Wait a minute, c’mon…the guy who owns Segway (James Heselden) goes off a cliff while riding on a Segway and plunges into a river, killing himself? This actually happened?
This is the kind of comically absurd death that Blake Edwards might have invented for one of his ’60s or ’70s farces. It would have fit right into J. Lee Thompson‘s What A Way To Go!, which is about four guys who die “comically” (Dick Van Dyke, Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelly) after marrying Shirley MacLaine, who carries some kind of black-widow, rotten-luck curse.
What A Way To Go! was one of those glossy, brazenly shallow and grossly unfunny big-studio comedies that were built around MacLaine’s popularity in the wake of Irma La Douce. But I’ll bet men in pubs all over England right now are chuckling (or at least shaking their heads and grinning) about Heselden’s death. If his death has been videotaped it would have been ghastly to watch, but thinking about it as an abstraction — a bit that might have been used in a Laurel & Hardy two-reeler — is somehow funny.
The trick in making death seem “funny” is to keep the particulars vague and emphasize the random bad luck that goes into suddenly being killed — its inevitability, illogic, lack of fairness.
There’s a moment in John Frankenheimer‘s The Train when a bespectacled German sergeant wakes up from a nap in a caboose on a stalled Germany-bound train, opens up the rear door and sees another train heading right for him. He barely has time to react before the crash totally decimates the caboose . Why is this funny? Because of the precise timing of the cutting and the fact that we don’t see the sergeant suffer.
There’s another moment in Mike Nichols‘ Day of the Dolphin when a dolphin plants a magnetized bomb on the hull of a large yacht carrying a group of scheming bad guys. Cut to a shot of them sitting around a poker table. One of the baddies — a young dolphin trainer who has betrayed his colleagues — hears a sound, gets up, goes to a porthole and sees the dolphin swimming away. He puts two and two together, goes “oh, shit” and BLAM! It’s funny because of the editing, and the way the actor delivers the “oh, shit” line. If it hadn’t been done just so it wouldn’t have worked.