Richard Jeni: A Tribute

On Saturday, March 10, 2007; comedian Richard Jeni took his own life.

I’ve read about 2 dozen articles on the life of Richard Jeni and many tributes to him from other comedians; but none touched me like the tribute given by Lamont Ferguson.

With Lamont’s kind permission, I’d like to reprint his words from the heart, from one comedian to another.

Thanks Rich Jeni

I am a 24 year comedian. I had the pleasure and privilege of working with Richard Jeni numerous times early in my career. I owe a large thanks to him for helping me to become the comic that I am today. It was nothing that he said to me nor anything he did, other than requesting me to open for him. It was being able to watch and study how he performed the craft. The art.

I have had the honor to work with some of the great artists in the field and learn from each of them. Bill Cosby(timing, pacing, the art of the question segue), Steve Harvey(confidence and presence), Larry Miller( the power of the silence), George Lopez (presence and connection) and Richard Jeni.

My approach to stand up is an odd one. I study the craft. I’m big on theory and all the nuances that add to the performance and creation of a good/great comic.

richardjeniRich has never received the credit for what a great comic he was. The Comedy Central list that is being used as a watermark for comedians by the media has him listed at #57. I know it’s not an official list that really means anything, but to the unknowing general public, it’s a shame. 56 comics better than Jeni?! Wow! I don’t know 56 other comics off the top of my head.

The fact that more people know the name Dat Phan as a comedian than Richard Jeni is a testament to how odd comedy has become in the past 20+ years.

No one was more comfortable on a stage than Richard Jeni. I watched him, studied him. He taught me that there was more to a stage than that 3 foot area in front of the center mic placement. I learned the difference between having 45 minutes and having a headlining act. When he took the stage, he would remove his jacket and place it aside. It subliminally let the crowd know that he was going to stay a bit and chat with “friends” When he was ready to leave, he would quietly grab his jacket and put it back on. Never saying that he was leaving, but the dynamics that would take place in the room changed. The audience knew he was about to leave, they would lean forward in their seats, pay closer attention. Wanting to soak up every last minute they had remaining with the man they came to see. It was quite a thing to witness night after night.

I thought to myself. “I like that, that’s cool.” When I started headlining and trying to become a better comic, I started utilizing the same technique.

Watching a great comic is like watching a great musician. Watching Richard Jeni was like watching a violin virtuoso. It was beautiful.

I was just talking about Rich on Friday night. I was speaking with the comics I’m working with and talking about the people I learned from along the way. I mentioned the jacket thing and how much I learned from Rich.

Every time I remove my jacket onstage and then put it back on towards the end of a set, it’s because of a something I learned from being able to work with one of the best of the best ever.

I know as cynical as comics are–there are those of you reading this and mocking it as if to say–“Every time I drink from my beer onstage- it’s because I learned from Ha Ha.” I know–I hear ya-but I’m telling you what I know.

It’s odd that Rich was on my mind this weekend. I hadn’t spoken to him in quite awhile. Between Friday and Saturday- I did 5 shows and received a standing ovation on 3 out of the 5. The first thought I had after getting offstage was of Richard Jeni. I thought that was only possible because of being able to work with the great comics that I learned from and I learned the most about PERFORMING from him.

I then woke up this morning and saw the news of his death. And the only thing I can say…is…Thank you Rich for making me and others want to be a better comic. Thank you for treating the art form and craft that I love with such respect. Thank you for leaving the world a little better than it was before you came.

Rest in peace

About Dave Robison

Now Appearing in an Extended Engagement! Join Dave Robison as he takes you into his world and his daily life of reviving a stand-up comedy career. Prepare for side trips exploring Public Relations, marketing and business ethics. Enjoy some frequent detours describing his observations on life. Read the exploits of this self-proclaimed Renaissance-man and blooming blogger as you go On The Road With Dave. From Mobile, Alabama comes Dave Robison, a confessed Internet-aholic, middle-aged-married-man, who's generally a nice guy--he just has one or two issues. Stand-Up Comedy by Dave Robison is available for corporate events, college campuses, and nightclubs.
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