TV Guide has called Richard Jeni “flat-out hilarious” and People Magazine has called him “thrilling to watch.” But stand-up comedy is only part of the Richard Jeni story. Jeni has also made his mark as the star of his own TV series, an actor in feature films, and an award-winning television host.
Jeni burst onto the national scene in 1990 with his first Showtime Special “Richard Jeni: The Boy From New York City.” The show received three Cable ACE Awards (the awards for cable excellence) nominations. Two years later, he followed up with his second one-hour concert for Showtime, “Richard Jeni: Crazy From The Heat”, which was the highest-rated stand-up special in Showtime’s history. During this period, Richard was also becoming a favorite guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. After a couple of white-hot stand-up appearances on the show, Johnny moved Richard up to the status of “panel guest.” Richard’s banter with Johnny got the kind of desk pounding tears of laughter response from the legendary host that made Richard a fixture on thse show. When Jay Leno took over, he kept the working formula of Richard Jeni and The Tonight Show going. During Jay’s tenure, Richard has been on show more than any other stand-up.
Richard’s success on cable and network TV caught the eye of HBO President Chris Albrecht who wooed Richard with an offer for a coveted HBO Comedy Hour, the most prestigious showcase available to today’s comedians. The result was “Richard Jeni: Platypus Man”, an unqualified smash that won the Cable ACE Award for “Best Stand-up Comedy Special” and formed the basis for his network sitcom of the same name. “Platypus Man.”
Awards and accolades continued to pile up and Richard’s growing popularity was making him a sold-out attraction in concert venues. A particular thrill was when George Carlin handed Richard the American Comedy Award for “Best Male Stand-up” on ABC TV. He hosted A&E’s “Caroline’s Comedy Hour” for several seasons and the show won the Cable ACE Award for “Best Stand-Up Comedy Show.” He hosted “What A World” for The Learning Channel, garnering a nomination for “Best Magazine Host.” In between guest spots on all the major talk shows he sprinkled stints as a sardonic and hilarious correspondent for “Entertainment Tonight.”
Jeni made his feature film debut co-starring as Jim Carrey’s best friend in the blockbuster hit, “The Mask.” He followed up with the leading roles in “National Lampoon’s Dad’s Week Off” and the cult classic “Burn, Hollywood, Burn.” Having conquered stage and screen, Richard released his popular CD entitled “Richard Jeni’s Greatest Bits” – a compilation of his fans favorite material.
Meanwhile, corporate America was tapping Richard’s comedy talents to enhance the bottom line. He starred in commercial campaigns for Certs, Arby’s, and won a CLIO Award for his work as a writer/performer in a campaign for the Milk Association. While in Atlanta, a Coca-Cola executive heard some of Richard’s routines on the radio and was inspired to create “Concession Stand-Up Comedy Starring Richard Jeni”, a series of short stand-up pieces that ran during the trailers on over 10,000 movie screens and were seen by over 48 million people. Other commercial voice-over work included the voice for “Max”, the animated spokesman for Office Max.
Richard returned to HBO for his second comedy hour, “Richard Jeni: A Good Catholic Boy.” In it’s premiere outing, the show was the fifth highest rated cable program of the week and a non-stop comedy barrage that Entertainment Tonight said, “…left the audience dazzled, breathless, and hungry for more.” Richard continued spending his time, doing what he loved, criss-crossing the country performing sold out appearances at clubs, casino’s, performing arts centers and even a command performance at the White House.
Having firmly established himself as one of the very few comic’s able to create new and fresh material on a consistent basis, he continued his long term relationship with HBO with a critically acclaimed fourth special, “Richard Jeni, A Big Steaming Pile of Me.” Richard was now firmly established at the top of his profession and had amassed a body of work that could be matched by only a tiny handful of his contemporaries – no small trick for a shy kid from Brooklyn.
It is hard to imagine, that a beacon of talent, energy and laughter could be deprived of the very joy he provided to so many. Sadly, in 2007 Richard succumbed to a mental illness that was not only heartbreaking, but baffling. It is hard to understand how a talent, who reached the pinnacle of his field, by spreading so much laughter to all those who crossed his path, could fall prey with such speed and severity, to this type of affliction.
As time helps to heal the wounds of this tragic turn of events, we choose to remember Richard’s life and accomplishments and his unique gifts which gave millions of laughs to us all.