4 Comedians Whose Lives Were Dark Comedies

If these were comedian screenplays, we’d tell the writer to lighten up
4 Comedians Whose Lives Were Dark Comedies

There are some sad things known to man, but there ain’t too much sadder than the tears of a clown, according to noted comedy experts Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Unfortunately, the trope of the comedian beset by tragedy is more common than we'd like to think. Here are four comics whose life stories use laughter to cover up the darkness hiding beneath the jokes…

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Bill Hicks

Hicks’ stand-up act was its own dark comedy, meditations on the hypocrisies of religion and politics that ping-ponged back and forth between the comic’s anger and apathy. His career was full of ironies, with perhaps the cruelest being that he found his greatest fame after his death at 32 from pancreatic cancer.

But before he went, he waged battle with Denis Leary, who famously lifted Hicks material for his own stand-up sets. While parallel thinking and even joke theft is common, Leary found a way to take it to another level, recording an entire album of material that swiped huge hunks of Hicks’ act. Hicks made sure everyone knew what was going down, telling Austin Comedy News, “I have a scoop for you. I stole (Learys) act. I camouflaged it with punchlines, and to really throw people off, I did it before he did. The ultimate dark irony? Leary’s album (and subsequent TV special and book) was titled No Cure for Cancer

Maria Bamford

In Cracked’s recent interview with Bamford, she shares a new joke: “A comedian brought me up recently on stage and said, ‘Is everybody ready to have a good time?’ I am not a good time. I am an assignment from a therapist.”

Bamford’s rise to prominence as a comedian in the 2010s neatly coincided with revelations that she’d been diagnosed with bipolar II disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Her battles with mental illness and depression became fodder for both her stand-up and shows like Lady Dynamite.

Sam Kinison

There’s a great biopic waiting to be made about Kinison. Talk about a character arc — it doesn’t get more dramatic than Kinison evolving from a Pentecostal preacher into comedy’s most dangerous wild thing. Then again, both versions of Kinison spat fire and brimstone — maybe preacher and comic were different sides of the same coin all along. 

Kinison’s life was bookended by vehicular tragedies. As a three-year-old, he was hit by a truck, an accident that left him with some brain damage. Then at 38, he was driving  his Pontiac Turbo Trans Am down a highway when it was hit head-on by, once again, a truck. His last words, reported in Entertainment Weekly, seemed to reconcile his lives of religion and comedy. I dont want to die. I dont want to die, he pleaded. Then he paused as if hearing a voice and asked, But why? After another pause, he got an answer that seemed to put him at peace. His final words were a whispered Okay, okay, okay.

Pete Davidson

Sometimes it feels like we’re watching Davidson’s black comedy play out in real time. He has the darkest of comedian origin stories, with his firefighter father dying while responding to the September 11th attacks. Davidson has never shied away from using that formative event as fodder for coal-black punchlines.

Davidson is open about his subsequent struggles with PTSD and bipolar disorder, taking frequent breaks between tours and television projects to tend to his mental health. And Davidson’s romantic life, filling tabloid headlines with news about his relationships with Ariana Grande and Kim Kardashian, creates its own comically twisted timeline. Fingers crossed that Davidson’s future mellows out from here — his story has had enough dark comic moments to last a lifetime. 

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