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Richard Jeni is Forced to Cancel Comedy Tour
2007-03-11 21:00
by Scott Long

...because he killed himself this past weekend.

I have mixed opinions about Richard Jeni. He was a really talented performer and was one of the few comics prolific enough as a writer to create numerous hour-long comedy specials for Cable. While I was never really knocked out by his material, he was able to gain a large following, which very few comics are ever able to do.

During the early 90's, Jeni was arguably one of the 5 most popular touring stand-ups in the world. He was a regular on Carson and next to George Carlin and Gallagher, I can't think of anyone who put out more pay-cable comedy specials during this period.

The early 90's were the Golden Age for stand-up comics, as many were being signed to star in sitcoms. Tim Allen, Roseanne Barr, Brett Butler, and Jerry Seinfeld all ended up being major successes, despite not being as commercially successful as Jeni was before their shows went on the air. Jeni got his chance at his own show, which was titled "Platypus Man." I don't remember much about the show, except that I thought it was decent. If I'm not mistaken, it appeared on the first year that UPN existed, which I'm guessing didn't help the show's odds for success.

Just like all other artistic endeavors, who is the best and most creative does not mean these qualifications will translate to major commercial success. While watching some of your peers' eclipse you can be crushing, you have to be self-aware enough to also realize that there are people more talented than you that haven't achieved your level of success, as well.

At this point, it isn't known why Jeni blasted himself in the face with a shotgun, but it was known in the comedy biz that he was a bitter guy. We all at times suffer from myopia, especially creative types who crave the spotlight to feed their egos. (I would have to rate comedians/bloggers right near the top of this category.)

So while I can't say I was ever a large fan of Richard Jeni, I do remember enjoying his comedy. I know it sounds very self-absorbed to say that being able to stand-up in front of a large audience of diverse people and make them laugh for an hour is one of the most difficult things to do on the planet, but….

If he was a bittermun or not, I think the world needs as many funny people as it can get, so I lament the passing of Richard Jeni. I guess I'm surprised that Jeni decided to end his life this way, as I never took him for a prop act. Sadly, Richard Jeni won't be here all week, so no need to try the veal.

2007-03-11 22:57:46
1.   mikeplugh
Wow. I feel exactly the same way Scott. Never thought he was fall down funny, but I do remember getting a few hours of enjoyment our of his dozens of cable hours. I think he had the kind of humor that someone who grew up in NYC could appreciate, especially Brooklynites.

It was always a bit bitter, had a NY attitude, and yet was just goofy enough and carefree to appeal to a larger audience. Too bad. I always shake my head when people take their lives. It's sad and such a tragic waste.

2007-03-11 23:33:47
2.   Know1
I know that without the information, it is easy to speculate that someone with Richard's talent might have killed himself because his career did not reach expected heights. This is not the case. Out of respect for the family, I will not discuss the situation but I can assure you that suicidal depression is always more complicated than such overtly drawn conclusions. The Richard I knew was not bitter. He was intelligent, infuriating, kind, neurotic, compassionate, compulsive, forgiving, obsessive and generous. He was more of a comic genius than he ever took credit for. If he knew what a shamanic healer he was by all the laughter he inspired he might still be here. For those of us who really knew him, our hearts are broken. May he CREST in peace.
2007-03-12 02:34:03
3.   Outpatient
mikeplugh said "I always shake my head when people take their lives."

Instead of shaking your head why don't you simply hang your head in silence and show a little respect. You have no right to pass judgment on Richard. Nor should you pigeonhole him as "bitter" (which I never picked up on) or assume his target audience was mainly "New Yorkers". As a Californian I'm about as far from a "New Yorker" as one can be, and I thought Richard was one of the top comedians around.

We may never know why this happened but we can know whatever anguish it was that brought Richard to this conclusion, it's now over and done with. He can rest in peace. Goodnight funny guy. The world is going to be a little less funny without you.

2007-03-12 03:51:39
4.   mikeplugh

Maybe I didn't express myself as clearly as I would have liked, but I never intended to slight the man or the pain of the situation. In fact, just the opposite. When I say that I shake my head, I mean in shock and sadness. You know. In that head bowed, resigned to the painful finality of it all.

I also never said anything about his target audience being New Yorkers. I simply meant that the tone of his comedy spoke to New Yorkers like me who shared some of the quirky New York things that in some ways are inside jokes, while also being genuinely funny to anyone who hears them.

As a New Yorker, I see the infuriating and obsessive side of the comedy as a core part of our psyche. All of us are just a little bitter, but in a much more quirky way than it may sound. I hope I didn't do anything to suggest that he was mad at the world, and therefore took his life.

I apologize if my comments were read in any way other than to express appreciation for his comedy and to show my sadness at his family's loss. Let me rest at that.

2007-03-12 05:17:23
5.   Wriprodir
"why don't you simply hang your head in silence and show a little respect."

Outpatient, suicide does not warrant silence and respect.

Self-murder is a cowardly, egoistic act.

Jeni supposedly had, "tons of material" according to Frazer Smith. A comic doesn't get that sort of world-view without having thought out every possibility.

Jeni stopped thinking.

A pity, but not an act worthy of respect or silence.

2007-03-12 06:44:50
6.   rainforest
I interviewed Richard twice and he was both engaging and funny. Bitter, maybe, but I have yet to meet a professional comedian that was not at the very least jaded and probably bitter about something. I did think that Richard was uncomfortable, as if jumping out of his own skin. I was thinking "this dude needs to chill", but it was part of his genius. That need to create and be funny. He was funny, cool and very nice. Rare. He donated money to charity in the names of other people. God bless you Richard!
2007-03-12 07:15:20
7.   tinker911
There is a reason behind this suicide and it was nothing to do with being bitter or cowardly. It is believed that Richard was terminally ill. He made a sizable donation to charity and chose to take his life shortly afterward.
2007-03-12 08:36:10
8.   dianagramr
Possible TMI alert ....

As someone who made an aborted suicide attempt 12 years ago, I find the title of the post, when combined with the "punchline" of the post, to be in extremely snarky and poor taste.

To those of you who haven't been at rock bottom emotionally ... I say walk a mile in my shoes. I thought that the WORLD was being callous in its regard towards my wanting to end their own internal hell. The world was being selfish in wanting me to go on living like I was ...

Is suicide a cowardly act? No. Not if you don't perceive a way out of your own misery.

Some of the comments here border on pathetic.

2007-03-12 09:34:41
9.   corradoborg
"suicide does not warrant silence and respect.

Self-murder is a cowardly, egoistic act."

While suicide may not be worthy of silence and respect in the sense that we do not want to encourage it, it certainly doesn't warrant outspoken DISrespect, either. Besides, it is the man we respect, not his final act. Get off your high horse and refrain from passing judgment on something and someone about which you know squat.

Saying such disdainful things about someone who was obviously hurting more than you'll ever know - someone who can no longer defend themselves - is a "cowardly, egoistic act."

2007-03-12 11:49:21
10.   Scott Long
I realize that some would find the title to this piece in poor taste, but I wasn't too concerned. Any comedian worth a shit has a dark sense of humor. I didn't know Jeni, but I would guess he would have found the title funny. If he didn't...well what is he going to do about it, anyway?

I can't think of anyone who I would compare their career's to Jeni. He was a big star for about 10 years. He had his own TV series, appeared in a big movie (MASK), and had other big opportunites, but it never clicked on the scale of many of his contemporaries.

I appreciate Know1's comments. I was speculating and don't know all the inner workings behind why he made such a final decision. I do know from others that he was difficult to deal with in more recent years, as clubs and radio shows that he might not have been doing back in the 90's, became a needed part of his career.

I have moments of being bitter about my career. The concept that timing is everything is not overrated in comedy and that goes for when you begin your career, as well. I started right at the end of the comedy boom and guys like Jeni rode the CREST. The opportunities dried up by the mid to late 90's, with many really talented stand-ups never getting a chance to have their own Pay-cable specials. The concept of getting your own sitcom now is pretty much dead, with the genre teetering into the abyss.

I'm not trying to be hurtful to Jeni, just trying to share my feelings about him and even more importantly, how his career fits into the profession that I've been part of for the past 15 years. His career arc was a pretty unique one.

2007-03-12 12:00:41
11.   citygirl
Dear All:

I KNEW Richard. He was not bitter, he was a guy who looked at his comedy as his job. It was a business to him. In reality. he was a very quiet guy and not funny at all! He had a heart of gold and took care of his family. It would not surprise me if they find that his girlfriend shot him and NOT the other way around.

2007-03-12 12:05:12
12.   Scott Long
Specific to Dianagramar. I'm a big fan of your blog and your writing. I find you one of the few bloggers that are able to be funny and informative at the same time. Having said that, I'm not talking about a typical citizen, I'm talking about a stand-up comedian.

Have you ever watched a roast? It gets a lot more vicious than this. I realize that type of comedy is not for everyone and you have your right to state it is in poor taste. All I can judge my title on is if it would have made me laugh. It did for many of the same reasons it made you ill. Having watched most of Jeni's comedy specials, I would seriously (yeah, I can use that word) doubt he would have had any problem with it.

Just like a TV or a Radio show, I would mention that there are many other choices on the dial. I have a different point of view than most when it comes to blogging. I feel through pushing readers buttons a greater understanding can come about. I mean this as much for myself, as often shots at me in the comments section, when well-thought out, enable me to see different shades on the topic.

As someone who grew up with a father who tried numerous times to commit suicide and actually would threaten to do this over the phone to me, I'm really clued into depression. My brother died last year in an act which points to being a suicide, as much as an accident. The best support group for me is writing in a public forum and trying to be as honest as I can about my feelings.

Now we are having a good time, aren't we.

2007-03-12 12:23:03
13.   dianagramr
Scott .... thanks for the acknowledgment.

As for roasts vs. blogs .... in a roast, the one being roasted is fully aware of what to expect, and has a chance to fire back at the end of the night. (I do happen to love roasts, though most of the Comedy Central variety leave a bad taste in my mouth, and I've done my fair share of "blue" stuff during my stand-up days years ago).

No one is going to "roast" a dead comic ... they may pay homage to him ... tell a few of his favorite bits, reflect on his life. But no one will "work blue" and roast Jeni's sex life (as an example).

Suicide just isn't funny. Making light of it may seem cathartic in the circumstances you describe, but it seems a bit of a stretch emotionally ....

Cobain's suicide wasn't THAT big a surprise, and thus was ripe for poking fun at by certain people.

Tony Dungy's son's suicide WAS a big surprise, yet there was someone on another board I frequent suggesting that it would give the Patriots a big edge. (Yes, it was an attempt at humor, and most of the board inhabitants chewed the poster out over it).

Yes ... to each his own in dealing with tragedy, but without knowing much more about the circumstances of his suicide (was there a terminal illness?, for example), it's a very delicate line to walk around.

2007-03-12 12:44:51
14.   Scott Long
There has been discussion I've read since I wrote this that Jeni might have been suffering from some type of terminal illness. I feel badly about that, but in my admittedly twisted brain, it still doesn't make the comment less funny.

Tony Dungy's son was not a comedian. Public joking about his death would not be something I find appropriate.

In regards to the after death roasting, let me mention the funeral of Graham Chapman. The Python alums roasted him mercilessly, as they felt this is something he would have loved. I can't say for certain that Jeni would have been the same, but a line like he (Jeni)"is forced to cancel his tour...because he killed himself last weekend" doesn't cross the line to me. I know it does to others.

2007-03-12 14:58:01
15.   Eric Enders
"He had a heart of gold and took care of his family. It would not surprise me if they find that his girlfriend shot him"

Interesting juxaposition there.

FWIW, I found the headline funny. But then I'm pretty hard to offend.

2007-03-12 19:49:59
16.   SP1989
Richard Jeni's death came as a big shock to me. He has been one of my favorite comedians for a long time. Suicide is a very extreme, but i don't belive that life could ever get to the point where you would want to kill yourself i guess i have never been that depressed or put into a situtation where suicide was the way out. Life to me i guess is somthing that should be celebrated and enjoyed. It is really a shame that a person so funny and intelligent could not take the time to look and see that life isn't somthing to waste.
2007-03-12 21:17:28
17.   Scott Long
Note: On Letterman tonight, Chris Rock is the guest. At the end, they mention that Rock was a good friend of Jeni's. He said Jeni was an unpretentious guy. Rock then mentions that if he was still alive today, Jeni would say go see Chris Rock's movie. I'm paraphrasing, but I mention this because this is the way most comics I know act.
2007-03-12 22:44:32
18.   Voxter
5 - Go soak your head. You so clearly and deeply misunderstand the phenomenon of suicide that you really oughn't to speak about it in public. I'm sorry. I usually try to avoid picking on specific people like this, but what complete and utter shit.

Beyond that, I have to say, I think Scott hit it on the head when he said that it would be inappropriate to joke about someone else's suicide, but with a professional comedian it's different. The man spent his entire adult life trying to be funny. It's only fitting that the survivors do the same of his death. In fact, it's a way of passing in soul into what you made with your life: You die, you become comedy. It can't be done with most professions, even if your job was your life, even if you loved it to death -- if you die, your death cannot be turned into money management, or law, or teaching. But if you're a comedian, your death can become part of the joke. Even -- maybe especially -- if it's tragic.

2007-03-13 00:05:45
19.   dzzrtRatt
I think it's fine to try to be funny about a comedian's death. It just feels a little...soon. The fact that Chris Rock said it, too, doesn't legitimize it. I would've waited til his memorial or something.

I doubt Jeni's suicide was about his career. If that were the explanation, you'd have a lot more dead comedians. Most suicide is about the cessation of anguish, pain most of us can't imagine. The closest I've come to reading it is in William Styron's "Darkness Visible." Read that book, and you will understand something essential about humanity, and you will never call a suicide a "coward" again.

2007-03-13 04:56:22
20.   chris in illinois
19 I'll have to check out that Styron book. I have no idea why 5 called the man a coward, but I have to say that I've felt that way before. Now bear with me here, it's not that I don't sympathize with someone so obviously suffering, it's just that I've witnessed the anguish of the family members left behind. When you see the pain and confusion of the living, it's not hard to view a suicide as cowardice.

Of course, suicide is much more than a simple matter of cowardice. Mental illness is still little understood throughout the world; it's easy for most of us to empathize with physical pain, mental pain? Not so easy...

Part of the problem with mental illness is that we often just have to take someone's word for it. This is very often a big leap of faith to make, especially with someone like John Gacy.

Wasn't Gacy completely insane?? Do we really know? Just like many posters here assume that Jeni must have been mentally disturbed to have taken his life, I assume that Gacy must have been crazy to kill all of those people. But there is that small seed of doubt that maybe Gacy wasn't insane...

Luckily for society, the violence that seems to accompany some forms of mental illness is more often turned inward (suicide) than outward.

I hope everyone realizes that I'm not calling Richard Jeni a serial killer (maybe he would have thought that was funny too), but I'm just trying to acknowledge that large gray area between 'coward' and 'not coward' that these unfortunate people reside. Our lack of understanding of our own mental processes is a human weakness that we won't soon overcome, there is no CSI method to determine motive or 'frame of mind'.

That being said, from what I know of George Carlin, he'd be mightily offended if no one mocks him when he's dead.

2007-03-13 06:36:58
21.   dianagramr

well said .... definite food for thought

2007-03-13 12:26:13
22.   luckyoldson
I have to either believe you're just an insensitive asshole...or that you've never had a friend or relative commit suicide and have no idea of the emotions, problems depression and life situations that can create such a tragedy.

Which is it?

2007-03-13 12:27:54
23.   luckyoldson
Personally, I loved Jeni's humor and thought he was one of the funniest comedians around.

I'll miss the man and wish his family and friends well.

2007-03-13 13:50:36
24.   dzzrtRatt
20 I don't see a connection at all between Richard Jeni and a murderer like Gacy, although I grant that some suicides take an obsessional object with them, like an ex-spouse for example. I don't think calling Jeni "mentally disturbed" quite captures the difference between depression and the sociopathic behavior of a serial killer. My non-expert opinion is, these things are completely different.

It's true, you're right, the suicide leaves behind so much pain. But for some survivors, it might be a comfort that the deceased's pain is over. Every case is different, I guess. It's my supposition that the "I'll show you, you assholes" kind of suicide is much less frequent than the "I can't take one more minute of this pain" kind.

If you want to feel sorry for a family, think of the poor survivors of someone like Mario Danelo, the SC kicker. Death by misadventure and extreme drunkenness... I can't imagine the rage and trauma that would leave behind. They put a billboard up for him in Wilmington that I passed today. My heart bleeds for his parents and other loved ones. I wouldn't call Danelo's death "cowardly" -- just extremely stupid and disgustingly careless. On the other hand, drinking heavily at age 21 or 22? Pretty much a universal rite of passage.

2007-03-13 13:59:43
25.   chris in illinois
24 I don't disagree that much with you. I do think that Gacy and Jeni are alike in that they both likely suffered from a malady that is little understood. If a mental defect leads someone to kill themselves are they that much different from someone who's own mental defect leads them to harm others?? As a society we focus upon the result of the illness not the illness itself. As a result, we view Gacy as a monster and Jeni as a sympathetic figure. I'm not suggesting that we rethink Gacy as a human, his actions speak for themselves. Frankly it brings up some uncomfortable questions.

Clearly Gacy's illness had a much larger impact upon society than Jeni's did (again assuming Jeni was suffering from depression), but in the end they both were likely sick and at least to some degree not totally responsible for their actions.

But for the grace of genetics go we...

2007-03-14 15:00:46
26.   chris in illinois
The thread-killer strikes again.

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