detail her suicide attempt, and the bishop’s attempts to stop her. At one point, she referred to our dear, kind bishop as an “old fart”, and my roommates and I — on the front row because we had been so late arriving — dissolved into (mostly) silent giggles. We had relapses for the rest of the meeting.

  6. Robert C. on March 20, 2006 at 12:40 pm

    Great ideas Julie! I think Neil LaBute would have to be considered an exception, esp. bash: latterday plays (made famous by Calista Flockhart’s appearance in it) and the award-winning film In the Company of Men. I think Orson Scott Card has written some pretty dark comedy pieces too, I’m thinking in particular of a story that I think is in his book A Storyteller in Zion where all a block of Utah members are really excited because a new non-member family is moving in. But when the family shows no interest in the gospel, they ostracize the family, not letting their kids play together etc. (Please correct me anyone if I’m remembering this wrong.)

  7. Last Lemming on March 20, 2006 at 1:12 pm

    And haven’t versions of No. 2 actually taken happened in the past few years, although not among Mormons?

    It was at least 10 years ago, but I have read news accounts of it happening among Mormons.

  8. Kaimi Wenger on March 20, 2006 at 1:45 pm

    Julie,

    I like them. If and when I ever decide to sit down and write that perfect Mollywood screenplay, I plan to poach a few of these.

  9. DKL on March 20, 2006 at 2:05 pm

    Here’s some dark humor for you:

    Lem: What’s the best thing about being excommunicated?
    Clem: The sex.

  10. MaryAA on March 20, 2006 at 2:23 pm

    Julie, I was a film major at BYU a few years ago and in one of my screenwriting-directing class workshops I tried to pitch an idea for a movie about failed BYU suicide attempts. For example, the girl who tries to jump out the window of her 6th floor room in Deseret Towers (the windows only open about 6 inches so she could only get her leg through.) The kid who tries to drown himself in the relecting pond outside the museum of art (it is only about 8 inches deep). The kid who tries to rig the statue of Brigham Young to fall on top of him and crush him, but he miscalculates and it doesn’t work out.

    No luck–I couldn’t sell anyone on the idea.

  11. Ben S. on March 20, 2006 at 2:45 pm

    “I’m thinking in particular of a story that I think is in his book A Storyteller in Zion where all a block of Utah members are really excited because a new non-member family is moving in. But when the family shows no interest in the gospel, they ostracize the family, not letting their kids play together etc. (Please correct me anyone if I’m remembering this wrong.)”

    No, you’ve got it right. It’s hilarious. The only problem is it’s too short ;)

    “The Coming of the Nonmembers” is available here, but only in German. Odd.

  12. Bookslinger on March 20, 2006 at 5:13 pm

    “Mobsters and Mormons” from Halestorm has a few dark humor moments in it.

    My favorites:

    1. “Beans” telling the Mafia version of the Three Little Pigs.
    2. “Beans” interrogating a little kid during a paint-ball match to find out where their flag was.
    3. Scene at the lumber yard with the power saw.

  13. DKL on March 20, 2006 at 6:21 pm

    I’m not sure if this article is dark humor or just news. It’s filled with troubling images, like “Small bands of masked evangelists, clad in tights…”

  14. Ariel on March 20, 2006 at 9:18 pm

    Lost Boys by Orson Scott Card is excellent- it’s like Sixth Sense in an LDS context, except much higher quality.

    I would love to see #2 and #4, but I wouldn’t support #2 as comedy. That would be like doing a comedy about school shootings- it’s just not funny. If it was done like The Ring as a mystery/horror movie, with the VT investigating the deaths and slowly uncovering clues, it would be very worth seeing. (I hated The Ring, but I like this plot idea a lot better.)

  15. meems on March 20, 2006 at 9:26 pm

    These are all hilarious. Before I read the above comments, I was going to say that the #2 suggestion had crossed my mind before in wonderment of why there weren’t more incidences of this happening with real paychos. It seems so plausible. Sick, but it could be funny — that’s the point of black comedy, isn’t it?

  16. meems on March 20, 2006 at 9:45 pm

    Umm. THat would be “psychos” not Paychos.

  17. Brett on March 20, 2006 at 10:37 pm

    Allright, this is off topic, but I could have sworn on the sidebar under “notes” there was a link to a company that sells little missionary toys. I think they were called Mini Mishies. Does anybody have the link to that site? Thanks.

  18. DKL on March 20, 2006 at 11:00 pm

    Here’s my idea for a black comedy:

    A branch president in some small hick town (in the midwest or south) has a vision in which the US is being invaded by mutants. He takes this as a warning from God, rounds up as many people in his branch as he can, and drives to the nearest temple. Arriving there at night, its deserted. So they break in, and they utilize the stock of weapons kept in the cellar to turn the place into a fort. After dawn breaks, they spend the day shooting temple patrons whom they mistake for mutants, until at last a SWAT team clears the building.

    What do you think?

  19. Brian G on March 21, 2006 at 12:06 am

    Mormons have tried black comedy, Julie. Here’s one perfect example.

  20. meems on March 21, 2006 at 12:40 am

    Brian G. – Too funny! You’re right of course.

    DKL – So I guess it’s some sort of well known fact that temples are stockpiled with weapons? Whoa – I’d better watch what I say – this may end up as the next Mormon Urban Myth.

    The weirdness found in small branches idea reminds me of a friend in my last ward who told me he visited a small ward or branch somewhere in Southern Utah with another guy who was doing PhD research on some sociology thing. (I have a flair for remembering details). The branch had adopted this tradition of having everyone in the congregation stand up when the Bishop entered the chapel at the start of Sacrament Meeting and entered with the counselors as a processional. I am not kidding. The sociologist and my friend just kept whispering to each other, “isn’t this fascinating?” I could see a lot of potential humor from the “righteous ward being led astray” theme!

  21. DKL on March 21, 2006 at 1:01 am

    Brian G., right on! That’s something I was obliquely referring to in an early comment.

    meems, well, the weapons stockpile thing is part of the dark comedy. (I’ve met anti-mormons who actually think that there are weapons stockpiled in all of the temples.) But I envision something more thoroughly Kubrick than just a branch or ward being led astray. I’d love to see a fight break out between the Young Mens president and the Ward Mission Leader, and then have the Branch President step in to rebuke them: “You can’t fight in here! This is the Celestial Room!”

  22. meems on March 21, 2006 at 1:07 am

    That’s right. You can only fight in the telestial parts.
    :-)

  23. Tim Jacob on March 21, 2006 at 1:09 am

    My father (an aspiring screenwriter) came up with what I considered to be a pretty good idea:

    An entire ward in Utah simply and suddenly vanishes–houses, cars, everything. Entire city blocks gone.

    The people left behind are left to wonder what happened and where did they go. Were they taken up like the City of Enoch? But what about Brother X, he couldn’t have possibly “qualified.”

  24. Jay S on March 21, 2006 at 1:23 am

    Your examples are great, with the exception of #2. Perhaps I am overly sensitive, but when I read that one I recalled the tragic mother who actually took such actions. There is a fine line in dark comedy, and I think that crossed it.

  25. anthony on March 21, 2006 at 8:55 am

    bash is an amazing, nessc. and hardened work, but its not funny and not intended to be funny.

  26. Julie M. Smith on March 21, 2006 at 10:19 am

    Jay S,

    Had I known that (2) had actually happened, I probably wouldn’t have included it.

    And Tim, that idea is fabulous. It would be fun to watch the rumor mill at work on that one.

  27. Mark IV on March 21, 2006 at 4:47 pm

    I don’t know how dark this is, but it’s funny.

    In Samuel Taylor’s Heaven Knows Why, a true believing, literalist bishop in southern Utah is unequally yoked with a non-believing wife. She finds out that he goes into a closet to pray aloud over his family and flock, and decides to “answer” his prayers from the other side of the thin closet wall by speaking into a 20 gallon milk pail in a deep voice with lots of vibrattro. If I remember correctly, the bishop prays aloud about who should have callings in the ward and how he should treat his wife. His wife puts down her coffee cup, gets out the milk pail, and gives him answers.

  28. Bookslinger on March 21, 2006 at 9:31 pm

    Baptists at our Barbecue had some dark comedy moments.

  29. AlanL on March 21, 2006 at 11:44 pm

    The works of BYU’s Donald R. Marshall from the 1970′s have faded into obscurity, but he had one story, “Something Terrible has Happened and I Think Somebody Really Ought to Know”, from either The Rummage Sale or Frost in the Orchard that was about as dark as it gets for us Mormon folk.

  30. Brian G on March 22, 2006 at 2:00 am

    Anyhow, Julie, I’m thrilled to know you have an appreciation for black comedy. I wouldn’t have taken you for the type.

    You should come over some time and we can watch BADDER SANTA together, or at the very least, DR. STRANGELOVE or HAROLD AND MAUDE.

    Plus, if you want to read a truly perfect example of Mormon black comedy, and haven’t already, you should read “The Christianizing of Coburn Heights” by Levi Peterson. It’s brilliant.

  31. annegb on March 22, 2006 at 11:20 am

    Yeah, Julie, you surprised me as well. I think you should write them. I’ll critique them for you. Deseret Book wouldn’t print them, but somebody would. Although you might get called in by your stake president. Write them with a psuedonym and refuse to give your real name. Because all the ideas here are really really funny.

    If I get hired by the paper, I’m definitely going to suggest to people to kill their kids under the age of eight if they really want them to go to the Celestial Kingdom.

    And that about the lady trying to screw up, I’ve done that. But I’m on a list somewhere because I smarted off to my husband in front of our bishop. Or he wouldn’t make that list on Jeff’s blog, (I think?) because his wife is a nutjob. What is funny about your premise is David’s suggestion that she continue to advance in the church. I would find that maddening.

    I really love your ideas, it makes you seem more human. And I would buy that book.

    Oh, Brian, about Dr. Strangelove, Bill kept saying that was a funny movie, so one night I watched it and the sound tape was off from the movie tape, so their lips would move and then they would talk, like that. And I thought it was on purpose and how brilliant was that and I laughed all the way through the movie. I thought that was the brilliant part, till Cat on a Hot Tin Roof came on and it was the same. And then I laughed some more.

  32. Ben S. on March 22, 2006 at 12:20 pm

    Start your own publishing company to do unorthodox books and black humor and call it Desert Book. Send out a glossy cheesy catalog, and who’d know the difference?

  33. S. P. Bailey on March 22, 2006 at 12:42 pm

    Ben S.: I like it. The trademark dilution litigation (parody defense and everything) might be fun too!

  34. annegb on March 22, 2006 at 12:59 pm

    I’ll pitch in $25 towards the new company.

  35. Julie M. Smith on March 22, 2006 at 2:18 pm

    “I really love your ideas, it makes you seem more human. ”

    /afraid to ask

    What did I seem like before?!?

  36. Starfoxy on March 22, 2006 at 2:53 pm

    You mean those videos we watched in seminary weren’t dark comedies? Cipher in the snow? Prime the pump? I don’t think you could convince me that at least someone invloved in making those didn’t think they were funny.

  37. Kaimi Wenger on March 22, 2006 at 3:02 pm

    Julie,

    I can’t speak for AnneGB, but until I saw this post, I had always assumed that you were a shape-shifting lizard.

  38. Julie M. Smith on March 22, 2006 at 3:26 pm

    LOL, Starfoxy!

  39. Kimball Hunt on March 22, 2006 at 5:33 pm

    Regarding, in a way, a dark-side/ light-side duality:

    Julie seems a very friendly entity to me–although one who’d turn on a dime into a vicious she-wolf in protection of those dear to her, perhaps.

    In primitive belief, someone’s own people’s “totems”(?)–familiar entities, animal helpers or whatnot–are perceived as guiding and friendly to you. While those gods or angels of competing tribes or enemies are perceived as demons. So, for some religious people to account some negative “mythic” or mystical status to the entities’ which worked among our human tribe to found our Mormons’ faith seems an exercise or “discernment of faith” of this stripe.

    And, then, one type of dynamic many early empires used would be to gather whatever entities are revered or feared in various places together to make with them a unified and amalgamated mythology.

  40. annegb on March 22, 2006 at 5:43 pm

    mean, but that was based on one thing, you know what happened. Also long writings on scripture stuff.

    But I’ve changed my mind. Write that book and I will buy it. For reals.

  41. Kimball Hunt on March 22, 2006 at 6:20 pm

    Then then Moses–the Middle East’s and ultimately the entire West’s–earliest and most important Axial Age prophet, instead of describing the powers that be as rival cupidity, spoke in All-encompassing Universals (all the while God was commanding through him: “Thou shalt make no graven images”).

    (Postscript: I should have said “lioness of the Lord” in #39, two posts above.)

  42. Susan M on March 24, 2006 at 7:52 pm

    #1 seems more like a farce to me?

    Here’s a couple ideas:

    * A church historian discovers some secret papers written by Joseph Smith that outlines the PH ordinance for ressurrection. He promptly ressurrects his dead brother, a man he mistakenly believes lived an exemplary life. Turns out, he was a really rather evil man, and is now roaming the earth a ressurrected being…
    (Inspired by Ed and His Dead Mother)

    * Three men show up in a small Utah town, and they are claiming to be the Three Nephites. Everyone in the town is taken in, except for Sam, a young boy, who is the only person to recognize them for what they really are…

  43. zabada on March 26, 2006 at 2:08 pm

    Bishop with multiple personalities. His “normal” self can’t remember what his “demons” do. Notes mysterious large deposit in his bank account, horrified to realize the amount is the same as the tithing collected in his ward. Can’t figure out why ward members are making all kinds of crazy choices (that he counseled them to do)–RS Pres put kids in daycare and got job at Hooters, EQ Pres locks entire ward in the church building until all the HT is done, own kids get their missionary scriptures tattooed on their foreheads…).

  44. Uadh Arlas on April 5, 2006 at 4:24 pm

    So, I seem to be rather late to this post, but..

    LOL has been my response to this. These are very funny ideas, especially #2 and DKL’s idea involving a stockpile. I also like #1 a lot.

    I’m with annegb, I would buy these. And thank you everyone for the references to dark comedies. I’ll read.

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