I don’t think many people knew Mike intimately, and I’m not going to claim to be one of them, but he was my good friend, and I miss him. If I were to tell a stranger just one thing about Mike, it’s that he cared. He cared about everything. Nothing was unimportant, but nothing was too important. He was passionate without being obsessed. He appeared to be in a state of relative balance, never taking himself too seriously, while taking the happiness and comfort of those around him very seriously. Even when he tried to dish out tough love, I could see right through it. I could see through to the man who knew what was important to him, and who wanted everyone to understand why he was right, but knew that each of us had his own journey. Maybe it was his affinity to Buddhism, or a wisdom he attained from living such a difficult life, but Mike knew how to be who he wanted to be, not who he thought he was supposed to be. He was very opinionated, but those harsh, even hurtful opinions came from a place of pain, a pain that is present when you know something can be better if only people would stop being so caught up in their thoughtless opinions and trite emotional connection to meaningless things.
If Mike ever called you a hack, he was projecting. He always wanted to be a better comic and he really wanted you to be a better comic. More than that, he wanted COMEDY to be better. Whenever I would see him perform, he would always ask me what I thought. It made me feel relevant that he wanted my opinion. I was always honest with him. “Mike, that Free Tibet bit has never worked.” He didn’t care.
The first time I worked with Mike in 2003, it was my first time featuring and his first time headlining. We spend an entire week together in Virginia Beach. It was a hellish 7 day 3 shows a night run at a total shithole. He had brought his girlfriend and dog along with him for the trip and the 4 of us shared a “comedy condo” together. He would wake me up every morning and say “J, come hang out with us.” He was worried that I was lonely. I’m an only child, so I’m never lonely, but I didn’t tell him that. I just got up and drank coffee and smoked their cigarettes for hours while we talked about the comedy of life while his dog slept comfortably in his lap. I was too new to comedy and too inexperienced in life to understand much of what he was telling me, but I’m still trying. These past two days more than ever
My most vivid memory of that trip was sitting with him watching Last Comic Standing 1 as Dat Phan won the grand prize. It was the first time I ever heard Mike say “douche hack.” I shared that term with everyone I could, and for years, many of us referred to each other as “douche hacks.” It just summed up what he hated about the state of comedy so well. He wasn’t upset with Dat Phan for winning that contest, he was depressed and angry that people thought he was funny.
Mike was just starting to do what he wanted to do with comedy. He realized that he didn’t care to entertain people who were easily amused by stupid things that were already funny. He wanted to show people how pain, anger, contempt, and anxiety can not only be funny, but at their cores ARE funny. That’s where he got the kind of laughs he wanted, and that’s why every time he went on stage other comedians flooded in to watch.
If you only know Mike’s comedy from television, then you have no idea about the magic he could perform in front of an intimate live audience. In the course of a set, or a story, he could change people’s opinions about things in a aggressive, even filthy way and they would love him for it. He could do it because, no matter how rude this Buddha was, even a stranger could see into his heart. It wasn’t because he let them, it was because he couldn’t help it.
Goodbye Mike. May your resting place be devoid of all douche hacks.