This Thanksgiving was bittersweet for those with Andy Ritchie on their minds. An affable standup with strong ties to several comedy scenes, Andy received an outpouring of support earlier this year when friends Brendon Walsh, Colton Dunn, and Nick Swardson set up a GoFundMe campaign on behalf of him and his fiancee, comic Ruby Collins. The page revealed – to many of Andy’s friends, for the first time – that he’d been undergoing treatments to combat a growing brain tumor. His story was widely shared, in part thanks to a recent, very public fundraising effort broadcast on Tosh.0 that contributed nearly $50k towards Andy’s medical expenses. Last week, Walsh posted several frank updates to Andy’s GoFundMe page, letting everyone know that, “[u]nfortunately all the money in the world can’t save our friend at this point.” Andy died last Thursday morning.
An accomplished standup and improviser, Andy was a member of ComedySportz in Minneapolis before moving to Austin where, in 2009, he earned spots on on JFL Montreal’s New Faces showcase and Live at Gotham. Shortly after winning the 2011 Funniest Person in Austin contest, Andy moved to Los Angeles; a few weeks before his diagnosis, he was getting ready to start a new job writing for TV.
Andy’s been widely described as life-changingly funny, the kind of comic who inspired and encouraged other performers (like Joe Mande, Shane Mauss, and John Merriman, among many) to start and truly pursue comedy. He always stayed in character, completely committed, and knew exactly how far to push a bit (and liked pushing a little too far, like with on-the-nose sketch duo Bait N Switch, below).
Michael Park, doorman at Austin’s infamous Velveeta Room, remembered: “The first time I saw Andy Ritchie, he was impersonating a T-rex trying to eat a bowl of cereal and having a hard time of it, I laughed so hard I got cramps in my rib cage.”
Comic Steve Poggi explained he loved doing shows with Andy because “[t]he first time I worked with Andy Ritchie, I confessed that I thought I was going to be working with Andy Richter from Conan. We laughed super hard, and the rest of the week we goofed on that. ‘Hey, Conan doesn’t like that first joke you did, he said it was too funny, any way you can tone it down?’”
“One year he entered [the Funniest Person in Austin contest] as a ‘stuttering insult comic’ named ‘Gravy’ and crushed so hard he made it to the finals,” recalled former Austin comic Jake Flores in a Facebook post. “Hell, I think he almost won.” Gravy also guested on an episode of The MetalSucks Podcast, where he reviewed a Megadeth album fully in character.
“My favorite Andy Memory, though, was this,” wrote Kat Ramzinski. “[H]e decided to drunkenly film an impromptu cooking show called ‘Colander Head,’ where he put a spaghetti strainer on his head… and then proceeded to fail at the simple task of boiling water and noodles, numerous times, while waving a wooden spoon [with] the colander sliding around his head. He never broke character, even when Ruby had to jump in and save him from burning hard uncooked noodles.”
Andy was definitely fearless and sometimes unpredictable onstage, but anyone who met him could immediately sense his genuine care for people around him, a quality that endeared him to many and made him such a central part of Austin’s close-knit comedy scene (and, before that, Minneapolis’s growing improv scene). “When I did a feature gig in Austin a few years ago,” recalled Mike Lawrence, “him and his girlfriend Ruby let me stay at his place. They didn’t know me, we’d never did a set before together, he just let me crash because he was a nice guy. That kind of hospitality and friendliness is what makes the comedy community as special as it is and the few days I got to spend with Andy and Ruby confirmed that not all comics are selfish.”
Earlier this year, longtime friend Nick Swardson described finding out about Andy’s tumor. “It was a horrible call… For what he had and how young Andy was it was scary. I’ve lost a lot of friends to drugs and suicide. Mainly comedians. But this was different. This was a card dealt to a guy who didn’t fucking deserve that shit.” Swardson first met Andy in Minneapolis, and describes him as equal parts big-hearted and hilarious. “He stood out above everyone. We both admired him and wanted to be his friend. And we did. We are all still friends. Andy is one of the funniest but more importantly one of the nicest dudes.”
In the wake of Andy’s death, friends’ memories have painted him as a remarkable human who fortunately happened to be a great comedian. Henry Phillips wrote, beautifully: “Sometimes I wonder if going into comedy was the right career choice, but when I think about the fact that because of it I got to meet genuine people like Andy, it makes me feel that it definitely was. His comedy was always unpredictable and delightfully entertaining. And despite his confidence on stage, as a person he was humble and kind, which is hard to find sometimes in this world.”
Another lifelong gift he gave many friends? A way to feel better after bombing, with his story about a really shitty gig opening for Weird Al that ended with a drive-by egging; Andy tells a short version here:
Photos by Austin Jernigan and Cassie Wright.
Donations can be made to the National Brain Tumor Society in Andy’s name.