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About "Dead Man's Liver"

The following jump tale was told to me by a junior high school kid, *during* one of my performances, about 1983, in Manchester VT. It is gross, but funny, and very effective.

I have been able to get away with telling this story (to some extent, anyway) by telling it as the kid who told it to me. I show how we traded seats, and how nervous he was to begin with, and gradually I get (he gets) more confidence. I found that I needed some such device, because people got weirded-out by seeing a theoretical grown-up relishing the icky aspects of the story. Yet if you don't relish them, it's even weirder. But for a kid to get a kick of of it-- well, of course!

The trick of a jump tale is to build up suspense and then jump and shout very suddenly. Ideally your audience will jump too, and then talk and laugh loudly for about fifteen seconds.

More notes, and newpublishing information follow the story.

dead man's liver

copyright 1996 by Tim Jennings

print edition published by Eastern Coyote Productions, copyright September 2008

So there was this kid, see. And his mom sent him to the store to buy
some liver. And he didn't even like no liver. So she gave him seventy-
five cents, but on the way to the store he passed by another store. And
there was video game sounds coming out. And it was just, like, those
videogame sounds reeeeached out through that door, and grabbed the kid
by the change in his pocket, pulled him through the door and snaked
down into his pocket, and grabbed the quarter and swallowed it down--
GLUCK!-- (you know the sound they make)-- GLUCK!--

And he played his first game, and he did lousy! Lost all three guys, bam
bam bam, like that. Woulda done better if he'd kept his hands offa the

"I can't leave now," he says, "not after a game like that."

And he played his second quarter, and he done great. Extra boards, extra
guys, stuff coming down at him he'd never even heard about. Put his name
on after.

"Geez," he said, "I can't leave now, not after a game like that."
(That's how they get you.)

So he played his last quarter, and it didn't matter he good he done, he
didn't have no money.

So he went to the grocer, grocer said, "NO," he said. "You don't give me no
money, I don't give you no liver."

"But I'll get in trouble!"

"Nothin new for you," says the grocer. Grocer knew this kid.

Actually, most people in town knew this kid.

So, he left, and on the way out the door, he grabbed a plastic bag off
the roll, stuffed it in his pocket.

And on the way home, he happened to pass by-- an open coffin. With nobody

(this is a kind of a joke. pause for audience reaction.)

He said to himself, what I need is... some liver!

(look in coffin. Audience reaction again)

What I got here, is... some liver!

(Audience reaction. )

And he took out his knife...

and he

(with great enjoyment)


(No good trying to soft-peddle this one. You want your audience to go

And he put it in his plastic bag, and took it home to his mother,


And she floured it and she fried it and

(EUUUUUUUUUUUUU!!!!!!!!!!!! )

(-- this is my favorite part--)
they all agreed: it was the best liver they ever had in their lives.

(EUUUUUUUUUUUUU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! )

That night the kid was in bed and he heard
-- a noise--


(get your first jump here)


--Kid's name....was Johnny.

JOHNNY GOT MY LIVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Well he wasn't gonna stay in bed-- not this kid-- not with that going
on-- so he got up went over to the window, pushed his face against the

(face -and -hands- against-the-glass mime here)

Bright moonlit night, he could see clear as day, there was nothin to see;
there was nobody out there.

Whew!, he says, bad dream, I can go back to bed.

Went back to bed, lay down, and why he hadn't seen it,
it was on the front porch, under the porch roof.

(usually get a big jump here)

heard the screen door open
heard the kitchen door open
heard'em both slam shut together
like that.

Heard it coming across the kitchen, underneath his bedroom floor.


Kid said, "Pop!"


"Pop... cut it out!"


"You don't fool me, Pop."

JOHNNY GOT MY LIVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!


(very frightened, of course.)

Heard it comin up the steps...

"Johnny GOT my... Johnny GOT my...."

Heard it coming across the hall

"Got my LIVER... Got my LIVER...."

Heard it stop outside his bedroom door. Saw the doorknob turn. Saw the
door swiiiiiiing open..... He pulled the covers over his head.

Heard it comin across the room

"johnny got my liver..."

Heard it stop at the head of his bed.

Felt it

take the covers

out of his hands

and pull them down across his face.

He closed his eyes.

Felt it-- leeeeeeeean over him

its breath
on his cheek!


Heard it say




If you don't know anything about "jump" tales, before you try telling this,
read Mark Twain's How To Tell A Story, and, if you can, listen to Hal Holbrook
applying the technology in "The Golden Arm."

It's the same as "Big Toe" and "Johnny I'm on the first step" and "Teeny Tiny Woman."

There used to be quite a lot more about jump tales on the StorytellingWiki, but it is gone.

The jump in "liver" seems to work best if you get quiet and intense towards the end, focusing beyond
the front row of your audience, so they don't feel like they need to fight you.
Become the monster, looking down and gloating onto the bed: "Johnny.... Johnny"
Then quickly come back up and strike out, hitting them hard with "GIMME."
Try to make it be suddenly, devastatingly, completely untelegraphed, like a great move in basketball or hockey.

If you happen to have somebody sitting right next to you (say you're in a swap,
or at a campfire, or in a car) you can grab them in the ribs with
and they will rise about foot and a half into the air.
Unless they hate this kind of stuff, in which case they will hate you
for the rest of your life, in which case you better not try it, even if you don't like
them, because the jump is no good without a big laugh immediately aferwards.

This is a folk tale. While this version has become very much my own, several of the
better touches-- "Pop, cut it out!" and "Smelt... the formaldeehyde," for
instance-- were from that seventh grade student, whose uncle
told it to him sitting around the fire at night at deer camp.


This story has been "published on the web" since 1996 with hardly any feedback at all. Then, suddenly, just this month, I started getting phone calls and emails from parents, teachers, and principals saying that their charges had won local storytelling contests with it, and couldn't progress to the regional trials unless it was published on paper. So: yes, now it is published on paper.

Dead Man's Liver, by Tim Jennings
Publisher: Eastern Coyote Productions, Montpelier VT.
This edition copyright September 2008.
ISBN  978-0-9793554-3-1
Cost: $10 print copy, $5 PDF
Performance rights are included with purchase.

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Jennings & Ponder =+= World Tales & Celtic Music =+= Sheefra
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