Mar 08, 2022
There are a lot of essential skills and character traits that come to mind when you think about a funeral director: empathy, dedication and courage, just to name a few. However, there is one crucial talent funeral directors must possess that is rarely acknowledged, which is surprising considering the word is in their job title. The ability to direct a crowd through public speaking and communicate eloquently in front of a room full of people is not an easy skill to master. So, it is not surprising that some morticians moonlight as performers in their spare time.
When you consider the rituals and traditions that surround a funeral service ceremony, you can draw a great deal of parallels to the stage. There are many theatrical elements at play. All of the important props must be in place. Just as make-up artists and costume designers work behind the scenes to create a sense of realism for their audience, embalmers and restorative artists go to great lengths preparing a body for viewing. Even the programs given out prior to the funeral service share a lot in common with theater playbills.
“Like a funeral, the theatre has the capacity to create a cathartic space where we confront difficult topics, share stories, and laugh together – even through the hard moments,” writes Theater Critic, Adam Roberts for the Austin Chronicle. (Roberts also grew up in his family’s funeral home.)
These similarities help explain why many deathcare professionals have a passion for the stage. They understand the healing and release both settings provide. Funeral directors are also naturally inclined to be skilled performers due to their experience routinely stepping into the role of conductor and orator.
Here are 7 Funeral Professional Performers Worthy of the Spotlight
1. Morty “The Mortician” Stein
Stand Up Comedian
Working in the funeral business is a daily remember that life is too short to take things too seriously. This perspective has certainly shaped the work and life of Morty Stein who works as a funeral director by day and as a stand-up comedian at night. The Auburn, CA based funeral director has performed at comedy clubs and events throughout the Sacramento area, sharing humorous stories about his life as a mortician. Morty’s career in standup began after he did several public speaking engagements on funeral planning and heard from those in attendance how much they enjoyed his jokes. While his first passion in life is helping families through the worst days of their lives, Morty enjoys making people laugh with his unique brand of humor.
“About 80% of my material is based on my life experience as a mortician. It’s based on true stories along with some observational material,” Morty shared in an interview with Good Day Sacramento. “My comedy is described as a comedic perspective on death, funerals and my life as a mortician. I talk about real-life experiences I’ve come across in the years that I’ve done funerals.”
Click here to visit Morty’s website.
2. David E. Rousculp
Theater Director, Producer, Actor and Playwright
To celebrate the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day holiday, Funeral Director and confessed theater-buff, David E. Rousculp, will be holding an Irish wake. However, the funeral that David will be directing in this case will be of a fictional nature. Flanagan’s Wake, an interactive comedy with music will be performed at Harper’s Community Funeral Home in New Haven, IN, on March 11-13, 2022.
Flanagan’s Wake is a part-scripted, part-improv show that is set during an Irish wake. The show, which originated in Chicago and celebrates all things Irish, is truly the perfect theatrical offering to stage inside a funeral home building. In fact, this is the second time David has undertaken this role. He directed and produced the play during St. Patrick’s Day weekend 2020 and was able to get three of the four shows performed before COVID-19 restrictions forced the funeral home to cancel the last show. All proceeds went to the Shepherd House for Veterans in Fort Wayne.
“Funerals are a time to reflect and tell stories of one’s life, good or bad,” Rousculp shared in an article for Whatzup. “Music, singing, crying, and even laughing out loud is normal. Flanagan’s Wake is no different, except it tends to be more of
the laughing-out-loud part with a sprinkle of kooky and crazy in the mix. The
storyline is set, but an audience member decides how. From there, another actor
builds on it. I play the mayor, and I ask eight different people how the story
should go along the way.”
Of course, Flanagan’s Wake is not the first time David has worked in theater. He has performed on numerous stages and in film since childhood. David also wrote and produced in the original play, My Dead Clown, which tells the story of a depressed and grieving funeral director who accidentally resurrects a deceased clown. The play won the 2017 Northeast Indiana Playwright competition and was co-produced by David and The First Presbyterian Theater in Fort Wayne, IN. Watch the video below to learn more about this production.
3. Teddy Lee
The Mortician Magician
As both the owner of a funeral home and an accomplished magician, Teddy Lee is not your average mortician. It may seem like a strange combination, but when you think about it, both roles require one to forge an emotional connection with others. After all, is there anything more disarming than a magic trick? We think not! Teddy has been working at his family’s funeral home all his life and has had a passion for magic since he was a young man. What began as sleight-of-hand card and rope tricks evolved into Teddy eventually being named Magician of the Year by the Society of American Magicians in 2016.
“Sometimes, when they’re making arrangements, they might ask me to do a magic trick just out of curiosity. I’ll show them a simple trick, and I think it helps them take their minds off of things for a second,” shared Lee in an interview with Rockland Journal News. “It even takes my mind off this business here, sometimes. I’ve also done tricks at national funeral director and mortician association events…I still love seeing that look of surprise on people’s faces when an effect goes well.”
4. Denny Dormody
Film and Television Actor
As the only member of the Screen Actors Guild who is also a licensed Funeral Director, Denny Dormody has forged an interesting career path. After returning home from serving in Vietnam, Denny spotting an ad for movie extras in the 1980s. This led Denny to embark on an extensive acting career doing background work and playing bit parts in dozens of movies and television shows. One of his very first gigs was standing in for John Cusack in the film The Grifters. His movie credits include Aftermath, Hail, Caesar! and Sharknado. While seeking out acting roles, Denny began working as a funeral home assistant and realized he had a gift for helping people in need. In 2011, he became a licensed funeral director and has been serving families ever since at Mountain View Mortuary in Altadena, CA.
An acting reel showing some of Denny’s previous roles.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be doing this,” Denny shared in an article for the LA Times. “I’ve been blessed to be able to help people and still answer calls from Central Casting.”
Click here to see Denny’s IMDB page.
5. Frank Perman
Stand Up Comedian
Did you hear the one about the funeral director stand-up comedian? He urned every laugh! (ba dum tss!)
The second Funeral Director comedian on our list is Pittsburgh Mortician, Frank Perman, who has been performing stand up on and off for more than a decade. Known by his moniker “America’s Funniest Funeral Director”, Frank usually performs his routines at fundraisers and community events, although he has also headlined ticketed shows at the Hard Rock Café in Pittsburgh. When he is not busy working at Perman Funeral Home or performing on stage, Frank also creates short, pun-derful videos on YouTube to keep his fans laughing.
“When people call us at the funeral home, they want to be assured that someone understands where they’re coming from. I, under no circumstances, make fun of that,”Frank shared in an article for Trib Total Media. “We’re dealing with high emotions, time constraints, financial considerations. At times, I just sit down at the end of the day and say, ‘How did you get through this?’”
Click here to view Frank’s YouTube page
6. Everyone at Macz Funeral Homes
Dance Choreography Ninjas
Shakespeare once wrote that all the world is a stage. For the Macz family, that couldn’t be more accurate. Traci and Tom Macz, along with the help of their adorable 5-year-old son George, dedicated staff and spirited community, have created a series of delightful dance videos that are impossible not to love. The Macz family operates four funeral homes in Patoka, Sandoval, Centralia and Odin, IL but still finds time to bring happiness to others via the power of dance. From their incredible “Funeral Director Music Video Challenge” video (created to bring awareness to the Funeral Service Foundation) to their “Essential Workers Dance Revolution” which features nurses, police officers, teachers and others in their community showing off some of their moves, Macz Funeral Homes does an outstanding job producing these uplifting videos. Who knew that so many people in Illinois could dance so well?
“As funeral directors, we understand the perception that we are stoic people, but there’s another side to us. When people can see us outside the funeral home, and see that we can have fun, it makes us more approachable,” Macz said in an article for American Funeral Director. “Are we reinventing the wheel (with the video)? No. But what we did see with the videos from cops and teachers with the level of community engagement … that viewers were able to see these people in a different light … and that’s just what we wanted to accomplish.”
Click here to view the Macz Funeral Homes YouTube page
7. Monica Arnold
Grammy Award-Winning Singer
In 2018, Grammy-award winning songstress and R&B legend, Monica Arnold, revealed a major detail about her life that came as a surprised to even her biggest fans. Beginning around 2013, she had started working at her family’s mortuary, Gus Thornhill’s Funeral Home in East Point, GA. In an interview, Monica explained that she grew up with the business. She initially didn’t want to make a public statement about it because she wanted to learn as much as she could about the funeral business first. She eventually decided to share with her fans to show others they could have more than one passion in their life. Monica is truly an inspiration, and her work as a mortician demonstrates how many intangible rewards this profession offers to those that are called to serve others.
“This calling is a calling that is about bringing peace to families. It’s not about your personal feelings,” Monica shared. “To me it makes me feel good on the inside when I see the family feel relieved when they see their loved one laid out…I grew up around it, my uncle has owned a funeral home for 47 years, so I know how important those final moments are.”
Did we miss any noteworthy funeral director performance artists? Which entry on this list were you the most surprised by? Please share with us in the comments below.
About The Author
Jess Farren (Fowler)
Jess Farren (Fowler) is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD’s company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at Jess@myASD.com