Writing Dystopic Comedy

2014 Artwork Dystopic Comedy article sketch

Although I’ve written about dystopic fiction before, I thought that I’d talk about one of my favourite genres of comedy today. I am, of course, talking about dystopic comedy – although dystopic comedy often has a lot in common with dark comedy there are a few important differences.

In a dark comedy, a lot of the humour comes from the grim events of the story and the irreverent and/or ironic way that they’re portrayed. However, in a dystopic comedy, the main source of the humour is the world of the story itself. Yes, you heard me correctly – the setting is the thing that makes the audience laugh.

The setting of a dystopic comedy is so hilariously crappy, run-down and/or dysfunctional that it can’t help but be funny. Perhaps it’s nothing more than an unusual perspective on our own world, like in animated shows such as “Beavis and Butt-Head“. Perhaps it’s set in a ludicrously bizarre and bureaucratic fantasy world, such as in many of Terry Pratchett’s novels.

Perhaps it’s a satirical caricature of our own world, like in the BBC’s brilliantly cynical “Monkey Dust” animated series or in a brilliant Warren Ellis’ novel called “Crooked Little Vein”.

Or perhaps it’s even an actual dystopic future, like in Warren Ellis’ “Transmetropolitan” comics, in a TV show like “Red Dwarf” or in a hilarious computer game from the 1990s called “Normality“.

Whatever it is, the main source of the comedy in a dystopic comedy is the setting of the story. And, as I said before, this is one of my favourite forms of comedy for so many reasons. Plus, it’s a type of comedy that works well in both visual mediums (like comics) and in prose fiction too.

I think that one of the reasons why it’s such a great form of comedy is because it’s usually at least slightly subtle – most of the humour is literally hidden in the background.

What this means is that your story or comic will have a lot more re-readability because people will notice new things every time that they read your story. Not only that, it also means that you can also include a non-comedy story in the foreground too if you really want to.

Not only that, a unique setting is often one of the most memorable things about a story, comic, TV show, videogame etc… And, since the settings in dystopic comedy stories are, by their very nature, unusual and often hilariously crappy (in a good way) they’re likely to stand out from all of the “ordinary” stories out there.

So, how do you make this type of comedy?

If you’re writing a prose dystopic comedy story, then you can add a lot of comedy by just including small descriptions of the settings or things, showing how your characters react to the settings, showing things malfunctioning in hilarious ways and/or showing small things that happen because of the settings. It’s that simple. Sort of.

The only possible difficulty is coming up with tens or hundreds of funny little ideas – although if you have a cynical enough perspective on the world to love dystopic comedy, then this probably shouldn’t be too much of a problem for you. But, if it is, then just try parodying various things.

For example, here’s a description from my short-lived “Ambitus” sci-fi/comedy series from last year, which is something of a “Star Trek” parody: “Two full-body scans later, Jola had found himself in the cramped and dusty secondary bridge with all of his bridge staff. The atmospherics were playing up and the techs who had been assigned to fix it were just about visible through the porthole by the obsolete navigation console. They were wrestling with what looked distinctly like a giant frozen Bucolian squid.

If you’re making a comic, then it’s just a case of coming up with lots of funny little background details and/or making everything look slightly run-down and grungy. Not only that, you can also do all of the things which you can do in dystopic comedy prose fiction too. Again, it’s that simple.

For example, here’s a page from the very first (badly-written) webcomic I ever posted online back in 2010. Although the art in it is nowhere near as good as my current art, this page will give you a good example of how you can use the setting for comedic effect:

[Click for larger image] "Yametry Run - Episode 16" By C. A. Brown

[Click for larger image]
“Yametry Run – Episode 16” By C. A. Brown

So, yes, although dystopic comedy almost requires a slightly cynical perspective on the world – it’s relatively easy to write and/or draw and it is both fun and memorable to read.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

2 comments on “Writing Dystopic Comedy

  1. Dystopic comedy…genius.

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