July, 2014 Issue

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Spanky: Dead Wrong


By Steven Kent McFarlin (AKA Spanky)

"Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh." George Bernard Shaw

About 40 years ago, the improvisational troupe, The Second City, first created their ?Funeral? sketch that has now become a comedy classic. In it, a man who tried to get the last baked bean out of a one-gallon can dies by getting his head lodged in the can. At his funeral, mourners struggle to restrain their laughter when being told how he died. It is one of the funniest things I?ve ever seen. (Google the video ?Funeral ? From The Second City?s 25th Anniversary.? Thank me later.)

My mother used to warn me to always wear clean underwear in case I was in an accident. The logic being I could avoid the shame of medical personnel, and/or the coroner, discovering I was the type of person who did not wear clean underwear. (Of course, this logic only applies to people who are fortunate enough to not see the accident coming, which might have an adverse effect on underwear.) I faithfully heeded my mother?s advice, because I feared my last thought would be ?Well, this is going to be embarrassing!?

Another one of my mother?s favorite phrases was ?I wouldn?t be caught dead there.? My career as a stand-up comic has taken me to war zones, prisons, biker bars, and mafia clubs, places where the likelihood of being caught dead increase. But history indicates a comedian is more likely to be caught dead overdosed in a hotel room, like Lenny Bruce, John Belushi, Mitch Hedberg and Greg Giraldo. Given how much time comics spend in hotel rooms it is no surprise this has become such a common demise. Although it is a dreadful way to go, I would prefer it to that of rock stars, Jimi Hendrix, John Bonham, and Bon Scott, who choked to death on their own vomit (at least it is assumed it was their own vomit, as Nigel Tufnel pointed out in This Is Spinal Tap, ?You can?t really dust for vomit.?) But, I?ve discovered there are worse ways to go.

A friend told me that during a defensive driving class, a fireman informed her that dozens of people have died from picking their nose when their airbag deployed, propelling their finger into their head. (He supported this information with the results of a poll that found that the car is the second favorite location for people to pick their nose, right behind the toilet.) I?m sure I am not alone when I say that when I die and people ask how I went, nose-picking will not be very high on my list of desired answers.

Which brings me to my point: Life can be humiliating. So can death.

The demise of both actor David Carradine and INXS frontman Michael Hutchence was suspected to be from autoerotic asphyxiation, and death by masturbation ranks even lower than nose-picking.

A 32-year old Floridian, Edward Archbald, recently died from the effects of winning a contest to see who could eat the most cockroaches and that makes for a fairly humiliating obituary.

Hollywood movie star, Lupe Velez, hoped to make a beautiful exit by suicide, planning for her body to be found in her bed surrounded by flowers, in her nicest dress, with her hair and makeup perfect. After swallowing 580 barbiturate pills her plans when awry; the pills not only made her sleepy, they also made her vomit. The next day her maid found poor Lupe with her head in the toilet. She had drowned.

I read of a (unnamed) man that attempted suicide by jumping into an outhouse, only to spend three days up to his waist in raw sewage before being rescued. The police report, in a rare case of law enforcement humor, claimed his attempt might have been successful if he had only jumped headfirst. Thus, the man suffered a humiliating failure at his attempt at a humiliating death.

Which brings me to my next point: Life is ironic. So is death.

The irony that Paul Walker, the star of the Fast and Furious movies, died in a car crash is hard to deny. But he is one of many to have an ironic death.

The most feared warrior of his time, Attila the Hun, died from a nosebleed.

The Marlboro Man died from smoking cigarettes.

The owner of Segway, Jimi Heselden, died when he drove his Segway off a cliff.

Health food advocate, Basil Brown, overdosed on Vitamin A after drinking ten gallons of carrot juice in ten days.

The man credited with starting America?s fitness revolution by promoting the health benefits of regular jogging, Jim Fixx, died at the early age of 52 from a heart attack during his daily run. Ohio lawyer, Clement Vallandisham, was defending a man charged with murder and accidentally shot himself while demonstrating how the victim might have accidentally shot himself. The defendant was cleared. The lawyer died.

When I really give it some thought, it is debatable if a deceased person is capable of feeling shame, humiliation, or irony. So, I suppose it does not matter where I am caught dead. However I still hope I am wearing clean underwear. Saxon King, Edmund Ironside, was killed by an assassin that hid in the cesspool below and thrust his sword upward into the King's fundament. Ouch!

Steven Kent McFarlin (AKA ?Spanky?) has been described by the press as a ?campus entertainment icon.? He offers two great events at one great low price, and has been voted ?Campus Comic of the Year? ( and the ?Campus Performer of the Year? ( His credits include over fifty TV appearances, including: Showtime, Good Morning America, and The Late Show. He is represented by GP Entertainment.