New stand-up comedy on death, dying and funerals

Ben Yeoh, dressed in a skeleton hoodie, promoting new show, Thinking Bigly: How we die

Three minute read

Sustainability investment manager, playwright and director, Ben Yeoh, is asking London audiences to help him create his own funeral. We found out more about his new interactive comedy show — Thinking Bigly: How we die.

Where did the idea for a show about death come from?

The genesis of the idea came from the fact that both my dad and one of my best friends died when I was quite young, when I was 20.

It became apparent to me that virtually everyone I’d met hadn't come across death and didn't know how to deal with it very well, although that has changed since the pandemic. So you often ended up spending more time dealing with other people’s reactions than dealing with your own things.

When my dad died, there were a few practical things I wish I’d known. Those are included in the first part of the show.

My dad was scared about dying in pain, yet there were good painkillers available. I was there at his death, so I heard what used to be called ‘the death rattle’. It was a little perturbing, but it needn't have been, if someone had explained to me the physical mechanics of it all.

Read more about what what to expect when someone is dying.

So what else happens during the show?

The audience help create my own funeral. I’ve performed this show five times now, so one of my jokes is that I'm the only person I know who's been to their own funeral five times.

I ask them, should I be buried? Should I be cremated? What clothes should I wear? We choose the music. We create a poem together. The audience brings their own things to it. It’s different every time.

The other thing I do in the show is to look at death in different geographies and in different time periods. How we die if we're rich is different to how we die if we're poor. Dying now is different from 100 years ago, but there are echoes across time and place.

Tell us more about the format of the show. Why do you think this is a good way of addressing less-talked-about subjects?

It’s a performance lecture I call it a mix between stand-up comedy and an anti-TED talk. It's a really good format for exploring ideas where there isn't necessarily a consensus. In a TED talk the speaker gives you the answer but I have more questions than answers.

I’m interested in hearing stories which aren’t told so much but, even if you’re telling a story, you're still saying to people, this is how the story goes.

Whereas in this show, I'm saying to the audience, I don't know how this story goes, I need you to complete this story. The next time I do it, the story will be different, because that is actually much more like life.

A performance lecture is meant to draw in the audience. Hundreds of years ago, the audience would talk, heckle and very much be part of the show. There was a three-way dialogue between the performers, the audience and audience between themselves. It’s an old idea that’s come back again.

And what do you hope people will take away from watching it?

That you can be an active participant in what you want to do. You can, if you want to, choose how your funeral is going to be before you die.

You can make these decisions. There’s no reason to be scared about them. There isn’t one correct answer.

You can help Ben plan his funeral live on stage at London’s Theatre Deli on Wednesday 3 January 2024. Find out more and book tickets.

Listen to Ben in conversation with Poppy’s CEO Clare Montagu.

Read more interviews with artists and writers exploring death and dying, including Annie Frost Nicholson and Hayley Campbell.

To stay in touch with all the latest news and updates from Poppy's by email, sign up here or contact us if you need help planning a funeral.

Discover more articles