What should I say about James Hannah (1968-2014)…
The texts, calls and emails came rushing in blowing up my phone on Monday morning before 8am…. Why is it that when you get calls that early you secretly know it’s an omen of bad news? But also why don’t these East coast folk understand that, 8am is damn 5am out here? NOTE TO THOSE ON EAST COAST: You are three hours ahead of us, Sh**t!
I suddenly, was faced with the sad news my friend James Hannah had passed away… which I’m getting too okay! I guess the older you get, the more people you know, the more times your forced to deal with life’s grim reality.
Can some one please explain what’s that thing with some people, that compels them to try and be the first to deliver the news… they say stuff like “I just wanted to be the first to tell you”, “I don’t know if you heard… I got some bad news I called you before any one else”….
My response should be, “No actually you’re the third negro this morning to call me… Do you realize its 5am PST?” And Monday I was forced to repeat this conversation all morning, “Hold on…. Hello? Yes, I just got the news Thanks! No.. sorry you’re not the first one to tell me.”
I’m sure when I was asked to write something about James Hannah, they really weren’t expecting all this, but this is therapy for me….
Now about James Hannah… we met in Chicago, at the Comedy Act Theater. I liked James’s brand of comedy it was smart, witty and at times very profound and others times too on the nose gritty and raw and made insecure at heart very uncomfortable, even scared! He was never afraid to speak his mind or give up the truth about Hollywood’s Jews, Gays, White people or the trifling ass black producers and executives he worked for, when sometimes that’s not the most prudent thing to do, especially when those folks you’re hating on hired you. Hannah’s comic style and Truthpaste rants about everything from ratchet producers to joke stealing comics, was very thought-provoking, poignant and sometimes down right angry and bellicose…. but generally very funny and clever.
James, my memories of you are fond. I recently had a chance to show you I was a friend that cared. You were in need and I fortunately, was able to help but the fact you needed help bothered you. You felt the situation you were in, requiring help was because “Hollywood Ni**as had turned their backs on you…
And well, yeah they probably did sadly, James you also had the tendency at times to sound arrogant and cocky. And who in this industry hasn’t felt slightly bitter at times, not to speak ill of the dead but if you were writing this letter about me I know you would be honest and tell the truth… James it was the poor mindset you adopted after experiencing the many ups and downs this industry brings, it was your attitude I feel that mostly kept you out of the game and stuck in Dallas away from L.A. where the real entertainment business was being conducted. Your talent was immense but so was your inability to deal with this Hollywood bullsh*t. And that inability lead to the loss of many entertainment job opportunities, a constant anger and a growing resentment, that I’m sure was the recipe for stress and bad health which probably turned you into a prime candidate for a stroke. But of course you know, I’m not a doctor.
So James, I’m using your death as one of those political teachable moments… I’m fed up and exhausted at hearing my friends, and all these black male comics, dying of strokes… In the last few years several brothers I knew died of strokes. Starting with Bear Telifario, Patrice O’ Neal, Todd Lynn and now you. You know you all had two things in common? #1. All of you were overweight #2. None of you lived to see their 50th birthday. That’s why I’m pleading with you overweight brothers and sisters in comedy, you know who you are…. please do something about your health! Yep… I said it! Lets get one less pair of gator shoes or one less new outfit or a little less spending at the casino….. and instead get a trainer, join a gym, invest in healthier food choices, and maybe get your Obama Care. And for everybody who’s reading this GO LEARN THE SIGNS OF A STROKE…Visit www.strokeassociation.org. I’m sick of hearing about my friends dying from something that may have been prevented. And ladies a sad fact is you all misdiagnosed for strokes at a higher rate than men. Now look, I’m not the thinnest brother in the world, nor the healthiest but I’m actively trying…. Yes, I got a gym membership and a trainer, I have lost some weight, eat better and I’ve been a volunteer for the American Heart and Stroke Association, for several years. I implore all of you reading this letter to encourage your people to try to eat better, exercise and release the stress in your live. It’s killing us black people, not just comics.
I also pray that these foolhardy idiots stop their efforts to limit health care to all people including the legion of stand up comics and entertainers who may be outside of union membership or a job that may provide health care to them and their families because I don’t know of any comedy club that has ever provided health care to the comics. Sadly, for most average non-celebrity comic’s, our lives are spent working in clubs that offer us small salaries, very little stage time, two drink tickets, poor food choices and stress… and in the end only a mediocre condolence for those we left behind who must suffer with the loss of a mother or father, sister or brother, wife or husband, or just a good friend…. the next time I’m called early in the morning and I hear a comic has died, I hope its only in reference to how he performed on a stage and not because of a stroke!
Okay… I’m sorry James Hannah I chose this moment to rant about this other stuff and in your words sound like a… “bitch ass ni**a!” I hope that your death and these words inspire just one comic or some person to change their lives and save themselves and their family from a lot of pain…. My goal in using your death, James in this manner is to hopefully make your passing have the same impact and change in the health of comedians as your gift in comedy had on making every stage, script and show you touched funnier. Rest in Peace James Hannah!
Now, if this letter or any of this content made you uncomfortable…. I’m glad!!! I’ve done what James did… Oh so well and its what made him… a thought provoking genius!
By Buddy Lewis