Comedian, actor, writer and director Jay Leggett died suddenly over the weekend, collapsing after a hunting trip with family in his native Wisconsin. Leggett was 50.
Leggett, born Aug. 9, 1963, grew up in Tomahawk, Wisc. (where he died), and graduated from University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He was a product of Chicago’s legendary improv comedy scene, studying with Del Close and earning his first big break as a cast member on the final season of In Living Color.
In Los Angeles, he was teaching improvisers at Comedy Now L.A. and at iO West in Hollywood — as recently as last Thursday, Leggett also performed at iO West with “Joel Murray and Friends.” Leggett also appeared last month on an episode of Adam Devine’s House Party on Comedy Central, in a sketch as one of Devine’s neighbors.
Devine offered testimonials to Leggett for his improv classes, calling him his comedy “guru,” and posted Sunday @ADAMDEVINE: “RIP my friend, teacher and mentor Jay Leggett. You will be missed.”
Over the years, Leggett racked up several small supporting-role credits on TV episodes of ER, Ally McBeal, Star Trek: Voyager, and NYPD Blue, wrote the screenplay to Without a Paddle as well as the movie, Employee of the Month (the 2004 version he co-wrote, starring Matt Dillon and Christina Applegate, not the Dane Cook one that came out later). He also co-starred in SPIKE TV’s improvised comedy series, Factory, in 2008.
In 2011, he put out a documentary about hunters and hunting communities in Wisconsin, To The Hunt.
Just before venturing to Wisconsin for deer season this month, Leggett wrapped production on a movie he directed with the support of Indiegogo donations, Live Nude Girls. That film starred his co-writer, Mike Hatton, as a guy who inherits a strip club — it co-stars comedians Dave Foley and Andy Dick, Har Mar Superstar, and porn stars such as Bree Olson, Tera Patrick and Asa Akira. Hatton wrote over the weekend @themikehatton: “The world just got a little less funny. Tonight, I lost a mentor, a business partner, and a friend. RIP Jay. Thank you for everything.”
Here was Jay Leggett performing with Jim Carrey in a Seinfeld parody for In Living Color:
But Leggett loved to sing, and people loved to hear him sing. So here’s a sketch of him doing just that:
Above: Blue Velveeta, Harold team at iO. Kneeling in front: Kevin Dorff. (Left to right): Brian Blondell, Jay Leggett, Susan Messing, Mitch Rouse, Tom Booker, Brendan Sullivan.
Everyone in Chicago knew of Jay Leggett before In Living Color thanks to his breakout performances in the iO group Blue Velveeta, which won a national team improv tourney in the early 1990s before saying “farewell” to Chicago in 1995. At that time, Leggett (alongside Brian McCann and Brian Blondell) told the Chicago Tribune: “I think doing improvisation is the most enjoyable and most challenging work I do,” Leggett said. “Jay is your go-to guy,” added Blondell. “He’s got the great voice, first of all; he can sing like nobody. And McCann is your physical comedy goofy guy. And I guess I fall somewhere in between.”
Performer and teacher Susan Messing also performed with Leggett back then. Messing told the Wausau Daily Herald upon learning of his death: “Jay never rested on his laurels. He was always searching for more. … I never got the feeling he was making fun. Instead, he celebrated and acknowledged the people in his life who made him who he is.”
Messing’s husband, Second City alum and former SNL writer Michael Clayton McCarthy, said: “Jay was an amazingly wonderful man–in a lot of ways the very best of our tribe–incredibly bright without being pretentious, a liberal who hunted, off the charts funny, great improviser, and the kind of teacher who was just beginning to change the face of it all! I am so so sad that he is gone!”
Above: Chicago Underground, circa 1991. Leggett (top middle) with cast mates Dave Koechner, Jimmy Carrane, Brian Blondell, Kevin Dorff, Brendan Sullivan, Brian McCann, Andy Richter, and Noah Gregoropoulos.
Charna Halpern: “Today we lost Jay Leggett-a good friend and teacher at iOWEST. A member of the famous Blue Velveeta of yore. RIP Jay. Find Del-he will show you around.”
Brian Stack, longtime Conan writer, said Leggett “was as sharp and funny as ever, and it was great to be onstage with him again” last Thursday. Stack also offered via Facebook: “Jay Leggett was an incredibly smart and funny guy, an amazing singer, as hard-working as anyone I’ve ever known, and a great friend to so many of us in the Chicago and LA improv communities. He was always so inspiring to watch and work with, and we’ll all miss him more than we can say. My thoughts go out tonight to his family, and to all his friends everywhere. Jay will always live on in the hearts of all those lucky enough to know and work with him.”
UCB co-founder Matt Besser: “1st time I saw long form it was Blue Velveeta (best Harold group ever). After show I asked if Jay Leggett had won. Funny guy will be missed.”
The PIT founder and UCB founding member Ali Reza Farahnakian: “Blue Velveeta was first group I saw at southern comfort comedy challenge at sc, and I remember him to be a natural born comedian.”
Rachel Dratch: “Sad news. Brings back memories of Chicago in the early 90’s and watching Blue Velveeta every single weekend. Learned a lot from watching him perform. And no one could top his improvised songs!”
Leggett’s obituary, published today, notes that in his offstage life, “Jay was a voracious reader, talented cook, avid hunter who enjoyed spending time with his family at the hunting shack. His culinary skills surfaced for many years at the AZ/WI/NV Snowbirds Picnic where he was well known for his venison fondue. Every year for Thanksgiving at his hunting shack, he prepared the Thanksgiving meal for numerous family and friends. Jay was a dedicated Green Bay Packer fan and everyone that really knew him would tell you he had Green and Gold running through his veins. But most of all, Jay adored his hometown of Tomahawk, sharing his voice with the congregation of St. Mary’s Catholic Church whenever he could, and spending time with family and friends.”
A Memorial Mass for Jay Leggett will be held Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, at 1 p.m. at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Tomahawk, Wisc. The family will receive friends at the church beforehand on Saturday. Generations Funeral Home and Crematory of Tomahawk is assisting the family with arrangements. View obituary and leave online condolences at generationsfuneral.com. In lieu of flowers, donations can be directed to the St. Mary’s Legacy Campaign.