Death from laughter
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Death by fatal hilarity is usually brought about by multiple means:
Asphyxiation, from which the thoracic diaphragm can not expand or contract fully thus causing the inability to breathe correctly. One of the main processes of laughter involves the continuous expansion and contraction of the thoracic diaphragm, bringing in and releasing air into and from lungs. It is possible to overexert and strain this muscle to where it becomes too weakened to perform normally. Other lung conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), and many others may become agitated and contribute to death.
Heart failure, heart attack, and cardiac arrest are the most common of heart conditions that are likely to occur due to constant straining on the heart, ultimately preventing blood flow. As a person laughs, their heart rate increases above the normal ranges. However, as laughter continues, the heart rate may reach dangerous levels that the heart is not accustomed to, straining and damaging it. Other heart conditions include coronary heart disease, cardiac arrhythmia, ischaemic heart disease, and others can also be affected.
The phrase was first recorded in 1596.
- In the third century B.C. the Greek stoic philosopher Chrysippus died of laughter after giving his donkey wine, then seeing it attempt to feed on figs.
- David Foster Wallace's novel Infinite Jest deals with a video tape containing a movie so entertaining that anyone watching it loses all desire to do anything else, eventually becoming comatose and dying. The coma was mostly the result of returning to the pre-oedipal state.
- In the Monty Python sketch "The Funniest Joke in the World", the eponymous joke is so funny that anyone who hears or reads the joke will immediately laugh themselves to death. For this reason, the joke is used against the Germans by the British during World War II. It was so lethal, each word of the joke had to be translated by only one translator (two words were able to induce a coma). The words used in the Sketch, whilst sounding German, are in fact nonsense, presumably to prevent translation. The two Python members, John Cleese and Michael Palin, would star in A Fish Called Wanda, which, as mentioned above, made one of its viewers die laughing.
- Al Capp's comic strip L'il Abner featured a storyline in which a nefarious comedy writer sought to commit mass murder by broadcasting a joke so funny that listeners would die of laughter. The plot is foiled when the strip's preternaturally dense eponymous main character, tasked with delivering the fatal joke, reads it beforehand and doesn't see the humor, and so substitutes a childish joke.
- The concept was also used in the mixed-live action/animation movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit, where excessive laughter was shown to be one of two ways for cartoon characters to die (the other possibility was coming in contact with a concoction known as "dip," a mix of various paint thinners). The characters in question are five cartoon weasels (the villains) laughing themselves to death after a hilarious comedy routine performed by Eddie Valiant (the routine included singing, pratfalls etc.).
- The Joker from DC Comics' the Batman, uses fatal hilarity as his primary means of murder. However, the laughter (and subsequent "death grin") is derived from the "Joker Venom" toxin the Joker uses on the victim and is probably only a symptom of the poison.
- Terms such as "I killed them out there" (to have made the audience laugh uproariously) and "I died on stage" (to have failed to do so), are much of comedy slang that deals with death.
- In the musical Little Shop of Horrors, a dentist uses the supply of nitrous oxide intended for his patients on himself, finding it gives him a gleeful high. He dies after a nitrous oxide mask gets stuck on him and the pump breaks. Although he actually asphyxiates from the lack of oxygen, his last words spoken are "Are you satisfied?! I've laughed myself to..." and another character finishes his sentence for him, "...death."
- At the end of the 1964 musical film Mary Poppins, the character of Mr. Dawes Sr. dies laughing at a joke Mr. Banks tells him after he is fired from the bank.
- Life, the Universe and Everything, the third novel in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams, features a character named Prak. Prak was accidentally given an overdose of truth serum, causing him to recite the entire history of the universe. When he met the book's protagonist, Arthur Dent, some recalled aspect of Arthur's life caused him to laugh for days on end, and eventually die of exhaustion.
- In the South Park episode "Scott Tenorman Must Die", Kenny dies laughing while watching a humiliating video of Cartman.
- In A Folky Tale, of the Homestar Runner series, Strong Sad's tale ends with, "they laughed until they passed out for the rest of their lives."
- In "Laughing fit," a Code Lyoko episode, large amounts of laughing gas are said to be fatal.
- In the play The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl, the character Mathilde says that her parents were the funniest people in Brazil, and eventually died laughing when they discovered the funniest joke in the world. Now Mathilde is trying to find that same joke.
- In 1830, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. wrote a poem entitled "The Height of the Ridiculous," in which his servant laughs uncontrollably for 10 days and nights after reading a particularly funny verse. It is to be assumed that the "wretched man" then expired.
- In the Drawn Together episode "Alzheimer's That Ends Well", Princess Clara's talking vagina (the Vajoana, a poke at Joan Rivers' plastic surgeries) kills a group of old people trying to kill the rest of the housemates by telling jokes and making the seniors laugh to death.
- In the novel Holes by Louis Sachar, a character dies of a poisonous bite and laughs till her death.