Philosophy as Jest

There are some things we usually joke about, like politics, religion and celebrities. One thing we usually don’t laugh about is death.

There are some things we usually joke about, like politics, religion and celebrities. One thing we usually don’t laugh about is death. Besides the occasional, awkward “laughing at a funeral” joke you might hear, it’s not often that we feel comfortable laughing about a life ending. It’s even more rare that an entire book be dedicated to discussing the subject in a lighthearted manner.

Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein’s new book, Heidegger and a Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates: Using Philosophy (and Jokes!) to Explore Life, Death, the Afterlife and Everything in Between, discusses the topic of the hereafter through the words of prominent philosophers.

When asked if it was an easy task to make jokes about the topic, Cathcart was surprisingly candid about the ease in creating laughter out of such a typically dismal event.

“It turns out there are as many jokes about death as about sex,” Cathcart said. “Well, OK, almost.”

In fact, comedians and authors alike don’t always shy away from the topic, as one may assume.

“It seems people joke most about the things that make them the most nervous,” Cathcart said.

And who doesn’t get a little nervous when discussing death and the afterlife? Cathcart and Klein are the authors of the New York Times bestseller Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar, another humorous book based on the words of philosophers with a comedic twist.

The authors’ newest book dives deeper than Plato and a Platypus, which discusses philosophy in general and schools of thought, by dealing with life, death and the afterlife.

Plato and a Platypus looks at the history of Western philosophy through jokes,” Cathcart said. “Heidegger and a Hippo jumps right to the fun stuff—The Big D [the authors’ term for death]. A lot of philosophers thought, and we agree, that looking death straight in the eye helps you see life more appreciatively.”

Some of the philosophers quoted in the book include Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre and, of course, Martin Heidegger.

When asked about if the book somewhat “defuses anxiety” about death and dying and the fears that go along with it, Cathcart was vague.

“You mean, are we part of the death denial system? Maybe, although we’ll deny it on Judgment Day.”

All in all, Cathcart and Klein’s upcoming visit to Powell’s will be a good stop this week as we prepare for Halloween spooks. And Heidegger and a Hippo ensures a laugh.

“We’ve recently reached our allotted three score and 10,” said Cathcart. “So these questions about deadness have a certain relevance for us. We’re looking forward to talking to some younger folks. [We want people to get] a few laughs, but also, hopefully, some different ways of looking at death—and its prequel, life.”