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How to Write a Eulogy Using Humor

“I’m always relieved when someone is delivering a eulogy and I realize I’m listening to it.”

That is from the late, great comedian George Carlin, and that line might be an opportunity to break the ice during a eulogy for a loved one. Writing a eulogy can be a stressful endeavor, as you want to honor the person being eulogized and maintain a sense of decorum in front of the funeral attendees.

Eulogies are an opportunity to share a brief biography of the deceased, informing those who may not have known them well about their personality, their favorite things and a few brief stories to demonstrate the life they led. Not everything about their life was serious, hopefully.

For this post, we sought some advice about whether and when humor was appropriate in writing a eulogy. The answers, almost universally, included the following:

Know your audience

Monty Python’s John Cleese gave the eulogy for his fellow member, Graham Chapman, and paraphrased one of the comedy troupe’s most-beloved pieces, “The Parrot Sketch,” to begin it.

“He has ceased to be, bereft of life, he rests in peace, he has kicked the bucket, hopped the twig, bit the dust, snuffed it, breathed his last, and gone to meet the Great Head of Light Entertainment in the sky, and I guess that we’re all thinking how sad it is that a man of such talent, such capability and kindness, of such intelligence should now be so suddenly spirited away at the age of only 48, before he’d achieved many of the things of which he was capable, and before he’d had enough fun,” Cleese said.

Those in attendance knew of Chapman’s and Cleese’s penchant toward silliness and ribaldry, and therefore the eulogy is considered a proper send-off. Most audiences, though, would be aghast if you used that opening.

If you’re just learning how to write a eulogy. “Comedy light” is a safe approach when writing a eulogy. A comical anecdote is a great way to begin, allowing those in the room to take a breath and perhaps relax. Funerals can be tense. It’s best not to say anything that would prove too embarrassing to the family.

A recent example was shared by a liberal friend who joked about how conservative his father was. It was a small joke in a five-minute eulogy that went over well and garnered smiles and chuckles in the room. Another example included stories of the deceased’s sense of humor and sharing some of his best lines. Keep in mind, this isn’t an opportunity to experiment with stand-up comedy.

Fine lines can be blurred without being disrespectful. Roasting the deceased is not appropriate in most cases, but when shock jock Howard Stern was asked to give the eulogy for comedian Joan Rivers, some extreme humor must have been expected. His statements won’t be repeated here, but included bawdy joking about her anatomy.

“It was so wrong but so right at the same time,” comedian Margaret Cho wrote about Stern’s eulogy.

You’re honoring a loved one. Imagine their reaction to your eulogy as you rehearse it out loud. If you see a smile, you’re likely on safe ground.

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