Comedy Kills: The High Death Rate Among Young Comedians

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The death rate among young comedians is disturbingly high. Clearly, comedy kills. Not every time, of course. Bob Hope lasted to age 100, for example. And maybe the percentages aren’t really remarkably higher than for other groups; it’s not like I’m aware of any scientific studies on the topic.

But a lot of super-talented, super-funny people do bite the big one early…and for a standup comedy enthusiast like yours truly, that sucks like a galactic black hole, dude. There’s got to be some psychology involved. Hm…there’s a study for a thesis: The Correlation Between the High Death Rate Among Young Comedians and the Psychology of Comedy. When the movie comes out, it could be re-titled as Comic Burnout.

Consider:

    1. Greg Giraldo, dead at age 44 from an accidental (?) prescription pill overdose.

True, Greg was reportedly in the hospital for five days before he finally left the planet, so maybe it was the medical profession and not the pills that killed him. One never knows. Giraldo was mostly known for his participation in Comedy Central roasts, but he did a lot more than that.

    2. Mike DeStefano, in his forties but no birthdate available, dead of a heart attack.

Yeah, much of Mike’s act centered on recovery from drug addiction and the death of his wife. Plus he was HIV positive. Guess we should’ve seen that one coming.

    3. Richard Jeni, age 49, death by shooting himself in the face.

Ouch. This one really, really sucked for me. Jeni’s comedy CDs kept me awake behind the wheel and therefore alive in my eighteen wheeler on many a long run. Kept me alive, but apparently couldn’t, in the end, beat his own schizophrenia and depression. Dang it, Richard, your routines about a single guy pissing in the sink and doing mean things to his own private parts for recreation were freaking awesome.

Greg Giraldo.

Greg Giraldo.

Mike DeStefano.

Mike DeStefano.

Richard Jeni.

Richard Jeni.

    4. Andy Kaufman, gone at 35 from a rare form of lung cancer after it reached his brain as well.

Kaufman refused to call himself a comedian, but if it kills at the comedy clubs, creates an unforgettable character like Latka Gravas, and generates a following of fans who laugh their butts off every time he appears on TV…it’s a comedian.

    5. John Candy, heart attack at 43, after trying to beat a lifelong weight problem.

He’d even quit smoking. I never saw him do standup, but his movie performances were funny as Hell with a character-redemption reliably thrown in at the end of each. My favorite: Wagons East.

    6. Chris Farley, accidental morphine overdose mixed with cocaine at age 33.

Farley was an acquired taste, so to speak–the first time I saw him, I couldn’t stand the guy. But it seemed like I couldn’t totally avoid him without removing the ON button from the TV remote, and his performances eventually grew on me. After Tommy Boy, I was a fan.

Andy Kaufman.

Andy Kaufman.

John Candy.

John Candy.

Chris Farley.

Chris Farley.

The more one looks around online, the more dead comedians pop up in your face. There’s even an article out there about The Ten Best Dead Fat Comedians, for example, though I didn’t actually locate the page. For one thing, I didn’t want to find out if one of our favorites from a few years back…might have made the list.

Yep, the TV is tuned to the Comedy Channel. But not to worry about the comic currently bouncing around the stage, doing his Comedy Central special. Jack Whitehall. He’s supposedly not gay (according to several online articles), but his act sure is. Most importantly, he’s turbo-hyper and skinny as a rail.

This one will probably live forever.

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