Geological dynamic hazards during coal mining can be caused by the structural instability of a composite system of roof rock and coal layers, and joints in coal play a vital role in this structural instability. In this paper, uniaxial compression simulation tests on roof rock–coal combined bodies with a single joint at different angles in coal were conducted using PFC2D software. In particular, the effects of joint angle on the uniaxial compressive strength (UCS), acoustic emission (AE) and failure characteristics in a combined body were analysed. The results show the following. (1) The joint in coal causes a decrease in the UCS and crack initiation stress, and has promoting effects on the AE occurrence of the combined body. With an increase in the included angle α between the loading direction and joint plane direction, the UCS, AE occurrence time and crack initiation stress first decrease and then increase, presenting ‘V-shaped’ curves. The UCS and crack initiation stress at α of 45° are the lowest, and the AE occurrence time at α of 30° is the earliest. (2) The AE characteristics at α of 0°, 75° and 90° are basically consistent with those of the intact combined body, whereas at α between 15° and 60°, the intensity and frequency of AE events in the macro-failure stage are reduced by the joint in coal. (3) The failure of the combined body mainly occurs within the coal, whereas no apparent failure is observed for the roof rock. Only when α is between 15° and 45°, the roof rock near the bedding plane is destroyed by crack propagation in the coal. (4) Three typical failure modes (i.e. V-shaped shear failure cutting across the coal, shear failure partly along the joint plane direction and shear failure along the joint plane direction) are found for combined bodies with a single joint in coal.