Remembering Nick Nemeroff, a Master of Misdirection

Nick Nemeroff. Photo: FilmMagic/FilmMagic

When I saw Montreal-born comedian Nick Nemeroff open a show at Absolute Comedy in Toronto in 2013, his brief set left a lasting impression. Headlining club comedians sometimes complain on podcasts about audience members naïvely believing openers are better comedians than they are, pointing to the relative ease of captivating an audience for ten minutes as opposed to an entire hour. But this wasn’t that. Huddled over the mic at an acute angle, his eyes widened in faux-terror, Nemeroff had a more compelling stage presence. He spoke at a deliberate pace and his voice cracked strategically to perform hesitation, making his delivery more distinct. His commitment to absurdity and zigzagging jokes pointed to a singular comedic ethos the other comics didn’t possess. I remember quoting one of his jokes about getting brain surgery for “cosmetic” reasons (“I feel pretty self-conscious about the wrinkles”) for weeks. Years later, in 2018, he’d perform that joke on Conan. I never thought about the night’s other comedians ever again.

On June 27, Nemeroff died at the age of 32. The news, which was confirmed by his family and management company in statements posted to social media, did not detail his cause of death, but his manager, Morgan Flood, indicated in a text message to CBC that he “died in his sleep.” Nemeroff made an imprint across comedy scenes in Canada, Australia, and the U.S., and in addition to performing on Conan, he was featured on festivals like Just for Laughs and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and appeared on Canadian television shows like CBC Gem’s The New Wave of Standup and CTV Comedy’s Roast Battle Canada.

Since the news broke, friends of Nemeroff, comedians, and comedy fans have been mourning his passing on social media:

Many of these tributes have pointed readers toward Nemeroff’s debut comedy album, 2020’s The Pursuit of Comedy Has Ruined My Life, as the best encapsulation of his work. Nominated for a Juno Award for Comedy Album of the Year in 2021, the album is a masterclass in the art of comedic misdirection, Nemeroff’s greatest comedic superpower. At one point on the album, he zooms out and comments on this. “Trying to make a setlist for the show, I realized all my jokes basically are like one big misdirection,” he says. “All my jokes are classic misdirection by me, Pierre.”

It’s the perfect Nemeroff joke: so dumb, yet so precise in its stupidity that it speaks to the considerable writing skill it must have taken to craft it. In form if not in content, his jokes were like Anthony Jeselnik’s: It was clear he was trying to throw you off his scent at the outset, making it all the more impressive that he always managed to do so successfully. A great example of this is on the album track “Vaping/Electronic Toothbrush,” where he says, “My friend told me, ‘You’ve gotta try the mango-flavored vape. It’s the best flavor.’ I tried it, and honestly, to me, all the vape flavors taste very similar. To me, they all taste like burning, smelly plastic. But, I don’t know, maybe it’s my lighter.” Nemeroff was just getting started, but this album is evidence that he successfully exceeded the promise of the comedian I saw onstage in 2013.

An obituary posted to the website of a Montreal funeral home states that “one of the last things Nick did was to donate money to Planned Parenthood” and that “in lieu of flowers, donations in his memory may be made to the Planned Parenthood chapter of your choice.”

Additionally, we can always remember Nemeroff the way he wanted to be remembered:

Remembering Nick Nemeroff, a Master of Misdirection