In his Seinfeld TV show on May 20, 1993 Jerry told this joke:
“…. According to most studies, people’s number-one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two! Now this means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
On March 2, 2013 I blogged about how I read it in a book, so it must be true – and discussed a book which had misquoted death as instead being third. Doug Staneart has another version where death is fifth. It was at Ezine Articles on November 15, 2005 in an article titled Anxiety in Public Speaking. Mr. Staneart says:
“Speaking in public is often cited as the number one fear of adults. The Book of Lists places the fear of death in fifth place while public speaking ranks first. Jerry Seinfeld said, ‘That would mean at a funeral, people are five times more likely to want to be in the casket than giving the eulogy.’"
He has other more vague versions in two of his books. One shows up in an excerpt from Chapter 1 of his 2002 book Fearless Presentations in a web article titled 10 Ways to Eliminate Public Speaking Fear:
“A number of years ago in an episode of Seinfeld, Jerry Seinfeld talked about a poll that had been conducted in which Americans said that their number one fear was public speaking, and that the fear of death was number five. He said, ‘…that would mean that at a funeral, people are five times more likely to want to be in the casket than giving the eulogy.’ “
In his 2013 book Mastering Presentations, Mr. Staneart says:
“I often quote Jerry Seinfeld when I begin a seminar or class on presentation fear, because in one of his stand-up routines, he points out that the fear of public speaking is the number-one fear in America, and the fear of death is number five. ‘So, you are five times as likely to want to be in the casket rather than up giving the eulogy.’ “
Where did fear of death rank in that Book of Lists? On October 27, 2009 I blogged about The 14 worst human fears in the 1977 Book of Lists: where did this data really come from? As shown above in a bar chart, the fear of death in the 1973 Bruskin survey ranked seventh not fifth. Also, it is clearly wrong to multiply by the rank. Since 40.6% feared speaking before a group and 18.7% feared death you instead would multiply by the ratio 40.6/18.7 = 2.17, not 5.
Was there another survey where fear of death ranked fifth? Yes. On May 19, 2011 I blogged about America’s Number One Fear: Public Speaking – that 1993 Bruskin-Goldring Survey. As shown above in a bar chart, since 45% feared speaking before a group and 31% feared death you would multiply by the ratio 45/31 = 1.45, not 5.
The inflated man was derived from an August 1, 1900 Puck cartoon titled Pride goeth before destruction found at the Library of Congress.