Zombies (13): Are Funny

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Unlike other monsters, “zombies do not need any separate comic relief . . . they are their own” (Paffenroth 14).

The human body isn’t just a hunk of flesh—it’s a ludicrous hunk of flesh.

Zombies personify death; they force us to face the fragility of our bodies and our own material future.  This may be too much to bear, except that while the zombie is inherently horrifying, it is also “irresistibly comic” (Cooke 166).

Of this comic dimension, Russel says,

[T]he comedy exaggerates the horror by making us even more aware of just how ridiculously vulnerable the flesh is.  If Romero’s aim really is to make us lose all faith in bodily integrity, then it’s the comic impact of the gory special effects that hammers the point home.  The human body isn’t just a hunk of flesh—it’s a ludicrous hunk of flesh.  (95)

Funny Ha Ha

Zombies are funny because they “lack coordination and intelligence,” so they are frequently victims of “simple slapstick, physical gags” (Paffenroth 14).

How often have we seen “funny” zombie scenes in AMC’s The Waling Dead?

  • The Hanging Zombie:  A guy commits suicide by hanging himself from a tree.  He even leaves a suicide not: “Got bit. Fever hit. World gone to Shit. Might as well quit.” His reanimated corpse dangles from the tree futilely attempting to get at Andrea.
  • Screwdriver Zombie (I have the bobblehead of this guy)–walks around with a screwdriver protruding from his eye socket.
  • Well Zombie–you know what I’m talking about.  GROSS!
  • It’s raining zombies! — zombies drop through the ceiling of a supermarket’s rotted roof.

  • Play Doh Fun Factory Zombie — a zombie is pressed against the chain link fence by a massive horde–I don’t need to describe the effect.

Ironically Funny

Zombies aren’t just funny, “Ha ha.”

Kim Paffenroth identifies “the comedy of reversal” as another type of humour in zombie films, “especially the reversal of social roles” (16).  He suggests that zombies are the “lowest, most ‘peasant’ type of monster . . . but enjoy greater success at annihilating humanity that any previous monster ever did. . . . The whole idea of zombies taking over the world is both a funny and potent parable of human hubris, arrogance, and self-sufficiency” (17).

They are physical comedians and they provoke the ironic snicker, but I suggest we laugh at them for a third reason: as a means of dealing with the despair of living without transcendence.

Gallows Humour

The humour inherent in zombie narratives enables a distancing between ourselves and a reality that would perhaps be too much to bear.Click To Tweet

Given that they bring material man face to face with his annihilation, the comedic dimension of the zombie is a form of “gallows humor”—a dark, fatalistic humor, the sort one might display on the gallows before being hanged.  James Thorson argues that genuine gallows humour is intentional and purposeful, the main purpose being to cope with death, either through defiance or emotional escape.

We laugh at the zombie as a means to cope because, in the context of the closed immanent frame, death is something too terrible to contemplate.  The humour inherent in zombie narratives enables a distancing between ourselves and a reality that would perhaps be too much to bear.

Next zombie post: The Zombie Horde

Also Cited:
Thorson, James A. “Did You Ever See A Herse Go By? Some Thoughts on Gallows Humour.” Journal of American Culture 16.2 (Summer 1993): 17-24. Web. 11 July 2012.


  1. S.dejong

    Great entry trent! i tend to disagree with your thought that zombies can be seen as humorous though. I found myself watching shows such as AMC’s “the walking dead” and movies like “Dawn of the Dead” and feeling real fear at some of the scenes. there are certain zombies that are physically large, strong, and intimidating. The characters were usually in situations where they were trapped, and the large zombie was getting closer and closer to digging into their flesh. I found myself feeling butterflies in my stomach watching these scenes, feeling fear and even hopelessness for the characters. Perhaps I only felt fear for the characters in these situations because the zombies in this case didn’t seem to “lack coordination or intelligence” but showed real human-like power to kill.

  2. Trent

    Yeah, I understand exactly what you are saying; the overall tone of shows like The Walking Dead is pretty serious. Still, I think there is inherent humour in the lurching clumsiness of the zombies and in weird situations, like the zombie hanging from the tree or the other one that had fallen in the well. Disturbing in one sense, but funny in another. The vampire, Frankenstein’s monster, the wolfman or any other monster of days gone by was funny in this way. That’s what I was getting at. Thanks for reading.

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