Anna Nicole Smith was a character. Her life played out like a soap opera and her fame launched her into the unrelenting public spotlight, providing constant fodder for the comic circuit.
But in the days and weeks after her untimely and mysterious death, stand-ups are left to wonder: Did the joke die with Anna Nicole?
Smith's Staying Power
Smith, a stripper turned celebrity, has provided an abundance of material for comedians over the years. From her marriage to a man 63 years her senior to making a career as a spokeswoman for TrimSpa, Smith led an extraordinary life.
Wayne Rada, general manager of Stand-Up New York, a comedy club in New York City, said jokes about Smith have been bringing laughs in his club for years. But after 15 years, perhaps it is time for the Smith jokes to go.
"She had been such a joke for so long," said Rada. "She's already been so played out."
Chris Regan, an Emmy-award winning comedy writer agreed. He said the way Smith lived her life made her a bulls eye for parody, taking some of the fun out of it for comedians.
"There's a soft target element to the Anna Nicole story. The best jokes come at the expense of people who take themselves too seriously, who have an air of importance or significance to them," Regan said. "I think Anna Nicole took herself less seriously than anyone."
Comedians Grieve for Anna Nicole
As a precaution, most comedians have a grieving period for jokes after a tragic event or death, but that doesn't mean the jokes won't come back eventually.
"She's certainly not over, there's a mourning period," said Chris Mazzilli, owner of Gotham Comedy Club in New York. "What comics will do when someone dies is they give them a little time … then they go after them."
Rada agrees that a grace period is necessary to maintain a sense of professionalism.
"Her passing was really sad. Comics tend to stay away from things like this as a whole: It's like kicking a puppy," said Rada. "It's just not worth it to make some random smart-ass remark. Where it stands now, it's just too easy. It would be perceived as kinda hacky."
Life After Death -- In the Comedy Club
As time passes, comedians will be more comfortable using the subject of Smith and the circumstances surrounding her mysterious death in their acts once again.
Some jokes already are slipping out.
"Anna Nicole Smith's condition downgraded to death," read one posting on Fark.com.
Several other websites mourn the loss of Smith with an air of farce: "Anna Nicole Smith 1967-2007, Breast in Peace."
But most professional comedians are taking precautions before entering the ring again. Mazzilli says comics at his club test the audience in situations like this.
"I've seen comedians gauge the audience's reaction," he said. "If they kinda chuckle, that's their cue to start making fun of her again."
Regan agreed, but said it depends on who the deceased is.
"I think it depends on the celebrity," he said. "I don't think many comedy writers were putting pen to paper after Christopher Reeve died, but plenty are having a chuckle at Anna Nicole's expense right now."
Mazzilli and Regan both say the sore subject of Smith's death is slowly becoming fair game for comics and will expand once new material becomes available -- material, says Regan, like the paternity mystery of Smith's infant daughter.
"There are going to be plenty of people publicly picking over the corpse of Anna Nicole Smith for quite some time," said Regan. "The lawyer daddy is pretty good for a chuckle, and I'm personally enjoying the recent entry of Zsa Zsa Gabor's husband, slash prince, slash gigolo into the paternity race."
Only time will tell when and how Smith will live on in the Comedy Club. For now, some comics are simply saying, "Thanks for the mammories…"