Dying with Dignity: NCHS Grad, Chicago Standup Standout Michael Lehrer Passes Away
Comedy is tragedy plus time, so says Carol Burnette. And most comedians will agree. Many will say they got into comedy as a way to cope with the tragedy that is their lives. A lot of comics blame traumatic childhoods for who they would eventually become.
Michael Lehrer was no stranger to tragedy...but he tried to turn it into comedy any chance he could get.
Lehrer is a New York-born, Wyoming-bred, and Chicago-made stand up comedian, actor, and improv standout. He was diagnosed with ALS in 2017.
Now, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting that Lehrer has died. He was 44 years old.
Lehrer grew up in Wyoming, moving to Casper from Queens, New York and graduating from Natrona County High School.
After moving away from Wyoming, Lehrer became a force to be reckoned with in the Chicago stand up comedy scene.
He was a Second City theater legend, writing and co-starring in three reveus.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that in 2014, Lehrer was selected for the 'New Faces of Comedy' showcase at the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal, Quebec Canada.
"[He] had no regard for where the line is, in the most beautiful way — a total willingness to push buttons and push envelopes and follow the funny no matter what," his close friend Seth Weitberg told the Sun-Times. "He was just a total fireball, and willing to do absolutely whatever for comedy. In the 20 years I’ve known him, he spent about half that time with his shirt off for a joke.”
Not even ALS could stop the man. After getting diagnoses, Lehrer took some time off to receive treatment in Buffalo, New York but would resume standup shortly thereafter.
For the last few years, Lehrer would appear on stage in his wheelchair, poking fun at himself and at the disease.
“The courage this man had to do stand-up while battling a debilitating disease was insanely impressive,” Joe Rogan, a former podcast guest wrote on his Instagram, “and though he struggled to get words out the man would KILL onstage."
Like Rogan, Lehrer frequently appeared on Kill Tony, a live comedy podcast in Austin, Texas. That's where Lehrer first met Rogan and, as with everybody Mike met, Rogan was instantly charmed by him.
His people back in Wyoming were charmed, too. And they miss him.
"I first met mike in high school," said Dawn Anderson, a former classmate and compatriot. "We did theater together. He was a natural onstage and slid into every role with passion and enthusiasm. He made it look so easy, but he worked so hard at everything he did. We continued on to college theater, where he grew even more and it was amazing to share the stage with him."
As an actor and a comedian, he was second-to-none. But, even more importantly, as a human being, he was one of the best.
"He never failed to make me laugh," Anderson shared. "He was a supportive and loving friend. We all cheered him on when he made it big, and he never forgot his friends or where he came from. I always admired his strength, his passion, and his drive in making the world a better place with his quick wit and quirky comedy. I will miss him very much."
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Lehrer was terminally ill, and chose to end his own life, with medical assistance.
“Michael died with dignity on his own terms,” his life partner Colette Montague stated. “... Medical aid in dying was the hardest decision he ever made.”
Still, it was his decision. And he tackled death just like he tackled life - head-on.
It may be true that comedy is tragedy plus time. Even still, it's going to be a long time before this is funny.
A GoFundMe has been created for Lehrer's son, Colin and it has already raised more than $20,000.