Phone Calls From The Dead

From This Might Be A Wiki
Artwork that is sometimes used onstage during the call
Projection Screen

song name Phone Calls from the Dead
artist They Might Be Giants
releases Unreleased
year 2007
first played March 10, 2007 (66 known performances)
run time Clock.png This unreleased song has only been played live,
and therefore has no definitive run time.
sung by John Flansburgh; John Linnell


  • In a 2008 Gothamist interview, John Linnell discussed the origins of the bit:[1]

It started when we performed last February at the TED conference in Monterey, California. We were asked not to just do our usual thing.

So we cooked up this "phone call from the dead" thing. At the conference they had had this guy named James Randi who I think used to be a regular magician, The Amazing Randi, and now he's kind of a debunking expert. So he has this Randi Foundation where he offers something like a million dollars to somebody who can prove that they've communicated with spirits from beyond the grave; it's just one of the many ways he's trying to provoke people who claim paranormal stuff is real. So we did this bit in the show where we had the Amazing Randi call us from the dead and demand his own million dollars.

That was the gag and unfortunately I don't think anyone at TED thought it was that funny. We performed our set at 8am right after the blow-out beach party they'd had the night before so everybody who was there was actually hung over and I don't think anybody really liked or got our show that much. Anyway, we decided to stick with the phone call from the dead despite the poor reception it got at TED.

  • The bit would begin with a musical introduction, then Flansburgh would head offstage with a wireless microphone. Linnell would then inform the crowd that they've "run a phone line out to the graveyard", and are taking calls and questions from beyond the grave. Flansburgh would speak in a silly voice (sometimes a high falsetto, as for Emily Dickinson) and pretended to be the dead celebrity for the remainder of the segment. At the segment's premiere, he took on the role of Eleanor Roosevelt.
  • The dead celebrities often mentioned other dead celebrities, such as Tom Snyder or Andy Warhol.
  • At a few specific shows, the voice of the dead caller was represented by a trumpet sound on John Linnell's keyboard, with which John Flansburgh would have a conversation. Flansburgh would state that the dead caller in question provided the voice of all adults in the Peanuts TV specials.
  • Callers included: Eleanor Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Emily Dickinson, Bret Eastman Kodak (fictional writer), Sally Hemings, James Buchanan, Uncle Sam, John Lindsay, Frank Bogart (fictional dead president of Columbia Records), Molly Pitcher, Jerry Orbach, Edgar Allan Poe, Buddy Ebsen, Luciano Pavarotti, Merv Griffin, Sacagawea, Ronald Milhous Sagan (fictional brother of astronomer Carl Sagan), Vincent Price, Lionel Barrymore, Milton Mouse (a jealous fictional brother of Mickey Mouse), Albert Sac (fictional founder of Sacramento, CA), MC Bones (Fictional Host of the Skull and Bones Secret Society at Yale University), Billy the Kid, Dick Cheney (not dead but living in the crypt), Ernie Boch, Racer X (from Speed Racer), Strom Thurmond and Jackson Pollock.
  • Sometimes a small projector screen was put onto the stage, while pictures of graves and telephones, such as the picture above, were shown as a slide show in the background during the call.
  • This bit was played only for the tour supporting The Else throughout 2007, plus one appearance in 2009. In several live performances in the mid- and late-2010s, the band implemented a similar act of simulated phone calls similar to "Phone Calls From The Dead", but only as banter between songs. However, this act was done during performances of Older in several shows throughout that time.

Song Themes

Death, Telecommunication, Temperature


Current Rating

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Phone Calls From The Dead is currently ranked #509 out of 910. (14 wikians have given it an average rating of 8.07)