Comedian Richard Jeni Dies

Stand-up comedian Richard Jeni died Sunday of a gunshot wound. He was 49. The apparent suicide has not yet been confirmed by autopsy results.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY, and in a moment, we're going to hear about the destruction of a Las Vegas landmark.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

But first, let's talk about self-destruction, the kind we often associate with show-business personalities. Richard Jeni, a comedian who played Vegas, "The Tonight Show," and many other prime stages, died this past weekend. Early indications are that it was a suicide. He was 49.

Mr. RICHARD JENI (Comedian): Hi, I'm Richard Jeni, and my new HBO comedy hour is called "The Big, Steaming Pile of Me." Here's the slogan for this country: America, 20 million illegal aliens can't be wrong.

CHADWICK: People have left more than 2,000 messages on his Web site, and there are several video tributes posted on YouTube.

BRAND: And on some radio stations here in Los Angeles, Richard Jeni's death was described as tragic, a shock, a shame. Some fellow comedians said he was a success story, that he made it. Richard Jeni left no suicide note, so all we have for any indications as to why he did it are his performances.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JENI: Kevorkian.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JENI: Oh, Kevorkian's my man. Now, Kevorkian is the doctor that helped people die who were so sick that they just want to get out of here, which you know, I can't say as I blame them. I've had the runs and written a suicide note.

CHADWICK: So listening to that clip, you begin to get a sense of how his mind, the comic's mind, worked. Did anyone in that audience think, for even a second, that Richard Jeni was a danger to himself? No, they were laughing. He was trying to make them laugh because being funny often means telling the painful truth about yourself.

A few years ago, the comedian Mitch Hedberg would occasionally joke about drugs.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. MITCH HEDBERG (Comedian): I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to, too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: Mitch Hedberg died of an accidental drug overdose. He joined the other comedians who self-destructed: Lenny Bruce, Sam Kinison, John Belushi and now the latest, Richard Jeni.

Mr. JENI: Every guy that watches the dirty movies is sitting there going this is great, this is hot. Why can't my life be like a dirty movie now and then? Next thing you know, they're all depressed, cradling a porno tape in the backyard…

Mr. JENI: (Singing) Somewhere, over the rainbow, people get sex in the middle of the day for no apparent reason.

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