Old movie/cartoon stock character: undertaker w/tape measure

What’s the origin of this? I can place it as far back as an “Our Gang” short Spook Spoofing (1928), but I’d bet anything it was an already-established device–that is, the undertaker with the tape measure who goes around sizing up potential clients.

Any ideas???

Figuring out how big a coffin he’ll need? Just a guess.

Does this deserve a whoosh or a :smack: ?

I don’t remember seeing the episode, but I’ve seen the device.

As Casey1505, it’s measuring for the coffin. The joke is that an undertaker would have measured the corpse after it was laid out. By measuring a person who is still vertical, the undertaker is saying, “You’re a gonner.”

Well, if anyone’s interested, I kinda knew why they were doing it. That wasn’t the question. The question was the origin, or first appearance. I’ve seen in mostly in cartoons, but I have a feeling it’s an old device.

But it’s still probably a dead end, like the first drawing of two guys on a desert island with a palm tree.

I’ve seen it in forgettably Westerns sometimes (so forgettable I can’t think of an example) but I couldn’t tell you if they were spoofing something else or using a serious archetype or what.

(But I guess it couldn’t really go back to radio. :slight_smile: )

There was a character in the radio series “The Life of Riley” named Digger O’Dell who had a number of running gags including that, but that only dates back to the early 40s.

I would be willing to bet at the end of the 19th century, it was more of a truism than a running gag. Probably a “no frills” funeral was the rule and not the exception and because of a lack of embalming chemicals, the sooner you get the person in the ground the better; so a tape measure and a skill in carpentry probably were tools of the trade to a member of the profession.


It probably could have been used in radio. One of my grandfather’s running gag one-liners was that everytime he ran into his cousin the undertaker, Cousin J whipped out the measuring tape before he even said hello.

This gag also sighted in Back to the Future III as Marty McFly prepares to have a showdown with “Mad Dog” Tannen.