Stand-up comedian Rich Ceisler died this morning, two weeks after contracting a rare illness while performing on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. Ceisler was 58.
The love of his life, Catherine, was with him when he died, and she’d been posting updates to his Facebook page regularly since Ceisler’s health deteriorated suddenly. “We had a wonderful seven and a half years together,” she wrote this morning, informing friends of his death. “Thank you for all your support over the last two weeks. We are working on getting Rich home now for one last show.”
Ceisler moved from Buffalo to Boston in 1981 and had been a fixture of Boston’s celebrated comedy scene ever since.
John Tobin, former Boston City Councilman and co-founder of new club Laugh Boston and old fixture Boston Comedy Festival, wrote: “The Comedy World and The Boston Comedy Family has lost a giant this morning. Rest well, Rich Ceisler. You earned it.”
“I am so sorry on how the last weeks of Rich’s life went down,” wrote comedian Mike McDonald. “Instead I chose to remember the weeks previous and how happy he was that he had found the love of his life. Rich and I talked on the phone and I busted his chops about getting hitched and that fantastic laugh of his always made me return the laugh. We worked the Balsams, clubs and ships together and he always had a smile and a funny story to tell. Rich was just a pleasure to be around… He made the time I spent with him better than if I’d been alone, and that’s a big deal in a human being. Rich was A + guy on this Earth, and he’ll be very much missed indeed.”
Jon Rineman, head monologue writer for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, wrote:
“When I first started my monologue joke blog, the great Rich Ceisler was one of the first headliners to follow it and give his support. It meant a lot to know he was reading it, and even more to get to open for him at Mottley’s Comedy Club. A great guy beloved by his fellow comics. My thoughts go out to Rich and his family.”
Ceisler was working on a Caribbean cruise when he became ill on July 23. An initial diagnosis by a ship’s doctor was Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. He was flown from the ship to a Dominican Republic hospital, where he never stabilized enough for a subsequent flight back to Boston. Pneumonia and lung infections had spread.
A GoFundMe “Rich Ceisler Medical Fund” was established Aug. 1, and had raised more than $14,000 so far toward a goal of $60,000 to cover his medical expenses.
Ceisler’s own bio described him as a typical Long Island Jew who graduated from high school “Magna Cum Bribery and continued on to ‘higher’ education.” He studied theater in college in New York, attended graduate school at Virginia Tech and got involved in improvisational comedy in Los Angeles at the end of the 1970s, before starting his stand-up career in 1980.
Ceisler placed third in the 1986 San Francisco Comedy Competition (Jake Johannsen won that year, while Dana Gould finished fifth). He’d rack up lots of TV credits during the 1980s comedy boom, including “Short Attention Span Theater”, various Comedy Central shows, HBO’s “Comedy at Bryant Park”, “ComicStrip Live”, A&E’s “PrimeTime Comedy on the Road”, “Evening at the Improv”, “Good Time Cafe”, USA Network’s “Night Flight”, VH1’s “Stand Up Spotlight”, “Caroline’s Comedy Hour”, “Spotlight Cafe”, “Night Life w/David Brenner”, MTV’s “Comedy Half Hour”, and Showtime’s Comedy Club.
Here he was on Star Search in 1988:
In his later years, he juggled cruise ship gigs with club dates and his “Corporate Chameleon” program, in which Ceisler would pose as an expert in whatever field of industry his clients asked of him.
He served as an opening act for Whitney Houston, Stanley Jordan, Jay Leno, Gladys Knight and The Pips, George Strait and many others.
Here Ceisler was, just a summer ago, at Montreal’s Just For Laughs in 2013 on the “Bar Mitzvah” showcase, hosted by Elon Gold.
Roll the clip!
Fellow Boston stand-up veteran Jimmy Dunn, who wrote a book on being a cruise-ship comedian and will co-star this fall on CBS sitcom The McCarthys, posted this pic of him and Ceisler with other funny friends, writing: “One of the many, many funny days with Rich Ceisler. This is how I’ll remember you, buddy.”
Updated Aug. 8, 2014, with his formal obituary, provided by his fiancee, Catherine Doyle:
Rich Ceisler was well known for his comedic timing. He could hold an audience of hundreds in the palm of his hands with a set up, a pause, silence, then a knock-out punchline. However, this week, his timing could not have been worse.
Rich, a comedian, actor, magician, director, playwright and songwriter died suddenly on Aug. 4, 2014, in Santiago, Dominican Republic from complications of Guillain-Barre syndrome at the age of 58.
The son of the late Ralph and Shirley (Mendelson) Ceisler, Rich leaves behind his adored fiancée Catherine Doyle. They met on a cruise over seven years ago and have been devoted to each other ever since. They traveled the world together and planned many more adventures. Family and friends were to gather in Whitefield, NH on Aug. 9, 2014, to celebrate Rich and Catherine’s wedding.
He is also survived by his loving sister Lauri Ceisler Vinick and her husband Les Shelton. Rich and Lauri shared a love of music, theatre and the arts. A gift they inherited from their mother Shirley. A constant supporter of Rich’s career, Lauri was his first audience. Rich could not have been prouder of his niece Joanna and would joyously recount her latest accomplishments to friends. He loved Joanna unconditionally.
He will be deeply missed by his Canadian family Tom and Ena Doyle, Jacquie and Mike Brown, and Michael and Nancy Doyle. His young nieces and nephews, Aidan, Ella, Alexander and Avery will remember their Uncle Rich through pictures and stories.
Rich rose to prominence as a headlining comedian during the Boston comedy boom in the 1980s. For the past 30 years, he was a well-known “road dog”, a comedians’ term for comics who make their living from live performances. Rich played comedy rooms around the world or on cruise ships in Europe, Asia and throughout the Caribbean.
Rich grew up in North Belmore, New York. He was a natural-born performer from the start. He honed his skills at the SUNY Fredonia where he studied Theatre Arts. He briefly attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute for graduate studies. Early in his career, he moved around to take advantage of the then-burgeoning comedy scene in Buffalo, then Los Angeles before finally settling down in the Boston area.
Rich lived a blessed life. He was able to make a career doing what he loved. He made tens of thousands of people around the world laugh over his 30 year career in comedy. Rich will be missed by hundreds of colleagues and friends. However, his comedy will live on.
Rich billed himself as a cynic. But nothing could be farther from the truth. He found joy in everything and goodness in everyone. We have lost a most special soul.
A memorial service will be held at Temple Beth Avodah, 45 Puddingstone Lane, Newton on Sunday, August 10 at 11:00AM. The family will receive visitors at the Temple immediately following the service. In lieu of flowers, remembrances may be made to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, www.gbs-cidp.org.