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There's Real Fun in Funerals
What to do with the dear departed?
Although the remains of our loved ones deserve the right to internment in a dignified manner and with the proper respect due, humour can be found in everything, even in subjects that we might sometimes find distasteful. Look closely at the word: funeral and you will see that you can literally make real fun out of it.
This is exactly what the Irish comedian Dave Allen was so brilliant at although many viewed his brand of humour as far too irreverent. A classic example is his famous sketch of two funeral corteges racing each other to the graveyard only to find that a third cortege has beaten them to it. On the way, every conceivable mishap occurs to the coffins containing the dear departed as the race through quiet English country lanes gathers momentum, one coffin almost ending up in the village pond. Perhaps the funniest thing about the entire sketch is the fact that shocked onlookers (who had no idea that a comedy sketch was being filmed in their vicinity) interpreted the outrageous shenanigans as real.
I remember a situation comedy called ‘In loving Memory’ starring Thora Hird. Her character, Ivy Unsworth, ran an undertaker’s firm. There were endless possibilities for humour. My straight-laced grandmother would always turn the program off immediately, deeming funerals a totally inappropriate subject for entertainment purposes. Unwittingly she caused a few laughs herself when arranging her will: ‘How would you prefer your mortal remains to be disposed of?’ her solicitor asked.
‘Oh, I’ll think about that when the time comes,’ was her swift response.
It isn’t just the funeral but the events leading up to one that can often be cause for many a hearty belly laugh (or just a hint of a smile for the more reserved). Almost every family has at least one amusing anecdote to relate: here are some that have happened in mine:
An uncle with a naval background expressed a wish to be buried at sea. That proving too expensive, the next best thing was for the family to hire a motor launch at a cost of two hundred pounds to have his ashes scattered in Plymouth Sound. All went well with the funeral service until the minister began to scatter the ashes over the side of the boat. It was a gusty day and my father being downwind of the whole procedure had a final unexpected encounter with his brother-in-law’s mortal remains en route to their watery grave. It was a conversation piece for years afterwards. ‘Uncle Harry is just a twinkle in my eye now,’ dad would often joke.
Another uncle was dead against the whole concept of funerals whether burial or cremation was involved. He expressed profound wishes that his body was to be left to medical science after his demise and had thus made no prior arrangements for any other method of disposal. It turned out that medical science was not in the least grateful for his donation and I thought it ironic that he was given the funeral he didn’t want after all. Knowing the type of person he was I’m sure he’d have had a good old laugh about it.
Then there was the time when the same uncle had accompanied his father’s ashes home on a plane from Italy. Apparently some of the contents of the urn had spilled out from where they were stowed in the overhead locker and onto a lady’s hat in the row immediately in front. Whether this was what had put my uncle off the thought of cremation, I don’t really know, but many a mishap has befallen people’s remains en route to their final resting place.
There have been funny stories I have heard of ashes being sucked up in vacuum cleaners when urns have toppled from mantelpieces and even people being buried with someone else’s false teeth. Not forgetting the hilarious 1966 comedy film: The Wrong Box, starring Michael Caine along with a host of well-known British comedians.
The first time I attended a funeral it was a freezing day in January and I found it incredibly funny that a crematorium could be so cold. However such thoughts are best kept private at least until after the event. What one person may find humorous another may not, so it is always wise to contain one’s laughter. Sombre moods can always give way to a more relaxed attitude afterwards - usually with the help of a few strong drinks.
Perhaps nowadays there is even more chance of humorous incidents occurring at funerals. People now have a much wider choice as what can be done with their remains after death. For some, the prospect of cremation or burial seems far too mundane when you can now go one better and have your ashes blasted into orbit, transformed into glass - or even diamonds. Even cardboard biodegradable coffins are available for the ultra stingy or eco-friendly amongst us – providing it doesn’t rain on the day of the funeral. And for those who can’t deal with the fact that their number really is up,,cryonic suspension must be the only option but beware of relatives who may decide not to pay for the electricity costs to keep your body on ice and go on a world cruise instead... the last laugh may be on you.
Dave Allen - funeral sketch
'In Loving Memory' a 1970's sitcom
© 2015 Stella Kaye