Say it nay nay. Sad but true: Stand-up comedian John Pinette died Saturday from a pulmonary embolism. Pinette was 50.
On Friday, Pinette was on Twitter telling fans to come see him next weekend at the Improv in Ontario, Calif. On Saturday, he was in Pittsburgh for a family wedding. He was found dead in his hotel room. The Allegheny County medical examiner’s office told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Pinette had been suffering liver and heart disease and cited natural causes as his death. Pinette’s manger, Larry Schapiro, confirmed that he had died from a pulmonary embolism. The same health issue that had forced Pinette to clear his touring schedule at the start of 2014.
The previous year, he’d also checked himself into rehab from prescription medication. By January, he wrote to fans that after all of that, plus “losing a bunch of weight and having several small surgical procedures, I’m physically spent.” So he rested. By Feb. 18, Pinette was telling fans: “The new year has brought me more than a measure of good health and happiness. I have been recuperating in Santa Monica, CA, far away from the winter woes of the east. My days include long walks at the beach, physical therapy, healthy eating and acupuncture. I even frequent a juice bar. Good heavens, I’m turning into a local. What next, Pilates? Your kindness and well wishes have comforted me on my journey back. Once again I would like to apologize for all the inconvenience my rescheduling must have caused. 2014 marks my 28th year doing stand up. Your love and laughter has simply made my life. Hope to see you soon.”
A Boston comedian by birth and by breed, Pinette was best known perhaps for his singular feature performance on the final episode of Seinfeld or for touring for two years as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray.
But it was stand-up that was his bread and butter. And his endless buffet of jokes.
From his Boston cohorts…
Eddie Brill (Late Show with David Letterman): “Very sad news. The hilarious and lovable, John Pinette has died. He was fighting a debilitating illness. I remember when he was a young kid in Boston. The folks at Nick’s Comedy Stop got behind him right away and I remember they had asked the brilliant and prolific Kenny Rogerson to help him out…and John couldn’t have had a better mentor. John opened for Sinatra. He was on Broadway. And he always made me laugh and even more importantly, he made me smile. Lots of love to his family and friends.”
Brian Kiley (Conan): “John Pinette was incapable of having a bad show. What a terrible loss.”
Boston comic Johnny Pizzi recalled performing alongside Pinette as far back as his first “show” in high school in Malden. “He did Joan Rivers. It was amazing,” Pizzi said. “People were dying laughing.”
Pinette won stand-up of the year honors at the 1999 American Comedy Awards, and he was a fixture in Canada, too, at Just For Laughs.
Robbie Praw, Just For Laughs programming director, wrote: “An unbelievably rare talent, who will be sorely missed. Just For Laughs simply won’t be the same knowing he’s graced our stages for the last time. Thoughts with all his friends and family during this hard time.”
So many comedians and people in the industry, their first words were how nice and sweet Pinette was.
“Can’t believe John Pinette is gone,” said Kathleen Madigan. “I’m trying to focus on how hard he made me laugh, not how sad I am that he’s not here. I’m thinking of all my road dates with John and how much fun we had on and off stage. If nothing else, he lived big and he had a blast. Good soul.”
Everyone has a Pinette story or two. I do, too. I had the unenviable task of following him onstage in 2001, watched him record “I Say, Nay, Nay” on that same stage in 2004, then earned the privilege to interview him at length a decade later, for his “Still Hungry” special.
Still Hungry, of course, had dual meaning for Pinette. He had logged 25 years as a stand-up by 2011, had told so many jokes about food, his weight and his allergies, and yet, still hungry for more. “What comics do is put their life on their table, and what I was doing was putting as much of my life on the table, and what was on the table was cake. A lot of cake,” Pinette told The Comic’s Comic in 2011.
What he also told me then about coming up in the Boston comedy scene in the 1980s:
“We worked hard and played hard. It was that simple. It was very intense, and like, I felt like, you got to understand, for a kid from Malden of very modest means, having left an accounting job, being around these people I considered celebrities and heroes, and now I get to work with them? It was a very special time. I think I was too young to appreciate how special it was…how the opportunities, you’d go onstage seven days a week in Boston. People today don’t get to do that and I never appreciated that. Once you realize you don’t appreciate something, something else comes along. When it was time to do Still Hungry, I knew every minute I was working on it, as tiring as it was, from writing the one-man show in Montreal, and retooling it, I knew no matter how I felt, I couldn’t have felt any luckier to be doing what I was doing.”
He remained nothing but optimistic in an interview last month with the OC Weekly, thinking ahead to his next stand-up special. “I’m doing Brea and then I have my niece’s wedding, which I will get a lot of material from I’m sure,” Pinette told the paper. “Then Ontario and by that time, it’ll allow me the shows to get comfortable again with all of the people that make me feel like I’m home.”
Lisa Corrao, who often traveled with him as his opener, said he was so giving, he helped her celebrate her birthday and also toasted her a few days later for his own 50th birthday on March 23, taking her with him to see “Book of Mormon.” Corrao wrote last night: “RIP John Pinette, my dear friend. I’m devastated. This pic is from the other night at the Comedy & Magic Club.”
We’re all devastated.
Rest in peace, John. You go now. We did not want you to go. We said nay nay.
Here’s John Pinette in “I Say, Nay, Nay” in full:
And John Pinette’s “I’m Starvin'” in full:
And this is John Pinette’s “Still Hungry” special from 2011, also in full: