[GUEST POST] Jesse Petersen on Why Death (or Living Death) Is So Damn Funny

Jesse Petersen is the author of the Living With the Dead series (Married With Zombies, Flip This Zombie, Eat Slay Love, The Zombie Whisperer) and an upcoming monster series which begins April 29 with Club Monstrosity. She lives in Tucson with her awesome husband and two cats.

Why Death (or Living Death) Is So Damn Funny

First off, a big thanks to the SF Signal for having me here today. Especially since I’m guessing I write a little different kind of urban fantasy than what most people who are gurus here do. See, I write about zombies and monsters. Okay, that’s not the different part.

Let’s try this again. I love zombies, but I came to zombies (and monsters) a lot later in life than maybe other people did. As a kid, I wasn’t allowed to watch that kind of stuff mostly because my younger brother kept a sharpened stake behind his door just in case and my Mom was worried if we watched a lot of horror movies, it might prove to be more fatal than we hoped.

But I grew up and married a movie lover and he started to introduce me to a lot of amazing classics, as well as newer takes on the zombie genre. What I found, though, was that I tended to gravitate most strongly toward movies and books that had horror, but also had humor.

It was no surprise then that when I decided to write my own zombie book, I couldn’t help but do my best to make it funny. Oh, and make the main protagonist a girl, which is also a little different from a lot of books in the genre.

It makes me wonder, why do I like my horror/fantasy with humor? And I’ve decided there are two main reasons:

First, death is so awful, we have to laugh at it. I mean, it’s coming for all of us eventually, right? And although most of us will probably die in our sleep at the ripe old age of 102, there are a certain percentage of us that will die in horrible ways, including, possibly, being ripped apart alive by hoards of brain-hungry zombies.

This is not a comforting thought. Zombies represent our worst fears. Death that lingers. Death that takes everyone we love. Death that has no logic with which we can argue. It comes and it keeps coming and it will never stop.

In these situations, there are only a few options of response. One, we can scream about it and go crazy and pull our own fingernails out. Not particularly helpful. Nor is crying in a corner endlessly.

But to laugh about the absurdity of death? That means we’ve conquered it in some way. We look the boogieman in the face and say, “Do your worst!” Maybe it won’t stop what’s about the happen, but it will sure make the wait a lot more bearable.

Secondly, zombies are just funny. Talk about the absurdity of death, how about a creature that can have a leg completely hacked off and it will keep coming? I have written stripper zombies with pasties still clinging to their rotten breasts, grandma zombies in casinos still pulling on the slot machines, zombies in chicken restaurant mascot outfits and one marriage counselor zombie who gets killed by my hero and heroine, only to have her advice used to save their hides AND their relationship.

It’s silly and ridiculous and fun as hell to write. So yes, I will shudder as I watch The Walking Dead. I will check under my bed after I read World War Z. But I’ll also probably always say that my favorite zombie movie is Shaun of the Dead.  And when I write about zombies or monsters or anything else that goes bump in the night, I hope I’ll make my readers giggle even as they ponder whether or not they have a sound escape plan in case of zombie invasion.

10 thoughts on “[GUEST POST] Jesse Petersen on Why Death (or Living Death) Is So Damn Funny”

  1. Death is anything but hilarious. It’s ugly and horrifying to look at. What a horrible headline.

  2. Death is a part of life. You won’t escape it, so why not go with humor. Some people are offended by the dumbest things.

  3. <3 it. Your take on the apopclypse is my favorite. Love your books, love your writing style, love YOU!

  4. “Death is anything but hilarious. It’s ugly and horrifying to look at. What a horrible headline.”

    No, no it isn’t. Death is not (always) horrifying and ugly. All of my grand parents died peacefully of old age. There was nothing horrifying and ugly about it.

    I’ve also seen friends, stricken with horrible, painful disease. Death, for them, was a release. It was *dying* that was ugly and horrifying. Death was blessed and welcome.

    Were either of those deaths hilarious? No, I’ll give you that. They weren’t funny.

    But they also weren’t fictional. Consider the improvised swordsman scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where Indiana Jones is faced with an obviously adept swordsman. His shoulders drop in a ‘You have to be kidding me’ type move and pulls out his revolver and shoots and (theoretically) kills the bad guy. When I saw that in the theater, I remember laughing.

    Would I be laughing if it was a real death? No. Because I am able to separate fact from fiction. Most people are.

    Now, lets just consider the headline “Jesse Petersen on Why Death (or Living Death) Is So Damn Funny”

    You say that’s a horrible headline. I say it is an accurate one. It represents what the article is about. Jesse Petersen saying why death (or living death) is funny. Which she does, rather eloquently.

    As for whether or not the Living Death is funny or not, well, I laughed during Shaun of the Dead. I laughed at the Thriller scene during The Return of the Living Dead 2 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hd1zMak2Vg).

    Lastly, even if we remove the fiction/real life barrier, an opinion is never wrong. I am not wrong because I think nectarines taste no better than barnacle spit. You are not wrong because you feel that beef tartare tastes horrible.

    Alternatively: You’re wrong because puppies.

  5. I love everything of Jesse’s that I’ve read. Her imagination, her descriptions and story lines, how she sees the subject. Of course death, and living death, can be funny! I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve laughed during “serious” living dead movies.
    I agree with John’s post, especially where he points out that it’s fiction! I’m certain that if I was being chased by zombies, or witnessing an actual, gruesome death, I would not find it very funny. Though, maybe I would think back to this post, and find it just a bit funny…

  6. I think John should start writing blogs for the SF Signal! Very well put, John! And hello to everyone here who has commented! John’s comment about humorous cinematic death reminded me of two of my favorites:

    1. Marvin in Pulp Fiction who is accidentally shot by Vincent while they’re riding in the car. The shock value and the fact that Vincent does it while arguing a point in true Tarantino fashion is hilarious.

    2. Bill Murray in Zombieland. Seriously, who plays a zombie joke during a zombie apocalypse? But as he’s dying and says his greatest regret is Garfield, maybe? Pee-inducing laughter… launch!

    So I’m definitely not the first to find humor in death, though I appreciate the grand offense at the thought. :)

    1. (blush)

      I.. …. you know that feeling when an author you like compliments your writing?

      … I didn’t until this morning =D

  7. LOVE Jesse Petersen’s books! The humor is what makes this series soar above the rest. I get tired of the doom and gloom zombie books. Petersen is refreshing! I even made my boyfriend read them! I would love these to become a movie or TV show. Keep them coming! And I ask those who are offended… Have you even read her books? Maybe you should, then you may understand.

  8. If someone is so offended by the title of the post – why did they read the whole post? I always like to say ( mostly to family….), “If you don’t like me…go away.” These books are excellently hysterical and entertaining – I almost felt like they were written just for me, I identified with the characters so well. In fact I may go read them again for the fourth time, because the death, or the living death, is just so damn funny.

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