Haunted & Horrified
Does anyone else remember Dumb Ways to Die? It was an Australian campaign launched in 2012 to promote railway safety, but since it got bought by PlaySide Studios it became a full-blown franchise. It’s about these little jellybean people dying in some sort of awful, convoluted way mostly out of their own stupidity. It was cute but also surprisingly violent in that Happy Tree Friends or Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared fashion where the colorful characters and simplicity of the world clash heavily against the gore which makes it funny again.
It takes until the last verse of the original video for anyone to notice the happy ukulele tune is supposed to be a darkly humorous precautionary tale about the importance of not getting killed by a train, specifically one owned by the Metro Station. Any other train, you’re free to die in front of.
I haven’t thought about Dumb Ways to Die in a couple of years, but something about listening to Death by Dying had me bringing it back to the frontal lobe of my brain. I find there’s something very cathartic about deriving comedy from death and fiction podcasts (or audio dramas) seem acutely aware of that fact. It’s the cornerstone of any solidly written dark comedy I’ve listened to recently, be it the source of the humor or an underlying motif.
Wooden Overcoats is about the petty squabbles of funeral directors, adult comedy Brimstone Valley Mall has someone dying or being maimed at least once per episode, The Amelia Project is about a business that devises fake deaths, and the leads of Less is Morgue aren’t exactly what you’d call lively folks. A lot of them seem to rely on a core principle and just run with it. Wooden Overcoats asks “What if we took the phrase ‘laughter at a funeral’ and made it a whole show?”; Brimstone Valley Mall implores “What if we took the hysteria of Satanism in nineties metal music and made it a whole show?”. Death by Dying asks “What are some dumb ways to die?”
“Hello,” the narrator and our unnamed protagonist greets us before each episode. “I am the Obituary Writer of this godforsaken town of Crestfall, Idaho, and this is Death by Dying.”
audio-player-details^^^^^Death by Dying, Obituary 5: "And Then She Died"^^^^^https://blog.simplecast.com/content/media/2022/10/deathbydying_intro.mp3
Death by Dying is a black comedy mystery audio drama by Evening Post Productions that debuted early October 2018. The first season clocks in at about five episodes, not counting the Tales from Crestfall and the SCP Archives crossovers that act as Death by Dying’s expanded lore, and it’s these five linear episodes that carry the show’s central plot; they are a breezy yet very substantial listen that masters the balancing act of funny and freaky.
Death by Dying achieves this by being sincere about absolutely everything that goes into it: its use of zany sound effects, its old fashioned charm, some of the jokes you can only find in the transcripts – it's a presentation that’s just oozing confidence with its coyness like a quiet kid who proves to be oddly chatty. Despite its macabre subject matter, the circumstances, colorful characters, and strange supernatural air grants it a sort of whimsical energy. The show wears its eccentricity and morbid nature so proudly that it becomes a weirdly wholesome listening experience, the kind of oddness that made shows like the previously mentioned The Amelia Project so soothing yet creepy at the same time.
Inadvertently, it’s the easygoing joy that truly puts the edge in its humor. The mysteries tend to be silly enough, but a lot of this has to do with the main character, the anonymous Obituary Writer, whose dissonance and naïveté creates a blissfulness over everything. Even the show’s title, Death by Dying, spells out a practical acceptance of death’s role in our lives. To say the words ‘by Dying’ is vague in a way that’s especially hysterical, and it’s the ‘by Dying’ part of the title that navigates the show’s core plot.
Death by Dying is a palpable mystery show layered with its black comedic style. The Obituary Writer doesn’t just write about the local deaths in the town newspaper, but often gets wrapped up in the circumstances that caused it. As he’s no trained detective and fully accepts his humble if somewhat sombering job, he often succeeds in not dying himself by sheer luck and last minute deductive skills.
Co-writer and lead Evan Gulock’s performance possesses a level of endearment that makes every word out of his mouth sound so incredibly genuine that it really brings the protagonist to life. It hadn’t occurred to me just how much his crisp delivery aided in the show’s vibe until I was diving into the transcripts for a refresher. It’s so easy to navigate these supernatural detective shows with stoic, sullen vocals, evocative of the grizzled, “seen-it-all” noir detective template, and the effortless charm of Gulock’s performance is what really helps Death by Dying’s create its mystique. The way The Obituary Writer splices his detective jargon with zany non-sequiturs does a lot to spell out the nature of the protagonist as well as the show’s general tone.
All available episodes are approximately a half-hour long and yet the show packs a lot of character and intrigue into that runtime. The deceased character of the episode is given these complex, if clearly strange and elaborate, mysteries linked to their demise and even one-off characters, like episode two’s Button-Eyed Raven, really make the most of their scenes with their witty dialogue.
audio-player-details^^^^^Clip: Death by Dying, Obituary 2: "Lillian Died"^^^^^https://blog.simplecast.com/content/media/2022/10/deathybydying_buttoneyedraven.mp3
Raven: Caw! Danger leads to disaster!
Obituary Writer Voiceover: Cried the Button-Eyed Raven.
Raven: What if your friends don’t really like you???
[chilling musical chord, raven cawing and flapping away]
I love Death by Dying not just because it’s funny or exceptionally quirky, but because it seems to be trying to get a message across to its audience through its nonchalant sense of humor. Death by Dying isn’t just about death but the place it holds in our world, how it affects us and our loved ones, and how the ticking clock of our own demise pursues us all. Episodes four and five especially put a spotlight on the acceptance of our own fragile mortality in a way that’s surprising, if somewhat horrifying. The show acts as a long-form artistic representation of the grieving process as well as spotlighting the cosmic, spiritual aspects of the cycle of death, just enough for me to consider it not only a solid comedy and mystery show, but an excellent horror podcast as well.
You quickly become endeared to Death by Dying’s bittersweet humor and emotional core, but stay for the gripping supernatural mystery plot it’s so neatly bound in. Evening Post Productions has a silken tongue for mood setting, tone, and snappy dialogue that makes its flagship podcast unflappably charismatic yet haunting. And with season two finally emerging from the fog, you’ll be welcoming the lovely, secluded, fetching town of Crestfall, Ohio with open arms and an open casket.
Podcake is a pseudonym for a podcast critic who has been working in audio analysis and reviews since 2015 on Tumblr, where only the strongest critics could forge their analytical muscles. Her specialty is fiction podcasts, though she also has a large repertoire in graphic design, video editing, and creative writing. She has bylines in DiscoverPods and is generally known to be the industry's pink-loving provider of podcast commentary. You can find more of her work at https://cakeradio.tumblr.com/