Erzebehl started slightly as the secretary called his name; it was time for his audience with his Prince. He was either about to get promoted, or find himself in really deep shit. He thought he'd been doing good work recently, but you never can tell…
He tried to retain his composure as he stepped into Kobal's office, but found himself glancing about nervously. "Go on, sit down," the ancient impudite intoned, gesturing vaguely at the chair in front of the large desk. "I've been looking over your record, Erzebehl. On the whole, you seem to doing pretty good, or should I say evil." Erzebehl felt 90% of the tension escape from his body in that instant. Kobal continued to page through a folder which Erzebehl thought must be his personal file. "Yes, nice and eager, a real go-getter…though, I'd like to talk to you about this body count you've managed to rack up in the past few months…" Erzebehl's tension came shooting back, and brought several of its friends with it. "I think you may not be getting at the essence of the sort of organization I try to run here, the basic precepts of Dark Humor, if you will." Erzebehl's tension got on the phone and started inviting over everyone it knew.
"Now, it's not that I *mind* killing people, it's just that I seldom find it useful. It's so cliched."
"Well…" Erzebehl began to speak, hoping to present some sort of case against his instant reduction to a puddle of goo.
"Eh, eh, eh." Kobal shushed him with a wave of his hand. "I'll grant that you do it in creative ways; I haven't seen most of these tricks for several years, if not decades." (Ahh, the art of damning with faint praise.) "And some of them were rather funny. But, what I want to know is why?"
"Excuse me, sir?"
"Why did you kill these people? What did you hope to accomplish? Talk to me, Erzebehl. Let me see your motivation."
"I, uh…" the young demonling stammered out, "It seemed funny at the time…sir."
"But what do you mean by 'funny'? What is humor? Go on, don't be afraid to lecture to your old man—I'll take insolency over idiocy any day."
"Well, I tried to set up situations that were different from the norm, either bizarre or disgusting or seemingly innocuous, then add a twist. Death is a good twist because people take it seriously, unlike they do Saminga." The faint upward twitch of the corner of Kobal's mouth on hearing that jab let Erzebehl know that he could still salvage himself. "When a fluffy pink bunny rabbit mauls someone, or when a sewer lid cracks and sends someone plummeting to their death, it's so unexpected that it's funny."
"Okay, I'll grant you that, but who's your audience?"
"I'm not certain I understand you, boss."
"Humor isn't something that exists on its own. It needs an audience. The nature of the audience defines the humor that can exist. That crack about Saminga, would you tell it to Belial? No, he wouldn't get it. Would you tell it to the Morningstar? Perhaps, if the mood was right. Would you tell it to Set? Not if you wanted to live.
Humor is created for an audience. You may be part of the audience or you may not. But, if you're the only member of that audience, it's kind of pointless—an exercise in intellectual wankery. So, getting back to your record, what did those death gags accomplish? The victim is dead; in time, he may find his death humorous, or he may not. He may become resentful, jealous of those that didn't succumb to such trivialities. That's good, that's what Fate is all about. BUT, and it's a big but, he's already dead! Oops, too late."
Erzebehl, turned somewhat red and shrank down in his chair.
"What about everyone else? What are their reactions? 'Oh, how shocking!' 'I can't believe it.' Some people will laugh, but most will find it so tragic that they won't, or not for long. They'll feel *sympathy* for the poor bastard. They'll commiserate with each other, form groups to prevent this. Is that what you want? Everyone bonding together and getting all weepy?"
"Um, no, sir."
"You have to be subtle. Big tragedies bring people together. Little tragedies make one person suffer, but not enough to make other people feel sorry for them. They have their own problems. Other people's problems distract them from their own. Laughing at your neighbor's misfortune helps to take away the pain from yours, but only for a little while, and it makes your neighbor feel like shit. Maybe they'll get depressed. Even better, maybe they'll get angry and do something back to you in exchange. Cycles of escalating psychotic vengeance, with everyone laughing all the way to the grave, that's what we want. We don't want bonding, we want people making each other miserable. Then, we don't even have to do anything! We can just sit back and be the audience to their misfortune. Do you see? Dark Humor—that is the true path to Fate, by little indirect steps, one at a time."
"Alright, sir, I understand. I'll do better now, I'm certain."
"Not so fast, Erzebehl, I'm not through with you yet."
"Don't worry; I like you. You've got potential, you just need a little training, that's all. If didn't think you we were worth anything, I'd have traded you to Saminga or the Vaputech beta-testing program by now.
I want you to go to Earth, and make this guy's life miserable." Kobal pitched a glossy polaroid across the desk. "His name's Larry, and your job is see to it that he's living through Hell each and every day of his life. However, you are not allow him to get hurt. You'll be his personal guardian angel, heh. Oh, and this here little imp'll tag along filming the whole thing, which I intend to broadcast opposite 'Who wants to have a million essence?' and 'Survivor: Abbadon'. Remember, your audience is watching…"