No one knows the ending of this classic joke. The person being
asked can't say 'Death who?' because they're dead. There may
well be an amusing answer to the question 'Death who?' (I favor
'gesundheit!') but we'll never have that chuckle in any
sense other than hypothetical, just as we'll never have a
certain answer what lies behind the mortal curtain. Shakespeare
called Death "The Undiscovered Country" I think. I'm
pretty sure that quote is attributed to The Bard by some Klingon
in Star Trek VI, and that's good enough for me, even if I've
totally misremembered every aspect of it. I'm middle aged, so
for all I know it could have been Rodney Dangerfield quoting
Stephen King in "Back to School" and referring to Death
not as 'The Undiscovered Country', but as something that gave
him 'No respect.' It hardly matters.
The point is, it's mid January, or as we call it in New England,
"The hopeless season". I'm sure Norwegians have it worse than we
do, but I'll be damned if I care about a bunch of Polar Bear
sucking Swiss bastard Viking Eskimo Pies or whatever the hell
they are up there.
Unspeakable Swiss Bastard
If you have Seasonal Affective Disorder (and screw all of you
who don't) this is the time of year where you know the days are
getting longer but you also know it's too little too late to
keep you from making a choice between suicide and murder. As a
little reality check, I want to remind you that neither of those
are good choices, unless you plan to kill someone anonymous with
no motive at all, which is actually pretty easy to get away
with. So I hear.
Anyway, here's my point: Death is inevitable and it comes to all
of us. This being the case, any time you spend dreading death is
taking a chunk of time you're still alive and making it suck.
Unless you enjoy dread, in which case kudos to you, gentle
reader, as you probably enjoy life significantly more than
I do, and you can stop reading. But if you fall into the
non-dread loving camp (he wrote, beginning a sentence with a
conjunction, thereby subtly setting you up for his convention
flouting premise) read on and join me in laughing at the Grim
Reaper! Remember, with the loss of a single 'E', the Sickle
Wielding Specter of Doom is transformed into the 'Grim Raper',
which now that I think about it isn't very funny at all. Unless it's
prison rape, which is well known to be hilarious.
In Ingmar Bergman's classic "Seventh Seal", the figure
Death is personified as 'Drippy the Chess Playin', Cell Mate
Death Seal', a three year old female Gray Seal coaxed
playing the role of Death by threatening her pups.
TWO KINDS OF DEATH
'Oh, now, just a second there, well known Internet humorist Max
Burbank,' I can almost hear you saying aloud as you read this,
'everyone knows there are a million ways to die!' While this is
technically true, I'll thank you to shut your clam snatcher and
let me 'handle' the 'comedy'.
All the myriad ways to die fall into two camps: Unexpected
Suppose you are quietly reading a humorous internet article,
never knowing that a Ninja Shadow Warrior has silently risen up
behind you with a really big Ninja Gun. Just as he is about to
fire at a range so point blank your brain will be cubicle jelly
before you even hear the shot, the ceiling of your cheaply
constructed work place collapses, crushing you and your Ninja
Nemesis instantly, snuffing out your lives in less than a
heartbeat. It doesn't get much more unexpected than that, my
dead friend. Especially for the Ninja! One moment you're a
living, breathing human being with dreams and hopes and the next
you're an unpleasant biohazard someone is going to have to clean
up, probably some hapless Mexican illegal doing a job you won't.
You never saw it coming, you don't know when it happens, and
since you can't tell Saint Peter how you died, your doomed to
loiter outside the Pearly Gates, squeegeeing the limo
windshields of presumably better prepared souls on their way to
paradise. Those are the rules. God's rules. Anyway, that's what
so called Papist 'scholars' would have you believe.
Any other type of death is lingering.
'But just a moment, Award Winning Funnyman Max Burbank!' you
shout, helpfully increasing the number of times my name comes up
in a Google search, 'you can't tell me getting trampled to death
while running with the Bulls at Pamplona and wasting away from
Lou Gehrig's disease both qualify as lingering!' As is
frequently the case with you, you are very wrong. I told you to
let me do this, and with good reason.
The 'Running of the Bulls' at Pamplona is an ancient custom
that explains why Spaniards ought to stick to making Tapas.
Suppose during a discussion of interest rates on a
non-traditional loan with colorfully nicknamed, well-dressed
gentlemen, you inadvertently step out the sixth floor window of
the building you work in. Leaving aside for a moment the curious
irony that you work on the ground floor, you may well be under
the impression that you are about to be provided with a fairly
quick death. I suppose it's forgivable that in the
understandable panic caused by attempting to stand on a
non-solid surface high above a very solid surface, you have
forgotten that the perception of time is subjective. Hopefully
you have also failed to notice that I used the word 'irony'
Which experience seems to pass more rapidly: reading an
entertaining and humorous bit of Internet Comedy by Max Burbank,
the Funniest Man Alive (trademarked phrase) or getting your
teeth cleaned by a sadomasochistic Bulgarian Dwarf so-called
'dental hygienist'? While both experiences last the EXACT SAME
AMOUNT OF TIME (owing to your cave man like habit of laboriously
forming each word you read with your lips when you read
'silently'), the teeth cleaning seemed to take forever;
Meanwhile, the 'Always LOL Max Burbank Experience' (trademarked
phrase) whizzed by in a mere moment!
Unpleasant experiences are always lingering, and I think we can
all agree that getting your teeth cleaned and plunging to a
certain and horrible death are both unpleasant experiences!
How, you may well ask, are the two types of death, (to recap,
'Unexpected' and 'Lingering') funny? Unfortunately, in the
process of detailing the two types of death for you, I have
forgotten. It's quite likely I'll remember before I finish
writing this article and will share the answer with you, unless
you die unexpectedly while reading it.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER YOU DIE?
As I alluded in my opening Joke, no one knows. If you thought
for even a moment upon reading the 'header' of this section,
that I did know, then more fool you.
Some people believe that when they die, they will go to a
'heaven' where they will be entertained by watching you and all
your friends in 'hell'. Other, darker people (and some filthy
hippies) believe that when the body dies, the immortal soul is
're-incarnated' according to a principal called 'karma', a word
many of them think they 'understand', even though most of them
are full of 'shit'. Atheists believe that when you die, that's
it, you simply cease to exist. Surprisingly, Atheists require no
more anti-depressants than Jews, which is to say every one of
both groups pops them like they're cherry flavored Pez.
Scientologists believe that when you die some sort of top-secret
sci-fi crapola goes down immediately after all your money and
property are transferred to The Church of Scientology. All sorts
of people will tell you they know what happens after you die,
but they are all lying, every single one of them. No dead person
has ever told a living person anything at all with the exception
of Jesus and we all know he's no more real than the Easter
"I am The Way and The Light and Just Pulling Thine Leg.
Seriously, brethren, try the Veal, Yay, even the least of
And here's the funny part: You'll only know if there's life
after death if there IS life after death. If there isn't, you
will only know what scientists call 'Doodly-Squat-Crap.' So the
science camp, which is all about empirical knowledge, knows they
will never know, and the religious camp which is all about magic
and clapping your hands to bring Tinkerbell back from the dead,
might get to know. Ironic, yes? And that time I used it right.
WHY DEATH IS FUNNY
Okay, I'm not a 'math guy' and if you're reading this instead of
some egg head journal, chances are you aren't either, which is
good for me, because if you were a 'math guy' you'd probably
soon have reason to believe that I, World Renowned Modern Day
Mark Twain Max Burbank (Copyright) am, like many other filthy
hippies, full of 'shit'. That being said, it is with
MATHEMATICAL CERTAINTY that I make the following statement:
The funniness of Death is a Function of Proximity.
Here's an example. During the recent execution of Saddam
Hussein's half brother, his 'head' 'accidentally' 'came off'. To
lonely pock marked teenagers, seething marginally employed
cubicle vermin and other frequenters of You-Tube, this is
understandably hilarious. To other Americans, it's kind of
funny, but just the head coming off part. To Shiites, this is a
serious matter of God's vengeance, but you have to admit the
head part makes you laugh the kind of laugh that happens when
you think of something silly during evening prayer and you know
you shouldn't laugh but that just makes it worse. To Sunnis,
this act of revenge masquerading as justice isn't funny at all.
To Saddam's headless half brother, it's simply beyond the pale,
especially the facts that many news outlets don't even bother to
dignify him with a name beyond 'Saddam's half brother',
certainly not the one article I bothered to Google as
See? The closer you get to the actual death, the less funny it
becomes. That's why if I don't know you, your death will be a
knee-slapper, while if I love you, it will be an inconvenience.
That's why when my doctor tells me I have testicular cancer I
won't laugh at all despite the fact that the word 'testicular'
is almost always funny. In fact, research shows that even when
coupled with the word 'cancer' the word 'testicular' remains
funny until attached to the phrase 'Max Burbank, you have'.
My privates look exactly like this.
Historical distance can also make things funnier. Had Jerry
Seinfeld gone back in time and released the episode where he and
a girlfriend engage in heavy petting during a screening of
'Schindler's List' on the day after Auschwitz was liberated, it
might have been less well received, even factoring in that
audiences of that day didn't know who Schindler or Seinfeld
were. Fifty some odd years later, everyone agrees the Holocaust
and it's brutal murder of millions of Jews, Gypsies and
Homosexuals, is fertile grounds for chuckling. Just ask any
Iranian, a people known for the ribald and irreverent take on
the casual removal of petty thieves' hands. This historical
distancing is one of the most hopeful aspects of human nature
and allows us all to look forward with eagerness to future
sitcoms playfully spoofing Darfur.
Despite the proportional reduction of Death's humor potential as
it approaches you personally, I want to encourage you all to
laugh at your own mortality. It's not easy, but it is possible.
In closing, I'll leave you with a few helpful tips that will
make your own unavoidable demise at least a little bit funny.
Run up a really vast amount of secret credit card debt for
really pointless crap. Who wouldn't laugh thinking of a grieving
spouse discovering a maxed out Discover card overloaded with
multiple purchases of 'Cannonball Run' DVD's and subscriptions
to 'Cat Fancy'?
Nothing makes me smile more over my eventual death than knowing
my attic is stuffed with bizarre and possibly dangerous sex
toys. I never use 'em, but when I die and my kids have to clean
out my house, will they know that? For double laughs, I paid for
all those sex toys with... MY CREDIT CARDS!
Make sure that no one gets a penny of your estate until they
spend a night in a haunted house. I'm laughing right now
imagining the deepening irritation wrinkles in my wife's brow!
Donate your body to science and then blow yourself to
smithereens! See, they can't get any of your internal organs!
And they thought they would! Funny, right?
Spend the last two decades of your life pretending to be a
miserly malcontent. This will encourage relatives to treat you
well while you abuse them, and funnier still, you'll know that
instead of the reward they're competing for, all they'll end up
with is mountains of credit card debt for things like 'Cat
Fancy' magazine and Sex Toys!
Upon entering your Golden, sexually inactive years, have a clown
face tattooed on your 'Rig' so that the wiener is the clowns
nose. You can't be sure who, but someone dealing with your
corpse is bound to get the shock of their life! Who knows, maybe
you'll give some poor mortician a fatal heart attack, and that's
seriously funny, because they are not you, you've never even met
them, and they're dead!
Well, that's all, folks! See you in hell unless you're more
better than me than I think you are, or there's no God in our
pointless universe and we both just rot!
If you enjoyed this piece, be sure to check out:
How I Am!