"The shock value of what might be called death humor"
October 18, 2013 6:26 PM   Subscribe

Laughing Past The Grave
We realize we aren’t supposed to speak ill of the dead, but we adore it, often to a perfectly scandalous degree, when others do, and especially when it’s funny.
posted by the man of twists and turns (28 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

Let us set loose the old chestnuts of yore!

What do you think RJ Fletcher Sr. would say, if he were alive today?


At a funeral for a well known cardiac surgeon, the coffin had been placed in front of a huge heart. The priest finished with the sermon, and after everyone said their good-byes, the heart split in half and opened. The coffin then rolled into it, and the doors of the heart closed behind him.

There was a moment of silence and then a man in the audience started laughing uncontrollably. The man next to him gave him a dirty look and asked: "Why are you laughing?"

"I was thinking about my own funeral" the man said.

"What!? How can that be funny?"

"I'm a gynecologist."
posted by chambers at 6:56 PM on October 18, 2013 [26 favorites]

posted by oneswellfoop at 7:08 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

In my family, we essentially have wakes, only with less booze than is usually associated with wakes. Great respect is bestowed upon the speaker who can draw the biggest laugh in rememberance of the departed. We do not consider this disrespectful, though. Quite the contrary. It's a sign of the love we hold for each other to draw that gasp of recognition from the room, followed by the release of shared emotion. Of course it helps that we are a family full of characters and storytellers, and a few true wits. This is probably at least partly to blame for my love of gallows humor. That, and I am a bad, morbid person.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:15 PM on October 18, 2013 [9 favorites]

Hands up if you reflexively checked in on Abe Vigoda just now.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:17 PM on October 18, 2013 [7 favorites]

When I told my husband that Etta James passed away, he said, "at last!"

I adore her music and was saddened by her passing, but this quip made me almost weep with laughter -- it was so well-timed and apt.
posted by spacewaitress at 7:20 PM on October 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

,,,and ColdChef thought he was going to get the weekend off...
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:20 PM on October 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

Abe Vigoda will outlive us all.

It's Raining Florence Henderson: Oh hell yeah. Here's to humor as a way to discuss the things that are too emotionally wrought to discuss in seriousness.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:27 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can't believe you went there, oneswellfoop!
posted by Anitanola at 8:02 PM on October 18, 2013

I like dark humour, and I've done this at least once in my life (when one of the Jackass stars crashed into a tree, specifically), but I'm not proud of that.

Cracking wise about the recently departed is the ultimate form of schadenfreude—mirth at the misfortunes of others.

Either I'm retreating into the woods before I die so they can put weeks or months of effort into fucking finding me, if they ever do, defeating the "recently" part, or I'll go with the tombstone inscription I came up with as a teenager: "Come On In, The Soil's Fine!" (A good friend of mine is debating between "I'm Right Behind You" or "You're Next".) Because if I don't trust people in life, why would I trust them in death?
posted by quiet earth at 8:09 PM on October 18, 2013

non-political but irresistable: the man who popularized Gummy Bears, Haribo's Hans Reigel, died on Tuesday at the age of 90. Cause of death... either too many sugarless gummies or reading the thread about them.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:19 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'd bet it was that someone finally had the nerve to try and show him an episode of the the 90s cartoon series, and upon seeing the banal intro, the existential horror of what his life's work became finished him off.
posted by droplet at 8:36 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

The thing with deathburns to me is that going out of one's way to hate on the deceased betrays your continued interest in their existence. Even if all you have to say of them is high vitriol, you are in your own bizarre way kind of mourning them. There is now an emptiness in the world where that person once was and you are an active participant in filling that emptiness in, even if it is with heaps of shit. The truest insult would seem to be to ignore that void entirely.

There are definitely edge cases here which complicate things; you might argue that in the case of a major murderous political leader for instance, there is a social value to undertaking that void-filling, using it to make your distaste for their actions heard in the media and the historical record. However, should this person be so explicitly awful, there is a good chance "this person is awful" messaging has been present in some form prior to their deaths. Ratcheting that messaging up a notch again seems like an implicit acknowledgment that their death is of importance.

If they were in power doing awful things up until that time, then yeah, spread that message, but spread it because they are out of power, not because they are dead. If there is an afterlife I would think it much sweeter to have history's bad actors seethe at the world's indifference to their absence than to observe their enemies gather around their corpse and shout themselves hoarse over accounts that can never be balanced.
posted by passerby at 8:42 PM on October 18, 2013

Of all the recent passings, the one I will NOT joke about is Astronaut Scott Carpenter. Because I don't want Buzz Aldrin whupping my ass.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:52 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Rep. Bill Young of Florida, the longest-serving Republican member of the House, died Friday evening.

Slightly disappointing that he didn't seem to be a shitty human being; there's a 'Only the good die young' joke begging to be made there.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:14 PM on October 18, 2013

One more passing today, Lou Scheimer, co-founder of the cartoon company Filmation, and Executive Producer of Archie, Fat Albert, He-Man and many other Saturday Morning not-quite-classics. His death followed over 50 years of very limited animation.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:35 PM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

As I walked, burping and farting, to the bathroom I thought... Death is the only truthful thing to laugh at. Any laughter is really laughing at mortality, is it not? One might laugh at someone falling down. Or slipping on a banana peel. And it seems simple. Look at that person, it's not me. Thus it is funny.

But honestly, laughter is a simple thing. If I can laugh, I'm alive.

The dead don't laugh.

Life laughs. Death is silent.
posted by Splunge at 10:14 PM on October 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

it boggles the mind that I am the first to link this, but:
john cleese speaks at graham chapman's funeral

should I ever die (ha!) I hope I'm known well enough to receive such a heartfelt treatment. The look on the faces of the other members of the troupe after the twist is revealed belies the mastery of the statement: perfectly respectful through its perfect irreverence, cutting to the heart of what is required of a eulogy.
posted by tiaz at 3:24 AM on October 19, 2013 [7 favorites]

When Marc died after a brutal three-year cage fight with cancer at 27, we who loved him gathered to pass a few joints after the funeral to try to come to terms. Illness had taken our amazing, irreplaceable, 6'4" friend and reduced him to bones even I could lift off his bed. The suffering had been great and we were speechless, smoking and weeping and staring into space.

After long moments of this, the one among us who knew him best cleared his throat to speak. What could be said? Long suffering had draped our friend in the unfamiliar guise of sainthood and, young as we were, we sensed that he no longer belonged to us. The atmosphere was unbearably heavy.

"You all know that Marc could be a real asshole sometimes."

This was so shocking, and so true, that we gasped, and laughed, and the dam broke, it was okay: he belonged to us again. There followed a flood of jokes and stories and wonderful, living memories, piling up on each other until we were breathless. Laughter made all the difference.
posted by kinnakeet at 7:47 AM on October 19, 2013 [15 favorites]

My mom really shocked me once when she pointed out that Patsy Cline fell to pieces.
posted by randomkeystrike at 9:43 AM on October 19, 2013

I was a pallbearer at my pal Marty's funeral. He died of a heroin overdose. He weighed around 400 pounds. There were 8 of us carrying the coffin. One of the 8, my friend T, has a neuromuscular condition, is legally blind, and is barely ambulatory.

As we struggled to lift the coffin from the back of the hearse and carry it into the chapel, I heard T next to me hiss, "We carried you for the last goddamn year, and now we gotta do it one more time. Fat fucking junkie."

And we dissolved into hysterics. We were so angry, so sad, so shocked that this had happened (Marty was unkillable -- we accepted this as fact) that T's little tantrum was all it took to set us off.

The rest of the funeral looked on in horror as all of us pallbearers stood there and laughed in anger at the dead guy.

Marty would've wanted it that way. Fat fucking junkie.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:25 PM on October 19, 2013 [15 favorites]

The world is conspiring to make me tell inappropriate jokes: "Bum Phillips, an Astute NFL Coach, Dies at 90" He was a trendsetter - now, most NFL coaches are Bums...
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:53 PM on October 19, 2013

During a memorial planning session, the deceased's loving mother, brother, and I inadvertently made a verrrrry dignified funeral director burst into undignified guffaws. We'd been making cracks long before E's death*, and I'm confident the director knew where we were coming from, but he did his best to maintain his own decorum despite our high good humor (which was more about relief that he was free from pain than anything else).

I can't even remember most of what we said that day, but I remember the (not especially funny) words that broke his dam of reserve. We were trying to set a time for the service and his mother said that holding her habitually oversleeping, chronically belated son's memorial in the morning just felt wrong. "10 a.m.? That's just not like him." I pointed out, "Y'know what would be like him? We could say it's at 1 p.m., then roll in at 2:15 all 'That wasn't, like, carved in stone, was it?' " And our undertaker lost it: big braying gulps of laughter, leaning in to the tabletop, wiping tears away.

*In our last coherent conversation, E told me the first two minutes of what promised to be an extremely filthy and elaborate joke. His grandmother entered the room and he murmured, in that gravelly voice that's next door to death, "I'll tell you the rest later."

I'm waiting, sweetie.

posted by Elsa at 2:41 PM on October 19, 2013 [7 favorites]

Also, a catchphrase with some members of my family: Thank God your father's dead!"
posted by Elsa at 2:42 PM on October 19, 2013

My mother and I shared a taste for morbid humor. For years, she kept a clipping from the New York Times on the refrigerator stating that this was a sign of a healthy psyche. Somewhere, I have a photo of her lying, arms crossed and white-haired, on a grave. She passed before the current fashion for funereal slideshows. It's a shame, she would have liked to have had that as part of the memorial.
posted by Morrigan at 5:19 PM on October 19, 2013

Well what the hell. I got turned down for a writing gig yet again. So I will tell you the most painful thing that ever happened to me at a funeral. My father's funeral.

My father had a stroke right the fuck in front of me. The wife and I were living downstairs and mom and dad lived above us. One night we heard a thud that could only mean trouble.

We went upstairs and my father was in the livingroom on the floor. I helped him up to a sitting position.

Dad, are you okay?

I'm fine. I'm fine. Why am I here?

Dad do you want to get up? I'll help you.

I'm fine, I'm fine. Why am I on the floor?

Dad, look at me, are you okay?

I'm fine. I'm fine.

Mom call 911 tell them get here yesterday.

Long story short he had a massive hematoma in Broca's area. Look it up.

After over two years he finally passed away. No, clarification. After over 2 years his body died.

I visited him for a few times in the beginning. He wasn't there. My mother was there every day. And it sucked the life out of her.

We spent time with a funeral director. I and my brother told him, closed casket. Because he was going to be cremated.

The day of the wake, I got really drunk. Really, really drunk. But not so much that I couldn't do the family thing. You know, kissing. Hugs. I'm sorry, thank you crap.

When i got to the funeral parlor there he was in an open coffin. The family was walking up and kissing him.

I went to the coffin and lost it. It took four people to carry me out. I was pissed and furious. As well as as sad and disturbed as I could be.

The wife drove me home, angry at me.

I missed the burial.

I miss my dad.
posted by Splunge at 8:55 PM on October 22, 2013

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