November 19, 2008 / 12:43 PM / 10 years ago

Laugh at death to enjoy life, says author

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - In life, there’s nothing more certain, or random, than death, so why not laugh about it and enjoy that extra chocolate biscuit, says David Southwell, co-author of black humour book “1001 Ridiculous Ways to Die.”

Undated handout photo shows David Southwell, co-author of black humour book "1001 Ridiculous Ways to Die". Southwell, a Briton, recently spoke to Reuters about how poking fun at a tragic topic should inspire people to live life to the fullest. REUTERS/HarperCollins Publishers/Handout.

More than a decade of journalism and newspaper editing, including covering the 1990s war in the Balkans, have left Southwell, a bestselling non-fiction author, with a dark sense of humor, and an irreverence for topics most people consider taboo.

“1001 Ridiculous Ways to Die” is Southwell’s sixth book and was inspired by a conversation with co-author and long-time friend Matt Adams following a death threat from the Albanian mafia after the publication of his 2006 book “Global Gangland: The History of Organised Crime.”

Southwell, a Briton, spoke to Reuters about how poking fun at a tragic topic should inspire people to live life to the fullest. The book is touted as the largest ever collection of “hilarious but true stories chronicling the most ridiculous, bizarre and astonishingly stupid deaths.”

Q: What inspired you to write a funny book about death?

A: “Most journalists tend to have a very black sense of humor, it’s a way of coping with the madness that you see every day, but this book was born out a of a conversation with Matt Adams over a curry after I had received a couple of death threats after my organized crime book. I was upset but Matt tried to put it all into perspective, telling me that I was just as likely to be hit by a bus. Then to cheer me up, he started telling me about all these ridiculous ways people had died that he had come across in the newspaper and that’s where it all came from.”

Q: But why should other people find this funny?

A: “Although death is such a taboo, there’s also a guilty pleasure of laughing about it. It’s the same reason that an accident is funny, as long as it doesn’t happen to you. And although the passing away of someone is always sad, if the way they did it is funny, then it would be unnatural not to laugh.”

Q: Some of the stories in the book are so ridiculous that it’s hard to believe they’re true.

A: “We tried our best to apply journalism criteria to the entries, that is that the story must be verified by two independent sources. We discarded a lot of stories even though they had been published in the local media because we couldn’t verify them. So we put in a lot of calls and emails to police officers and coroners offices and even relatives all over the world.”

Q: And how did the relatives react?

A: “All death is a tragedy for those left behind. In some cases people were not amused but others were very happy to have the deceased included, saying he would have loved to be in a book like this or to be famous.”

Q: Did this book reveal to you anything about life?

A: “Yes. Apart from death, there are two universal constants: stupidity and sheer bad luck. And you can’t mitigate against any of them. Death can be so totally random, so commonplace. You can be walking down the same street that you’ve walked down every day for years and just at that moment, something falls on your head, or you could live healthily and exercise every day and get struck down early. No amount of status or power can protect you from death, it’s the great leveler. Death is one of those things we have no control over, so best to focus on the bits of life you do have control over.”

Q: So what’s your advice?

A: “Worrying about death is a ridiculous waste of energy! People should accept the randomness of life. Laugh lots. Live well. And don’t deny yourself that extra chocolate biscuit.”

Q: Other than the death threats, have you had any close shaves?

A: “Ironically, I almost choked to death while eating a carrot because my partner was trying to get me to eat healthily. She had to perform the Heimlich maneuver on me.”

Writing by Miral Fahmy, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith

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