Richard Jeni

On this date in 1957, comedian and actor Richard John Colangelo (stage name Richard Jeni) was born into a Catholic family in a rough neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y. A shy kid with a talent for language, he won a national essay competition as a youth and earned an honors political science degree from Hunter College in New York City. In his 20s he worked in public relations and as a taxi driver before hitting the national scene with the Showtime special "Richard Jeni: Boy From New York City" (1990). Two years later, his next special, "Crazy from the Heat," garnered the highest ratings in Showtime's history. Other stand-up comedy television specials included "Platypus Man" (1992), "A Good Catholic Boy" (1997) and "A Big Steaming Pile of Me" (2005). He made appearances on "The Daily Show," "Comedy Central Presents," "Everybody Hates Chris," "Married With Children," "Hollywood Squares" and was a frequent guest on "The Tonight Show." Jeni debuted in the popular 1994 Jim Carrey film "The Mask," followed by roles in "National Lampoon's Dad's Week Off" (1997) and "Burn Hollywood Burn" (1997). He frequently mocked religion in his stand-up career. "Religious war? You're basically killing each other to see who's got the better imaginary friend" (CNN, "A few words from Richard Jeni," March 12, 2007). He told the audience in "A Big Steaming Pile of Me": "You gotta respect people who have strong religious beliefs, don't we? 'Cause if you don't, they'll kill you." Jeni won several Cable Ace Awards for his stand-up specials, and George Carlin presented him the American Award for "Best Male Stand-up" on ABC. Comedy Central ranked Jeni #57 on its top 100 list of greatest stand-ups of all time. Having suffered from severe clinical depression, Jeni committed suicide at age 49. D. 2007.

"When one guy sees an invisible man he's a nut case. Ten people see him it's a cult. Ten million people see him it's a respected religion."

—Richard Jeni, from richardjeni.com

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

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