When people find out I do stand-up comedy, they usually ask me who some of my favorite comedians are. And one name always pops to the front of mind every time, but I never say who it is. It’s too hard to explain to someone how one of the funniest and most original talents I’ve ever been lucky enough to witness is a name they’ve never heard of and a comic they’ll never see.
And it’s too hard to talk about how the brilliant Dan Ronan, a man I considered a friend, passed away.
June 6th is, for me, one of the worst days. It was seven years ago today that the world lost Dan. I met Dan in 2010 and we just kind of connected. Even though he was so young, he just knew how to come alive onstage and just get everything to work for him. He was a master joke-writer and one of the most enthusiastic performers I’ve ever had the good fortune to witness.
I was running this show in West Dundee at the Clearwater Theater at the time, and I would always try and book Dan to come out and do a set and he would always say no. And then, nearly every week, he would get a ride from a comic and show up asking to go up anyways. I still remember there was one night when I was sitting in the back of the theater, my head in my hands because I was upset that there was no crowd (this was the norm for my shows there), and Dan came over to me and put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You know, when I see you all sad and angry and bothered like this… it’s my favorite part of coming to this show.”
That’s the kind of guy Dan was.
Another time, Dan performed at a show where it was my birthday. We were in Elgin, Illinois, in another room where if we had more than a dozen people the show was considered a wild success. That night was not a success. But Dan didn’t care. He just wanted to make everyone there laugh. He opened by thanking everyone for coming to his first three Comedy Central special recordings, and closed the show shirtless and demanded that I get up onstage for the best birthday gift he could give me: the opportunity to recite one of his jokes with him.
Dan loved making people laugh and he loved comedy. He helped me run a show that was over 4 hours away in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin, but the trips to that show and back remain some of my favorite moments in comedy, as we would talk trash about comics we didn’t like or work on material or just listen to great comedy albums. He had one of the best laughs in the world. It could power a city with its electricity. I miss his laugh every day.
I have so many stories of great moments with Dan. He was my friend, but also felt like my little brother sometimes. Hell, he felt like my big brother sometimes, too, because when I was onstage and he was in the crowd, I wanted to hear his laugh so badly.
I still remember hearing about his passing. Facebook posts just kept popping up and we were all convinced it couldn’t be real. He was so young! He had so much life to live! So many opportunities to make people laugh! That night, I drove to an open mic where they played a clip of his comedy, then drove to Entertaining Julia, the legendary Chicago showcase where the amazing Puterbaugh Sisters closed the night by asking people to get up and talk about Dan. I still remember the one point they kept trying to bring home: No one gives a shit where you’re booked, the only true measure of worth is being there for people. That night, so many people were there for me. I got up onstage to speak and started to talk about how Dan was one of the few comics who I let meet my son, Conrad. I got through about half a sentence before I sat down because I couldn’t finish. I felt a dozen hands on my shoulder. That night, I learned the true measure of many of the people I am lucky enough to consider my peers.
One Sunday morning, I woke up to a Facebook message from Dan. He had done a weekend at a club and overslept and needed money for a bus or a train. I apologized because I didn’t have anything to give him. He said it would be fine and that we would have to hang out sometime.
That was the last time I ever got to talk to him.
I wish I could tell him that I’m sorry that I couldn’t be there for him. That I miss him every day. That there are so many comedians he never met who I talk about him to. How, if he was still here and we were doing a show together, I would shoo the comics talking in when he was performing so they could see just what a gifted comic he was. I wish we could talk again, even if it was just him ragging on the terrible shows I made him drive out to.
I wish I could tell him how much I love him. How much so many of us do. And how we’ll always remember him.
I love you, Dan. Thanks for everything.