The Comedian’s Last Laugh


When I started doing comedy a few years back, I quickly realized an unexpected truth: sometimes there is no more depressing place in the world than a comedy club.

Comics will do anything and everything on stage to make the audience laugh, but off stage, they (we?) are the ones who most need a good chuckle. And a good bottle of vodka.

Ask most comedians and they’ll tell you: the laughs often come from a very dark place. We laugh to keep from crying. But there’s some demons that even a good joke can’t keep out. And in the meantime, you’re living a lifestyle, and in a country, that literally kills the life out of its favorite funny people.

Lenny Bruce. Richard Pryor. Chris Farley. And now, Robin Williams.

All killed by the bottle, the needle, the need to make others happy while being unable to do it for themselves.

This poem is for them. For the comics, for the hecklers, but most of all, for the survivors. Because that’s what this is all really about, right? Looking death in the eye, and laughing right in that sonofabitch’s face.

The Comedian’s Last Laugh

after a long career
of amateur hecklers
and professional alcoholics,
broken hands from punch lines
hit too hard,
a smirk so permanent
the audience couldn’t tell
if it was a grin or a scar,
three wives, two daughters,
one of which he still talks to,
and ten years in a club
so far off Broadway
the map called it Nebraska,
this is it.

no more reliving the glory days:
the short run as an actor,
the longer one as a mechanic,
the auto shop his favorite
open mic in America.
nothing he liked better
than telling dirty jokes
from between the legs
of a fresh pink Chevy.

his last gig,
he didn’t call it comedy,
said he was preaching:
the only honest man
at the strip club

the naked women were his saints,
dusty customers the lost tribes of Israel
and he, well, he
was Jesus Christ himself
bearded, happy, and homeless,
shouting a sermon of one-liners
from atop a mount of dollar bills
and a holy, golden pole.

now his pole is an IV
his club the hospital room
six months of chemo a hell
of an opening act,
and it’s time for his final performance.

his family crowds around
the bed like a stage.
it’s his greatest audience yet:
all three wives, both daughters,
the five women he has loved
and lost in more martinis
than he can remember.

he brings them in close,
takes all ten hands in his own,
lifts his eyes to meet their gaze
and says in the most dead-
pan voice they have ever heard:

Ladies, I’m afraid I have
some bad news for you.

I’m going to live.