Ben Wasserman, a Brooklyn-based comic, has been doing comedy for eight years and debuted his solo show Live After Death at Sparrow Funeral Home in March. And tonight, June 25, the show returns with another monthly iteration, this time featuring an opening set from Julia Shiplett and donating proceeds to The Dinner Party, an organization dedicated to providing community for people in their 20s, 30s, and early 40s experiencing grief. Get your tickets here.
Live After Death, was born as a result of losing seven loved ones in three years.
“What I had found was that I just couldn’t not talk about it on stage; like I normally do goofy, untethered-to-reality type of stuff like chaotic, high-energy stuff that really has no personal meaning,” Wasserman explained. “And then when my dad died and everyone else started getting sick and dying it was like ‘Oh, I can’t not talk about this.’ Whenever I had a new bit, it was very much just an organic response to what I was feeling that day.”
And when COVID put his tour plans on hold, Wasserman took the opportunity to explore the possibilities of what the show could really be, to not just himself, but others as the world grappled with excessive amounts of loss.
“I thought ‘Now the whole world is grieving and I’m not so special anymore,’ which is cool, ’cause now the show is a more universal kind of story about loss and grief than just mine,” he reflected. “So what started as a way for me to just vent about my losses and grief is now a kind of communal sharing about grief that’s chopped up with really goofy chaotic bits.”
Finally, last December, Live After Death was able to make its public debut at Life World in Brooklyn and has since been performed on stages in New York and Philadelphia to positive crowd reception (which any comic knows can be hard to come by).
“Because my comedy is super interactive and the show itself has all these interactive conversational moments, too, about the audience’s experience with loss and grief, the show is different each time I do it,” Wasserman said. “I will say I’ve never gotten so many hugs and thank yous after a show than doing this one. It is a comedy show and it is a very funny show, ’cause I’m very funny, but it’s a happy accident that it’s seemingly finding space for people to speak on things that they’re normally not asked or invited to and feel heard or understood.”
And this Saturday, Wasserman will be performing the show at Sparrow (161 Driggs Ave.) Sparrow describes itself as a contemporary funeral home that aims to recontextualize people’s feelings about and conversations surrounding death. This includes offering freewheeling grief support groups, booking visitations in ‘celebration rooms,’ sharing stories about Death and Dying in the Modern Age, and having a gift shop stocked with everything from grief-based books to comforting home items.
So when Wasserman explained the show to his friend and Sparrow’s funeral director, Lily Sage Weinrieb, it seemed like a perfect fit.
“[Weinrieb] had told me that she was opening up this new, death-positive kind of funeral home that was trying to re-own our relationship to mortality and death and I had just decided that I wanted to start doing the show again,” Wasserman recalled. “I visited Sparrow, and it’s such a beautiful space and there’s something about it that felt like ‘What better place to do a comedy show and have this communal conversation about love and death?’ and so we set a date.”
Leading up to this weekend’s show, Wasserman has been workshopping it, and while it admittedly involves less fake blood, the consensus is still that he and Sparrow are a perfect fit. So much so, that they’re in talks to potentially have recurring performances in the space.
And when he’s not securing residencies at funeral homes, Wasserman is hard at work with with Brooklyn Eviction Defense, a coalition working in solidarity with at-risk tenants facing threats of eviction or other violations by landlords.
“After the George Floyd uprisings in 2020, there was an illegal eviction happening a few blocks away from me in Crown Heights and a mutual aid group I was working with mentioned needing folks on the ground,” Wasserman explained. “I got there and I saw the violence of the capitalist private property industry firsthand, seeing all these folks being kicked out of their home by some rich white guy. So by August 2020 or so, we started forming Brooklyn Eviction Defense and within the time since then, we’ve either stopped or stayed dozens and dozens, if not more.”
This desire to support his neighbors and local community is not unlike Live After Death, which takes on even deeper meaning to not just Wasserman, but those who experience it the longer he puts on the show.
“If a comedy show has a message and my show has any message, I think it’s that I’m OK, and dying sucks and losing people sucks, but we’re all going to be OK. I don’t just have to be the funny guy, it’s nice that people are getting some healing and processing out of it,” he said. “People may cry, but they’ll definitely laugh. And they’re going to die one day, so why not talk about it?”
Get tickets to Live After Death at Sparrow here.