Thoughts on Richard Jeni (and Mitch Hedberg)

I was in New York City, celebrating with comedians and Comedy Central folk after a successful night of tapings for the second season of Live At Gotham, when the audience coordinator delivered the news to us. "Did you hear Richard Jeni died?" My first reply: "You’ve got to be kidding. That must be one of those Internet rumors going around." Nope. No rumor. Although it took until Sunday morning to find out anything that might confirm the tragic news, and that came via my friends at Shecky Magazine.

The official Richard Jeni site first went black, then emerged first with his dates (1957-2007), and later with a note from the family on Monday, and now a note from one of his good friends. It’s good that Jeni’s family and friends have come out quickly with an explanation — well, not a complete one, but how can you for a suicide — so all of his fans don’t spread falsehoods about him.

Couldn’t help but immediately think of Mitch Hedberg’s sudden death two years ago this March.

These two great comics took different paths to self-destruction. Jeni, a gun; Hedberg, drugs. They both needed much more support and comfort than we gave them. It’s just so sad.

I knew Hedberg a lot better than I knew Jeni. I had the good fortune to both perform with and interview Hedberg, so his death hit me harder. Though he had always been jovial and mostly sober when I saw him, the signs were so very clear that Hedberg was falling away from us, from his arrest in Texas to his dismal performance in Tempe, to his no-show in Phoenix. Instead of dwelling on that, today I went to this tribute site and watched a bunch of Mitch clips. Still so very funny. Watching the 1995 Comedy Central clip also gives you a glimpse into Mitch’s early stage presence, when he had the material but a more traditional delivery. He hadn’t yet become the Mitch we all grew to love.

As for Jeni, I didn’t really know him at all. Remembered him from The Mask. Remembered him even more for his cinema comedy clips in the late 1990s. Saw him all over the place when I went to the Aspen fest in 2002. Saw him again onstage in Tempe a year or two later. Always quite solid and quick with the quips. I knew a girl who dated him. Now wondering if she was "the girlfriend" and feeling so sorry for her and what she’s going through. Talked to some people who did cross paths with Jeni recently and they reported that all was not quite right, or that they had seen a different personality out of Jeni.

They both needed much more support and comfort and a positive kick in the arse than we gave them. It’s just so sad. We need to keep an eye on our friends and loved ones, and make sure they know how much we love and care about them. I’m not saying anything new here. But it’s still the kind of thing that we need to keep saying if we want to prevent another comic tragedy like this.

Post your thoughts on Jeni’s MySpace page or Memorial Guestbook.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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