Too many stand-up comedians have passed away this year, from the more well-known Patrice O’Neal and Mike DeStefano to the LA comic Angelo Bowers, who was killed after being hit by a drunk driver last week. Here’s a thought-provoking essay on why stand-up comedy can be an unexpectedly dangerous profession.
We stay up late. Many of us drink and/or do other substances on the job. Much of this is done with the encouragement of our co-workers and management. Do you have a job like that? We have huge emotional swings. “I KILLED! I’M INVINCIBLE!” to “I ATE IT! I’M THE WORST!” And these can happen in one night if there are two shows. We spend lots of time on the road by ourselves wondering what we are doing with our lives, taking less money than we think we deserve to do shows we might not do if we had other options. And that leaves lots of free time for bad decisions, like too many substances, too many of the wrong people, and too many pancakes at 3 a.m. Late at night is also when you get in a car exhausted after a gig (or several) and when drunk drivers tend to kill people.Stand-up comedy doesn’t come with medical insurance, dental or vision coverage, career counseling, shop stewards, therapists, not the broken promise of a pension, and not even someone in human resources to scream at. So when the shit hits the fan, it’s all on you.
W. Kumau Bell makes some really good points about how comedians’ deaths are often preventable. While it may not change the realities of the job, awareness about these challenges in the comedy community can only help us avoid future losses.