When I was 25 years old, Richard Jeni took his own life. One of my favorite comedians growing up was suddenly gone, lacking the will to live on. To say I didn’t understand it would be an understatement.
My thought process was simple: How could someone so talented, successful, and on the up kill himself? Jeni was hilarious, had put together a great career, and could easily continue to produce fine comedy.
It wasn’t too long afterwards that I realized what occurred. As is the case with most things in life, understanding the nuances and twists that life has to offer takes time and patience. You see, celebrities of all kinds, and athletes as well, deal with the same problems and issues that we deal with. The demons, doubts, and general adversity that this hard knock existence dishes you the very moment of birth.
Last month, comedian Brody Stevens, committed suicide by hanging. He was just 48 years old. It was reported in recent weeks that Stevens had gone off his medication because they were affecting his writing process, so maybe that had something to do with the descent. I’m sure there is more, information that the public doesn’t need-or deserve to-know.
I’ll be honest and admit I didn’t know much about Stevens before I heard he had passed. That’s life for you. There are times when a person has to leave the Earth before they can get your attention. Over the past few weeks, I have dived headfirst into his comedy, and I get the hurt and pain felt by his loss. With so many comics, podcasts, and stand-up artists filling stages, it’s easy to forget one or let a talent slide past your perception. Stevens, according to local comic Max Price, wasn’t one to forget.
In a Facebook post, Price said he had recently gone back over Stevens’ material. “He really was incredible,” Price remembered. Due to this and other’s submissions about his work, I am going to dive in headfirst to see what kind of funny Stevens had in store. The good thing about artists and performers are their work never gathers enough dust to become untenable; it remains out there waiting to be consumed.
Stevens had a few acting jobs as well, playing a cop in Todd Phillips’ The Hangover. Hearing from close friends, he never made it big like other comics, and the reason is unknown. When it comes to actors and comedians, timing and opportunity is everything. You didn’t see Stevens selling out Madison Square Garden, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t good at his job. It just means once people flock in one direction, it’s not always easy to redirect them.
Look at the St. Louis comedy scene. Maestros like Price, Tina Dybal, Kenny Kinds, Chris Cyr, Rafe Williams, Libbie Higgins, and Angela Smith are names I didn’t know of a few years ago, but can’t forget now. They are talented, hustling, and all over the place. Nothing to handed to them because they used to act or own an Emmy. I happen to know a few of them, have seen them perform, and know they are funny.
I also know they are human beings with blood flowing through their veins and trains flying across the tracks of their lives at any moment. They are suspect to the same trials and tribulations that we all are. The cards aren’t dealt any different to them. The river and the bridge are potentially hazardous.
Stevens was one of those guys who had the talent, but didn’t conform to industry standards. The Comedy Store in Los Angeles tweeted out a thank you to the late comic, saying “you made nights so much fun, pushing boundaries, being different, and never doing the same thing twice.” Sometimes, being different doesn’t equal enormous success, but offers peace of mind.
However, some creators just can’t find enough peace to starve off the demons that fail to be quiet and can’t be silenced. Patton Oswalt took the podium and used his sadness over the loss of a friend as an anthem for those in need, urging people to reach out to someone if they feel suicidal or depressed. The hotline is always open and willing, but a friend is probably better.
When someone takes their own life, there are some who take the moral high ground approach, climbing on a horse and preaching that the individual was a coward for abandoning life. I hate those people. Last time I checked, our life was our own to dictate and maneuver.
Stevens didn’t hide from his issues with depression, using it in comedy bits on the stage. That’s heroic in a day and age where most keep their personal troubles closeted, only opening up when sunshine peeks into their lives. According to The Blast article, audience members didn’t react positively to Stevens’ segments, which could have triggered a lot of self-doubt in the late comic. For people who live on the edge, a hard push back like that can do a lot.
I’ve often wondered about the frailty of comics and performing. What happens when the laughs stop coming? What if you can’t get them back? Everybody thinks they are funny nowadays, so the fight isn’t getting any easier. If you think anyone can do it, rethink that idea. Comedians are bold creators who get up on a stage in front of cynics and try to turn their night around, easing their own mind in the process. Stevens was a constant in that community.
I’ll celebrate Stevens by listening to his work and not taking anyone, well-known celebrity or close friend, for granted. You have no idea what that person is going through, so heed advice and give way instead of constantly judging.
In Stevens’ unfortunate death, perhaps we can find a way to be better tomorrow.