Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Richard Jeni 1957-2007

Richard Jeni shot himself in the face Saturday. He was a comic of skill--listed on Comedy Central's top 100 comedians of all time. He was a comic of variety--could do politics, impressions, slapstick, allegories, or song. But mostly he was a comic of that immaterial brilliance that defies description but makes it's home in familiarity.

Whoever heard so much as a snippet of Jeni could never forget it. First, because of the distinctive nasal Brooklyn twang that was Jeni's voice when he wasn't imitating an LA cab driver, or an airplane pilot; and second, because of the laughter it exacted from the depths of your being. There was no way around it: if you were listening, you were laughing. And though the varied repertoire played an important role in the universality of his appeal, the purity of his popularity stemmed from his ability to--like all great comics--tell it like it is, but with a twist. Jeni could appraoch a common joke topic, like the War on Terror, and with his perspective and wit--so fresh--he could make you see that section of life in a completely new light. He was a true oracle, and a hilarious one at that.

How many times, when esteemed and beloved entertainers take their own lives, do we ask the inanswerable questions of grief like how someone who created so much happiness could undertake the saddest act known to man? More, how such a sickness could coexist in the same self-core as the fountain that burst forth with a million and one jokes? And do they merely coexist, or are they codependant???

We are left with our neanderthal gropings at reason:

I can only wonder if he ever thought about what it would feel like beating someone to death with a microphone stand; or if he ever dreamed about falling off the stage and breaking his neck on a chair in the front row.

Yeah, life behind the deadly instruments of performance, scrutiny, masks, drinks, expectations.


Yeah, life behind ability.

He exposed himself night after night just to try to coax from the audiences a little exposure themselves. They say that if you can make someone laugh you have the keys to their soul. But I can only wonder what has to happen to the keymaker, that pimp, and the late nights in his workshop and the searing pain of doors that cannot be open and the responsibility of playing court jester to the kingdom of man...where can this man rest? where can this man heal?