By definition, black comedy—also known as black humor, morbid humor, and gallows humor—gets its laughs by finding the funny in the tragic.
Think the collected works of Lenny Bruce, Kurt Vonnegut, or Karl Kraus. Or consider the brilliance of English serial killer William Palmer stepping onto the Stafford Prison gallows in front of 30,000 people, looking at the trap door, and asking the hangman “Are you sure it’s safe?”
It took a bit of stepping back to appreciate the sentiment behind Kellarissa’s “Kensington Carol”. The video is shot in gloriously gothic black and white, that decision bringing to mind the photographs of Shirren Lim, Ansel Adams, and Sally Mann. If you’re looking for a visual encapsulation of Vancouver in November, look no further than the opening frame, where a leafless tree towers in a pre-winter sky.
The post-Gregorian-chant song is built around Kellarissa’s patented dream-world synths and enchantingly-ethereal vocals—both of which give things an air that’s elegantly somber.
But it’s the lyrics make “Kensington Carol” as clever as it is captivating. Rather than playing her hand early, Kellarissa starts out with “How could we have known/Many moons ago/The world is upside down.” Angsty right? And who can blame her given the shitshow that’s been the past 10 months?
But pretty soon things take a turn, right after Kellarissa—in black, right down to her nail polish—sings about friends she never thought she’d miss so much, and lonely lost weekends she’ll never get back.
The first tip off that she’s able to see the humour in things comes with “Weekends fill my heart with dread/Take all my meals in bed.” She goes on to wring every bit of drama out of “Oh to make some plans/To see you in the flesh”. And then, marching slowly towards the camera in a chimney-black facemask, finishes things off with “For, if I must always cover my mouth/I may never sing again.”
It would be funny if it wasn’t so blackly true. Feel free to laugh because sometimes that’s all you can do.