James Hannah was a writer’s writer. Long before the rest of us ventured into that arena professionally, James was making a living as a respected member of scribes. He began as a staff writer for “The Steve Harvey Show” and from there the dominoes fell: “My Wife & Kids”, “Cedric the Entertainer Presents”, “Chris Rock’s, Never Scared”, “Weekends at the DL” and Tyler Perry’s, “House of Payne” as well as penning material for some of the top comedians in the industry.
He was also a comedian’s comedian. His lists of credits include, “Def Comedy Jam”, “Comic View”, “Bad Boys of Comedy’, Laffapolooza”, “One Mic Stand” and “First Amendment”. He was a yardstick and an uncompromising comedy personality. His “Truthpaste” on social media was an immediate hit as James sounded off on subjects many would go nowhere near. He was bold, fearless and unapologetic.
James was taken from us by an aneurysm. However, the legacy James left will never leave us. Whenever you hear a comedian stand against popular opinion to reveal a brutal reality – you’re hearing James Hannah. Whenever egos are deflated or garbage is exposed for what it is somebody is trying to be like James. Whenever there’s excellence in comedy writing there’s a little bit of James in that individual.
From my generation of comedian James was unmatched in his talent, confidence and bedrock beliefs. I respected him and I’ll miss having him as a member of our comedy community. Many comedians feel the loss as well. Here are some of their recollections.
“I wouldn’t be a writer if it wasn’t for James. He was and still is a mentor and one of the first writers to make it out of Chicago. He taught me how to write. He even wrote a few of my bits that I still do to this day. He was the greatest to ever do it, period.” – Deon Cole
“James Hannah was a comedian. He spoke his mind in his material; never compromised his opinion for funny. He made us laugh at his opinion. Right or wrong, we laughed. He was the first comedian that ever made me realize that you could make a career by writing. I had the honor of working with James on Sommore’s Chandelier Status, & performing with him on Martin Lawrence Presents.. Sometimes, you almost hate to meet more people because that’as one more person you have to pretend to care about. There was no pretending with Hannah. I’m glad a moment in time was shared by us. I’m glad I got a chance to work with brilliance. Gone too soon. Godspeed James Hannah. Put some Truthpaste on the big guy’s toothbrush up there. Rest well.” – TuRae Gordan
“In a biz full of yes men and people diluting the truth James was never afraid to be that truth teller. Yes, he may have been misunderstood, but if you wanted the absolute truth he was the guy to give it. I always knew I’d get the truth about anything I asked him and he was never afraid of the consequences of his truth. People can say a lot of things about James, but if I had to choose words to describe him they’d be brave, fearless, honest and always true to himself and others. He was the glass house breaker!” – Cocoa Brown
“When I started stand up in 1991 I met James at All Jokes aside comedy club in Chicago and he’s been nothing, but a great brother, advisor, awesome writer, definitely a funny comedian and most of all a true friend. James, to me, was like the comedian’s mechanic. He would let you know if you needed to tighten up, polish or tweak a joke. The advice from my big brother was priceless because it allowed the world to witness it when I performed on television for the first time at 20 years old and that show was BET’s Comic View hosted by D L Hughley. I will always remember and be forever grateful to James Hannah. Rest in peace, my friend.” – B. Cole
“James Hannah was a much focused individual from what I saw. He was blunt and straight forward. He may have been what some call brutally honest. You may not have always agreed with him, but you had to respect where he was coming from. I must say that losing James was sudden and shocking. It reminds us that we are not going to live here forever. God bless his soul and his family. Thank you, James for your contribution to the world.” – Willie Brown
“I never knew James as an improv or quick witted comedian, but if James had 5 minutes to think, you were in trouble. Absolutely brilliant.” – Thomas Ward
“James used to get annoyed when Hollywood dudes would call him on a Saturday morning and say, “James, what you doing today?” He’d say, “Spending time with my kids, where YOU should be.” That was the kind of family man Hannah was. I’m just really glad his kids can see his videos on YouTube. #Genius” – Alycia Cooper
“Just heard the terrible news about James Hannah. I just got off the phone with Geoff Brown a very good friend of James and his family. James, for you young comics in the game and people who didn’t know him, was from Chicago and like people from Chi was, and I will say this openly, was the realest comic and writer in the game; one of the best writers ever and I mean ever. Could always get a writing job, but never keep one! Why? Not because he couldn’t write, but because he was a real man. ob but never keep one! why, not because he couldnt write but because he was a real man he was honest. he said what he felt and he spoke the truth even if it ment getting fired. His stance on life and beliefs cost him jobs and maybe his career in Hollywood but this is what i say to that he was able to always be who he is in his own skin. He lost so much that his wife moved th Texas to take pressure off him so he could stay in LA to try to keep his dream alive. Notice i didnt say his wife left him but ahe stood by his side even in the darkest time. james instead of staying in LA didnt leave his family but moved with them to Texas. A very deep brother if you ever got to talk to him one on one which i did often when he use to write in the same Starbucks. i will leave yoy with this.. most of us and i have to say myself included would and couldnt be half as real as james and i feel i am as honest and open as they come but could say the things that would cost us almost everything. he woukd be in writing meetings and while everyone is pretending its funny and laugh James woyld say right in front of the star that they have usnt funny. if you was gay he called you out if you was fake he cslled you out. For those who saw him on stage know what i am talking about. He lost his career and life too soon but two things he never list, his dignity and his family. I have much respect for him because was real man. God Bless you brother may God keep your wife and kids and may God Bless your soul.He was honest. He said what he felt and he spoke the truth even if it meant getting fired. His stance on life and beliefs cost him jobs and maybe even his career in Hollywood, but this is what I say to that; he was always able to be who he was in his own skin. He lost so much that his wife moved to Texas to take the pressure off of him so he could stay in LA and try to keep his dream alive. Notice I didn’t say his wife left him, but she stood by his side even in the darkest time. James, instead of staying in LA didn’t leave his family, but moved with them to Texas. A very deep brother if you ever got to talk to him one on one which I did often when he used to write in the same Starbucks. I will leave you with this . . . most of us, and I will have to say myself included, wouldn’t and couldn’t be half as real as James, and I feel I’m as honest and open as they come, but couldn’t say the things that would cost us almost everything. He would be in writing meetings and while everyone is pretending it’s funny and laughing James would say right in front of the star that what they have isn’t funny. If you were gay he called you out. If you were a fake he called you out. For those who saw him on stage know what I’m talking about. He lost his career and life too soon, but two things he never lost – his dignity and his family. I have much respect for him because he was a real man. God bless you brother. May God keep your wife and kids and may God bless your soul.” – Dannon Green
Rest in Peace, James Hannah. You touched many with your razor sharp insightful and brutally candid sense of humor. Those who never knew you as a man knew your work. Those who never utter your name laughed at your comedy creations. Those who will never get to witness you live will be able to access your archives of recorded gems. Your presence, high standards and unwavering devotion to family, comedy and the truth will be the things we’ll remember most and those things we’ll miss immensely. Thank you for enriching our lives by sharing yours.
By Darryl Littleton