Until recently I’d never read this story in its entirety. It was too hard and made me sad. I wrote it, isn’t that enough? Why’d I have to read it too? That didn’t seem fair.
A couple of months ago, after remembering that in March it will be four years that Scott has been gone, I thought I’d give it a shot.
I’m not going to lie, it was kind of a mess (apparently when I’m distraught I find comfort in using multiple ellipsis and putting everything in quotation marks. And what’s spell-check?) and so I pulled it down.
The thought of going through and cleaning it up seemed a daunting task. My dear friend Mike, the ex newspaper editor, said he’d do it for me. (It’s great having smart friends. I highly recommend getting a few – they come in handy!)
If you never had the pleasure of knowing Scott, I wish you had.
Hero: A Scott Kennedy Story
If you had told me ten years ago that I’d be writing the life story of my best friend because he was dead at the age of forty-seven, I would’ve told you to put on a new pair of shoes and go fuck yourself. Even though a small part of me, a part I really didn’t want to acknowledge, thought you might be right.
I think most people would describe Scott Kennedy as sweet, generous, silly and funny as hell. He was. But those of us who knew him well also knew that he had some demons. Most comics do. It’s why we get on stage every night and try to make people love us. It’s pathetic but healing. Well, you’re healed until the next show anyway.
When we met, we were just kids, in life and in comedy. I knew I liked him the minute I met him. But I couldn’t have known how important he would become to me, or how empty my world would feel without him.
We met doing open mics during the comedy boom of the 1980’s. Scott lived in Lubbock, Texas, and I lived in Amarillo. We would drive the 124 desolate miles, each way, just to do a five-minute set at the other’s club. It was a ridiculously boring drive but it was stage time. Stage time we both desperately needed to find our voice in comedy, and in the world.
We immediately hit it off. Scotty was a charmer. He went out of his way to be my friend. It was almost like he was courting me. In a time before cell phones and email, when you actually had to pay to talk to someone, we talked all the time. And it wasn’t just phone calls. His updates from the road would come on post cards and in notes. I’d give anything to get a silly post card from him now.
I’m not exactly sure when we went from just being friends to becoming a family. That’s one of the best things about being a comic. You get a second family. A tribe of misfits that help you realize that you’re not fucked-up, you just see things differently.
I don’t know if a lot of other careers get to enjoy this experience or brotherhood. Who knows, maybe welders band together to break free and take on the world. I’d like to think they do because it’s a pretty cool thing.
About a year into our friendship I remember thinking, “this is going to be really awkward when I have to tell him that I’m not interested in him “that way.” Turns out, he was thinking the same thing about me. Scott was gay. He just wasn’t out yet. I’m not sure he was even out to himself at that point. But why would he be? We grew up in “In God and football we trust.” country, and not necessarily in that order. We were taught that being gay meant you were going to hell. No exceptions. Sorry “you people” but those are the rules.
I’m ashamed to say it, but that’s what I believed. I’m sure that’s what he believed as well. Not really the most pleasant thought to have taunting you as you try and take on the day. So I can imagine telling our dusty small town Texas world that you’re homosexual can’t be the easiest thing to do.
People were usually very surprised when they found out, because Scotty did not look gay. At all. He looked like the kind of guy that would beat up gay guys. He was a big boy; bald, had a goatee and tattoos all over his arms. And it was rare to see him without a Coors light in hand and a dip of Copenhagen in his lip. Sometimes people would say to him, “Really? You don’t look gay.” To which he would respond in his deep masculine twang, “I know, but my boyfriend sure does.
Oh, and he did. There were no two people on the planet more different than Kevin and Scott. Kevin was always groomed and dressed, while Mr. Kennedy was, well, Mr. Kennedy. Boots, jeans, jersey and a baseball cap. But they were perfect for each other. When they met, that was it, and Scott finally decided to come out to his family. Who, by the way, could not have been more lovely or accepting. They embraced Kevin and their relationship. Apparently they didn’t get the “going to hell” memo. They loved Scott and Scott loved Kevin. So they loved Kevin. And that, my friends, is no small feat in west Texas.
I spent the majority of my twenties and early thirties crashing at Scott’s place because I was on road and basically living out of my car. He always welcomed me with open arms and never asked for money (which was good since I didn’t have any) or made me feel like I was overstaying my welcome. And, believe me, I probably overstayed. But only by about 14 years.
Eventually, when he and Kevin decided to be together for good, they bought a beautiful four bedroom home in Houston. And, although I was very happy for them, I was also a little concerned about my situation and Scott knew it because one day he said to me, “You know you don’t need to worry. You’ll always have a room here.”
I asked, “But do you think Kevin will mind?”
He said, “Of course not. He knew you were part of the deal. That’s what happens when you marry someone who has kids.”
Scott was absolutely right, he didn’t care at all. Kevin immediately treated me like a member of the family. I stayed at their house whenever needed and he let me cook and clean and clean and paint. (I didn’t even know an entire house could be painted with a sponge.) He also taught me to put cinnamon in the coffee grounds so that every morning tasted like Christmas. Kevin was hilarious. Once he said, “We’ll help you explain to your friends that Becky has two dads.” I adored him and how happy he made Scott.
Kevin was a comic but he’d also had a career in corporate America. That was great for Scott because Kevin made him treat comedy like a business and not camp – which was a blessing and a curse. Because business is important, but camp is way more fun. Who cares about boring grown-up stuff when you can get paid to tell jokes and party every night?
The key is to find balance between the two. Enjoying the freedom of being on the road and all that comes with it, without forgetting that the goal is to someday be able to get off the road. If you’re not careful you end up being “that guy” who hasn’t written a new joke in twenty years, wondering why you’re still working the Holiday Inn lounge in Odessa, Texas. I’ll tell you why, sir, because people no longer care “who let the dogs out”.
They started a management company in their home office called “Lone Star Productions” and actually became their own managers with fake names. (You heard me.) Scott was “Bernie Goldman” and Kevin was “Bryce.” It was stupid and funny and it worked.
All employees of Lone Star (Scott, Kevin, Bernie and Bryce) were required to keep regular 9 to 5 hours. I’d roll out of bed around noon and they were already up making calls, booking gigs and faxing promo to clubs. Kevin looked happier than a little pig in shit behind his desk. Scotty always looked like he needed a nap.
I’m pretty sure Scott was one of the first openly gay comics working the circuit at that time. There were gay comics working gay venues, but he was the only one that I know of who was “out” on stage and doing mainstream rooms.
It never seemed to be a problem for him because he wasn’t a “gay comic” he was a just a comic who was gay. He never even mentioned it until the end of his set and by that time the crowd already liked him. Although I’m sure it wasn’t an easy thing to do initially it never seemed to be an issue for him.
After awhile Kevin followed suit. It was funny because he didn’t think audiences knew he was gay so he’d do jokes about his girlfriend.
Eventually Scott said, “Honey, nobody believes that you have a girlfriend.”
He was totally shocked, “Yes, they do! Right, Becky?”
I said, “No, my dear, they do not.” And soon fake girlfriend was retired.
In the early 1990’s the boys came up with the idea for “The Gay Comedy Jam” and started booking “The Freedom Tour.” They booked the show on dark nights in comedy clubs and were filling showrooms all over the country. And, although I’m not sure they realized it, in my opinion they were basically helping to integrate gay and straight comedy. Not that big of a deal now, but it was in those days.
Sometimes they’d let me open for them even though I’m straight. Actually, Scott didn’t care at all. Kevin had only one rule- I didn’t have to say I was gay, but I just couldn’t say that I wasn’t because lesbians were paying to see the show, too. Fine by me. I didn’t care. I just wanted to hang out with them and play.
The shows were always packed and the crowds were awesome. Sometimes I would get hit on afterwards, but rarely by women. Usually it was some random guy who still kind of liked women and was willing to give it another shot. What can I say… gay men love fabulous women.
The tours were starting to become very successful and things were moving along nicely, and then Kevin got sick.
I was on the road when I got the call. They were working in Seattle, I think, and Kevin had been admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. It was bad and Scott was really scared. Nothing worse than hearing your friend cry and knowing that there’s nothing you can do to make it better. I kept telling him that everything would be ok, but we both knew that it wouldn’t.
Things were never the same after that. Kevin was sick for four years and a trooper until the end. Scott was unbelievably amazing through it all, but it changed him. That’s when the demon monkey showed up and never went away.
The “demon monkey” as our friend Matt explained to me after Scott died, is your dark side. The part that makes you drink too much, get into fights, and do other stupid, destructive things. I’ve always tried my best to embrace that side because great comedy can come from the darkness. But if you can’t pull yourself out of it, then you’re just stuck in the dark.
I hate and love that fucking monkey.
Kevin’s passing hardened Scott but it also made him softer. He never ended a conversation, text, or email without saying “Love you.” And if he loved you there was nobody sweeter or more kind. Unfortunately he didn’t always treat himself with the same kindness.
Scott sold their house in Houston shortly afterwards and moved to LA in the late 1990’s. When you’re a comic, Los Angeles is Mecca. You work the road for years honing your act and planning your pilgrimage west to the city of Angels. Unfortunately, what you find isn’t the holy land of comedy you’ve been dreaming of. Instead, it’s a city with very little valuable stage time and hundreds upon hundreds of people calling themselves stand-ups. Some are real comics and others are out of work actors, singers or reality show contestants who’ve written five minutes of material and decided to do it until they got their big break.
Most people don’t consider stand-up an art form and assume they can do it because it looks easy. Believe me, it isn’t easy. Good comics just make it look like it is.
It can be pretty dreadful to watch. Especially, when after years of slugging it out on the road, the only stage time you’re getting is an open mic at a coffee house in front of a room full of other comics looking at their notes, not laughing and just waiting for their turn. And of course there’s always one jackass at the front table working on a screenplay and under the impression this is his office and is visibly annoyed that you have the nerve to be speaking into a microphone. Not really a holy experience.
Scott never wasted his time at those kinds of places. Instead he religiously started hanging out at the Hollywood Improv and quickly became a regular. On stage and at the bar. To say that he was a fixture at that club would be a dreadful understatement. If he was in town, he was there. Hanging at the bar and schmoozing. If there was a better schmoozer on the planet than Scott Kennedy, then I’ve not met them. He knew everyone and everyone knew him.
There’s a lot of hanging out in the comedy business. Sometimes it’s the only way you can break into a club. The staff gets to know you and if somebody doesn’t show up for a set and you’re there, you get to go up. Hanging out paid off big time for Scott. Besides getting regular sets, he eventually started booking a special event benefit show at The Improv. The profits went to an organization that delivers free food to people with HIV/Aids and cancer in Los Angeles County called ‘Project Angel Food.’
The shows sold out for years. He always booked great comics and had a celebrity guest perform. I remember once him telling me that he was going to get Eric McCormack to host a show, who at the time was the star of “Will and Grace”, the number one comedy on television. And by the way, he didn’t say “try” to get him, he said, “going to”.
That was the thing with Scott, when he said he was going to do something it usually got done. I rarely doubted him, but I didn’t think it would happen because Eric was such a big TV star. I’m not sure how many shows Eric hosted but I did three with him.
Scott continued to work the road but tried to be in town as much as possible. Once you move to LA you need to be here. You’re not going to be seen by industry at The Funny Bone in Arlington, Texas. But you’ve also got to pay your bills, which isn’t going to happen just doing stand up in Los Angeles. There aren’t a lot of options. It’s either stay in town and get the dreaded day job or hit the road.
He got a few good breaks in his career. In 2004 he filmed his own half hour Comedy Central special and in April of 2008 he did a set on “The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson.” (Here’s a little secret about doing those things, it’s exciting but also a let down when it’s over. Whatever you think is going to happen afterwards rarely does.)
Then around 2008 he did a couple of tours to Iraq for the Department of Defense, which changed everything for him.
Okay, let me just tell you this, Scott was VERY patriotic. Ridiculously so. So much so, in fact, that I initially questioned his sincerity. He had a huge respect for the men and women in law enforcement and the armed forces. He would talk about it on stage and thank them for serving and then everyone would clap and cheer. I really wasn’t sure if he meant it or was just pandering to get the crowd on his side. I’d be in the back of the room thinking, “Jeez, rein it in a little, Eddie Haskell.” But I soon realized it wasn’t bullshit at all. He was being completely sincere. I know, I’m a great best friend.
Scott genuinely loved his country. Which I’ve always thought was pretty ironic- the same country that wouldn’t let him marry the person he wanted or give his life to defend it if he dared mention his sexuality. But he did anyway. Whatever. Who am I to judge? I’ve been in love with a couple of assholes myself.
When he started doing shows for the troops it was really exciting for him. It was the happiest I’d seen him in long time. Eventually someone from the Department of Defense asked if he’d be interested in booking a show once a month to Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan. He said yes, but only if he could do it his way. I’m sure they thought he was going to ask for tons of money or something ridiculous, but he didn’t. He just wanted to go to the front lines to the small bases and perform for the soldiers who never got any entertainment because it was too dangerous. They agreed.
So, in a time of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Scott did what he’d always done – things the way he wanted to.
From 2009 to 2011, Scott did 50 tours to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait. On the front lines, the comics did five to six shows a day. Telling jokes on the back of trucks, in mess halls and sometimes just standing in front of three tired soldiers outside of tents. They played whenever and wherever they could.
He also had coins made to give to the soldiers. They were a little bigger than the size of a silver dollar. On one side it had a picture of a microphone and on the top it said “SCOTT KENNEDY” and on the bottom it said “COMICS READY TO ENTERTAIN”. On the other side it said “HERO”. When he would shake someone’s hand he’d put a coin in it and say, “My name is on one side and yours is on the other.” That’s pretty fucking cool. But so was he.
Every tour was just as awesome to him as the first. I’d get the call when he got home and he’d spend an hour telling me every detail like an excited little kid.
Once I jokingly asked him, “You do you realize that you’re not actually in the military, right?”
Without missing a beat he said, “Stand down, whore.”
During those years he decided to move to Austin because he wanted to be near his family. I selfishly wasn’t happy about it but understood. I’m really glad now that he did. LA can be lonely. He bought a house close to his parents and his nephew’s family. Then his sister moved down the street so they could hang out when he was home. I like knowing that he spent the last couple of years surrounded by people who loved him.
We didn’t see each other much after the move, but he was always trying to get me to come visit. He was so excited about the new house. And, of course, I had my own room. Twenty five years later he was still looking out for me.
After a couple of years the DOD tours ended. Troops were coming home and there wasn’t a budget for entertainment so Scott was pretty much out of a job. He started booking club work again, but since he’d been off road for a while he had to take some gigs that weren’t so great. I know he was feeling frustrated and trying to figure out what to do next. Understandably so. Telling jokes in Idaho is probably a let down after flying to a gig in a Black Hawk helicopter.
In February of 2013 I was doing a one-person show in San Francisco. It was the first time I’d ever done it or had produced a show before and Scott was a huge help guiding me through the process. We talked the week before and he said to text immediately afterwards with a full report. I did but he didn’t respond, which was weird. The next day I received a text from a comic friend saying she was working with him in Vegas. Ah ha, mystery solved.
I figured he was probably playing video poker all night and sleeping all day. That was his routine while working there. Scotty was a gambler. Sometimes he’d win big. But mostly he lost bigger. FYI, that’s how gambling works and it’s how Las Vegas can afford to pay their light bill, people.
The next week I still hadn’t heard from him and was starting to get pissed. He knew how important that show was to me and I really wanted to talk to him about it. He was officially in the doghouse.
Then I got a call from my friend who’d worked with him in Vegas. She was concerned because he’d been drinking pretty heavily that week and had lost a lot of money. Crap. I called him. No answer. Instead I got a text, “Under the covers. Call you in three days. Love you.” That was our code for “I’m depressed and don’t want to talk.” I wasn’t happy about it, but at least I knew he was ok.
A few days later I awoke to find an email that had been written at 7am, Texas time. He was drinking and mad at the world. He’d been on a bender for two weeks. There was mention of the money loss and other private things that you say when you’re drunk and mad at the world. It scared me a little.
We exchanged a few emails where I tried to be supportive and understanding. I said, “Things will get better but you need to take care of yourself blah, blah, blah.” However, I eventually got mad and sent the ‘Come to Jesus’ email that basically said, “Grow up and pull your head out of your ass.” He must have loved that. No response.
March 8th he finally called from Tahoe. As suspected, he’d been angry about the email but said I was right. He wanted to get healthy and take care of himself. We talked about my show and how he was going to help me find a place to do it in Austin. He sounded good but tired. We talked for 46 minutes.
Later that day he called back just to give me a little club gossip. That call lasted two minutes. It was the last time we spoke.
Thursday, March 14th, I was at work. I’m one of the comics who opted to stay in LA and get the dreaded day job. I heard Scott’s ring-tone (it’s a robot. It sounds silly and always makes me laugh) but was too busy to answer my phone. A little while later another friend called. Then another. And another. I thought it was weird because everyone knows my schedule and they don’t usually call then. Eventually, when I saw that my friend Jill had called, I knew something was wrong. I grabbed my phone and headed outside, checking Scotty’s message first because he’d called first. It wasn’t his voice, it was his fathers.
He said, “Becky, this is Jack Kennedy, Scott’s dad.”
That’s all I had to hear. I knew. It was two weeks before I could bring myself to listen to the entire message. It’s still on my phone.
In that moment I learned the difference between sadness and grief. Sadness tends to envelope you like a warm blanket. Grief kicks you in the gut like a steel- toed work boot.
News of his passing spread like wildfire on social media. By the time I got home that night and checked Facebook every post was about him. Comics had changed their profile picture, to pictures of Scott or of them on tour with him in Iraq. His website crashed because so many people were going to it. There were comments on my FB page that read, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” What? Who does that? My inbox was full but I didn’t read any of the messages. I just crawled into bed.
I was livid that everyone in the world seemed to know he was dead before I did. Fuck them and fuck him for dying. How very mature of me.
A few days later I got a tearful call from Reeta, the general manager of the Hollywood Improv. She wanted us to plan a memorial for Scotty at the club. Great. All I wanted to do was lie in the dark and cry for a month (something that I often want to do, even under less tragic circumstances) and now I had to plan a party. Perfect.
But, if I do say so myself, it was a great fucking party. You’re welcome, Scott Kennedy.
I have to take a moment and say that Reeta was and is amazing. Despite the stress of her club being remodeled at the time, the normal show business bullshit she has to deal with, and all the while grieving the loss of a friend, she made the whole thing come together perfectly and made sure that Scott’s family and I were the number one priority. “Thank You.” doesn’t seem to be nearly enough to say. But that’s all I got- so, thank you!
The night was a lovely celebration of Scott and his life, filled with laughter and tears. The showroom was full of people who loved and respected him. Both of his families were there. His comedy family, and his family from Texas.
It was surreal. I felt like his widow, and in a way I guess I was. Grown men were crying and telling me how much they loved and missed him. And a few comics I’d never met before told me that he’d made it easier for them to come out on stage.
I’m in awe at how many lives he touched.
A few comic friends and I spoke at the memorial. Budd Friedman, the founder of The Improv, also said a few words. The night started with the color guard posting colors and his friend LTC McGregor of the US ARMY presenting his dad with a flag that was flown over the Pentagon for Scott.
It was awesome and would have meant the world to him. I promise you that wherever Scotty was at that moment looking down, he had a gigantic boner. Classy, I know. But there’s no better way to say it.
I always get asked how he died. It made me mad at first, but now I realize that most people want to know because they loved him and can’t wrap their heads around it. And, of course, a few just want to know because they’re nosey. Either way I understand.
Scott had Sleep Apnea and wasn’t wearing his mask that night. He just stopped breathing. That’s it. Nothing cryptic or destructive. No gruesome tale to tell. Basically he went to sleep and didn’t wake up. We should all be so lucky. It made me feel little better when I found out. But only a little.
So as I sit here ridiculously wearing one of his grubby trademark ball caps, thinking that it will somehow help me know and channel the way he’d want me to end this story, I take solace in the thought that he and Kevin are together again and I realize this –
There are times in life when you think you have no more tears left to cry, but there are somehow always more tears.
Or that you know you’ll never laugh again, yet somehow you always do.
Or that nothing will ever hurt as badly as this hurts, which I guess remains to be seen.
I do know this much for sure, whether it was by helping one comic feel brave enough to come out, making a homesick soldier laugh for a few minutes or just letting one person know that she always had a room and a place to stay, to a lot of people, Scott Kennedy was definitely a hero.