Comedy is supposed to be hilarious. However, it has become deadly at times and led to the loss of lives. People have perished while watching comedic acts, or the entertainers themselves have died during their performances. Sometimes, the comedians have been murdered for wisecracking in ways that were offensive to certain individuals or groups.
Comedians have been killed by criminal gangs and terrorist organizations over their quips. At other times, the humorists were interrogated or threatened with jail time over jokes that the government considered a threat.
On May 2, 1845, hundreds of people gathered along the banks of River Bure in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England, to watch a clown sitting in a barrel as it was drawn by four geese across the river. Nelson the Clown worked for William Cooke’s Circus.
Around 300–400 people had climbed onto the Great Yarmouth suspension bridge to get a better view of the clown as he sailed past. This quickly proved disastrous as the structure could not support the massive weight. Its cables snapped, throwing everybody on the bridge into the water.
A massive rescue operation began, and survivors were taken to Vauxhall Gardens. Every medical person in town was summoned to the garden to treat the survivors.
Rescuers soon started to retrieve the bodies of the dead from the river. Some had simply drowned. The rest had become stuck underwater after being smashed by the bodies of other victims or the parts of the bridge that had fallen on them.
In all, 79 people died. The youngest were two years old, and the oldest was 64. Fifty-eight of the dead were 16 years old or younger.
In April 2019, comedian Paul Barbieri (stage name Ian Cognito) died during a live performance at The Atic bar, Bicester, UK. At first, the audience did not realize what was happening and continued laughing, thinking that Ian was only pretending to be dead.
Curiously, Ian had joked about dying in front of the audience that night. He said, “Imagine if I died in front of you lot here.” He also wisecracked about recovering from a stroke and discovering that he only spoke Welsh. Ten minutes later, he sat on a stool on the stage and appeared to faint. The audience laughed, thinking it was part of the performance.
Ian’s body remained on the stool until compere Andrew Bird approached. Bird expected Ian to awake from his pretentious coma with a joke but was surprised to find the comedian unresponsive. First aid was administered, and an ambulance was called. However, the medics declared Ian dead at the scene.
Seventeen-year-old Juan Luis Lagunas Rosales, who was also known as El Pirata de Culiacan (“The Pirate of Culiacan”), was a popular comedian in Mexico until he was murdered by a Mexican cartel boss whom Rosales had insulted.
The cartel boss was 51-year-old Ruben Oseguera Cervantes (aka El Mencho), the leader of the local but dangerous Jalisco Nueva Generacion (“Jalisco New Generation”) crime cartel. El Mencho is a feared and ruthless crime boss famous for murdering people over unconfirmed rumors.
Rosales had posted a comedy video in which he said, “El Mencho, peel my c—ck.” The joke didn’t go over well with El Mencho, and he ordered Rosales’s death. Rosales was drinking at a bar in Jalisco (El Mencho’s turf) when he was murdered.
Before his death, Rosales had posted on his Facebook and Instagram pages and asked his fans to come over for a drink. Some heavily armed non-fans soon arrived and shot at Rosales 15 times. The bar manager was also hit by a stray bullet.
Max Ehrlich was a Jewish actor, author, director, screenwriter, composer, and comedian who lived in Germany before World War II. Unfortunately, his fame could not save him when the Nazis clamped down on Jews during World War II. In fact, it almost got him killed.
Ehrlich was captured and transported to Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944. A Nazi officer recognized him and ordered him to tell funny jokes or he would be shot to death by an SS firing squad.
Ehrlich probably made the Nazis laugh and was spared the bullet. However, his jokes could not save him from the gas chamber. He was gassed to death on October 1, 1944.
Iraq turned into a chaotic wasteland after Saddam Hussein was ousted in 2003. Murders, bombings, assassinations, and similar terrorist acts quickly became the norm. Journalists were a major target of these attacks.
In November 2006, actor, producer, and comedian Walid Hassan became a victim of these murders. Before his death, he hosted a comedy show called Caricatures on Iraq’s Al Sharkiya television. On his show, Hassan often mocked the US military, Iraqi politicians, and the Sunni and Shia insurgents.
One of the groups became angry enough to order his kidnapping. On November 21, 2006 (some sources say November 20), some men cornered and attempted to kidnap Hassan on the streets of Baghdad. Hassan was shot and killed as he tried to escape.
In 2012, Somali comedian Abdi Jeylani Marshale was murdered by Al-Shabab terrorists in Mogadishu, Somalia. Before his death, Marshale often mocked Al-Shabab on radio and television for using child soldiers and suicide bombers and killing defenseless civilians.
Eventually, Al-Shabab issued a death threat to Marshale. He fled to neighboring Somaliland but returned when he thought the dust had settled. He was leaving the radio station where he worked when he was cornered by two Al-Shabab henchmen armed with pistols. They shot Marshale in the head and chest several times.
Francisco “Paco” Stanley was a popular Mexican comedy show host until he was murdered in June 1999. He was waiting for a friend outside a restaurant when two men sprayed him with heavy gunfire. Stanley received four shots to the head. A colleague and bystander were also killed while two more bystanders were injured.
Police later discovered cocaine in Stanley’s pocket and in his blood. Eventually, his death revealed a large conspiracy and the involvement of drug cartels in entertainment. Apparently, Stanley’s murder was ordered by crime boss Luis Ignacio Amezcua Contreras over some debts owed by Stanley.
In 1996, Amezcua Contreras had loaned $65,000 to Stanley to launch a television and music production studio. The drug kingpin also frequently sold cocaine to Stanley, who used part of it and sold the rest to other top show hosts. However, Stanley often made jokes on his comedy show that the drug lord considered to be insulting.
The displeased Amezcua Contreras later recruited Mario Rodriguez Bezares (aka Mayito), Stanley’s cohost, to help with the murder. Bezares was mad at Stanley because he often directed insulting jokes at Bezares during the show. Besides, Amezcua Contreras had promised Bezares the production company and was willing to forgo the debts.
Bezares was the reason that Stanley was waiting outside the restaurant where he was murdered. They had gone for a meal and were about to leave when Bezares delayed them. Bezares engaged in a series of ridiculous schemes, including pretending to have a limp, just to keep Stanley waiting. Bezares was in the lavatory at the time that the killers arrived.
in 2009, Daniel O’Brien, the head writer at a humor website, wrote a piece about kidnapping the daughter of a US president. It was titled “6 Helpful Tips for Kidnapping the President’s Daughters.”
O’Brien soon received a phone call from Special Agent Mike Powell of the Secret Service. The agent had a friendly chat and directed O’Brien to speak with some other agents. O’Brien met with the other agents and was interrogated about his satirical article for two hours. At that time, he was asked if he was involved with terrorist groups.
O’Brien later had the article deleted from the website. However, it appeared to be too late as he was secretly put under surveillance. As of 2014, he was often asked to step aside for a search at US airports.
In 2017, Johnny Depp came under heavy public backlash after he jokingly asked, “When was the last time an actor assassinated a president?” (The last time was in 1865 when John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.)
Public outrage soon followed the inappropriate joke. Later, the Trump White House also issued a statement condemning Depp’s remarks and requesting that other Hollywood stars denounce it, too.
However, Johnny Depp is not the only actor that has come under fire for making jokes suggesting the assassination of a US president. A month earlier, Kathy Griffin had to apologize after posing for a photograph with a bloodied prop head of President Trump.
Nacho Redondo is a radical Venezuelan comedian. He is famous for making highly controversial political jokes that are often considered insulting. His offensive jokes have caused public backlash, online outrage, boycotts, and extensive criticism.
The Venezuelan government had enough of Nacho after he made a political joke about a race between a man with one leg, a man with no legs, and a communist. The government sued him over the joke. He also received lots of death threats. Nacho escaped to Mexico right before his trial started.
Nacho is just one of the many comedians from Venezuela who have found themselves under attack from the government of President Nicolas Maduro. Venezuelan comedians generally avoided making political jokes before 2014. However, they changed their minds as the country went into a decline.
The government clamped down on these comedians, forcing other humorists to make political jokes as a form of protest. These days, comedians consider their quips as part of a rebellion against the government. The authorities have also stepped up their campaign against humorists making political jokes, forcing several comedians to flee the country.
In 2014, a comedy show hosted by Luis Chataing was suspended from television because it mocked the government. Luis accused the government of threatening and blackmailing the television station to suspend his show. However, the government denied issuing any threats.