Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Black Humor Aug, 1965
BLACK HUMOR was a 1965 Bantam paperback anthology of short stories and excerpts from novels by celebrated "black humorists" of the day, including Joseph Heller, Terry Southern, Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Pynchon, Edward Albee and many others,  edited by my father Bruce Jay Friedman, and including his short story "Black Angels". I've always loved this cover, although, first subjected to it at age of six, I had no idea what the hell was going on. A couple talking via word balloons inside a closed coffin? A bra hanging out?? What could this mean? This was not MAD magazine! Actually, It still confuses me.

From the books opening page:


 the phrase "Black Humor" (Not BJF's title, the book was already titled when he was hired as it's editor) evolved from "black comedy" and "gallows humor", a "dark humor provoking discomfort". From BJF's foreword attempting to describe this new literary genre: "A nervousness, a tempo, a near hysterical new beat in the air, a punishing isolation and loneliness of a strange, frenzied new kind".

BJF was never comfortable with the possibly misleading literary label "Black Humor", preferring "Tense Comedy", a phrase he later used in 1967 as a subtitle for his off- Broadway play "Scuba Duba".  Here he discusses Black Humor and other topics with Mike Sacks for his book of interviews with celebrated humor authors "And Here's the Kicker":


The invitation to the books publication party at the Ginger Man restaurant in the summer of 1965. The (1792!) illustration used is titled: "Fashionable Contrasts" by James Gillray. Sadly, my 2 brothers and I did not attend the party.

                 Part two of the party invitation, listing the book's table of contents.

The supplement BOOKWEEK in the now long-gone New York Herald Tribune reprinted BJF's foreword to the book, accompanied by this illustration by renowned cartoonist Stan Mack.

In the late sixties, the short story anthology "Nelson Algren's Own Book of Lonesome Monsters" was reprinted with a new title to capitalize on the "Black Humor" craze.
Black Humor, Sept, 1969
In 1969, Bantam reprinted Black Humor as a "Bantam Modern Classic" with this new, even more disturbing (to a 10 year old) cover, based on a portion of "Hure Und Kriegskrupper" by Otto Dix. 


  1. read that book at the tender age of 14 , what an introduction to midcentury modern litrature it was

  2. For some reason I can't imagine a book cover design like that making it past the numbers crunchers in the back office nowadays. Stan Mack's drawing a a treat. Otto Dix is good- he should be getting more work.

  3. Vic, alas, all true and well said.

    Mark, yes, good book.

  4. Dear Drew,

    That drawing on the poster for the party is by James Gillray, and it's called "Fashionable Contrasts". It's from 1792: http://www.flickr.com/photos/artimageslibrary/4193435771/ I saw the engraving when I went to a show of Gillray's work a few years ago in London.



  5. Thanks Ivy! Information, now included!

  6. I bought the coffin cover edition as an 15-year-old in Summer '71. It cost me a dime at the public library sale.
    I think I made the connection to OH DAD POOR DAD, MAMA'S HUNG YOU IN THE CLOSET AND I FEEL SO SAD. And having just bought STEAMBATH I was looking for other works by your father.
    Never did get through the entire book. Wish I still had it so I could give it another try.

  7. It can be found on ebay, fairly cheap.

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