Thursday, August 27, 2015
Comedy Routine of the Day: “Who Died First?"
"Who Died First?" was once a popular routine in vaudeville. The routine involved a husband and wife who are being plagued by creditors. The couple decide to fake the husband's death to stall off payment. The husband pretends to be dead on the sofa as the first creditor, the butcher, shows up at the house to collect the money that he's owed. The butcher tells the wife that she is fortunate that her husband died because the man was no good. As the butcher goes into a rant about the terribleness of the husband, the husband can barely contain himself and reacts repeatedly while the unaware butcher stands with his back to him. According to the script, "[t]he man abuses [the husband] with all sorts of names." The wife agrees with the butcher's assessment of her husband, which gets the husband even more upset. The butcher congratulates the wife for being free of her rotten spouse and expresses his passion for her. He grabs hold of the woman and tries to kiss her. This causes the agitated husband to assume a series of ludicrous positions on the sofa. The husband freezes when the butcher turns towards him. The butcher notices the angry expression on the husband's face. The wife explains that he died from cramps. One by one, other creditors show up at the home. A similar scene plays out each time. The couple decide that their plan isn't working out well and it might be better for them to reverse roles. When the creditors return, the husband explains that he miraculously came back to life and his revival so shocked his wife that she died of heart failure. An undertaker, who was summoned earlier by the creditors, arrives at the home and is surprised to find the husband still alive. The husband nervously tries to explain the situation to the official, but he only manages to confuse the man. The undertaker, trying to clarify the situation, asks the husband, "Who died first?" The banter that follows between the two men closes the scene.
According to burlesque historian Andrew Davis, "Who Died First?" was originally published as a Negro sketch in 1874. Husband and wife team Bob Ferguson and Mary Murphy were still performing the routine as late as the 1950s.