Death Joke

When I die, I want to go peacefully, like my grandfather.
I do not want to be screaming in terror like the rest of the people in the car.

This death-humor joke, which my informant said he remembers from Saturday Night Live, is a fairly simple one to analyze structurally.  According to folklorist Elliot Oring, the source of humor in jokes is the presence of “appropriate incongruities.”  The joke introduces apparent incongruities – ideas that seem out of place, impossible, obscene, or otherwise wrong in some way – and the punchline delivers appropriateness or creates both appropriateness and incongruity at once.  However, this joke is unique in that it reverses the order of the appearance of appropriateness and incongruity.  Whereas traditionally the incongruity comes first and is justified by the punchline, here the first line (and part of the second) makes sense and the punchline reveals the sad incongruity – the old man fell asleep at the wheel.  If the situation is sad, though, then why is it funny?  Certainly a joke like this would not be funny for someone who has recently lost a loved one in a car accident.  However, humor is a popular outlet in many societies for dealing with the concept of death, particularly societies like America who do not share universal beliefs about death and the afterlife.