The girl I’m dating came over Monday afternoon with cupcakes she baked to cheer me up. I told her I should go downtown and pass them out and when people asked, “What are you celebrating?” I would say, “My friend committed suicide today.”
The joke is rough and uncomfortable, and that is why I know Tommy Marth would encourage me to go for it. His sense of humor, one of his best qualities, was unrelenting. Downright brutal sometimes. There was no bullshit with him and that’s why I have questions that will never be answered, at least not here.
Tommy’s talent can’t be overstated. His entire family is full of great musicians. Brother and sister Ryan and Melissa are in popular local band The Big Friendly Corporation. Tommy was a beast on the saxophone, so good that he toured the world with the Killers. He played on both Sam’s Town and Day & Age. He blew the horn on records for Big Friendly and other Las Vegas groups including Black Camaro and was onstage with Halloween Town. He was a mainstay on “the scene” and always had some kind of job in nightlife or entertainment, lastly, the nightlife manager for the Hard Rock Hotel. From the outside looking in, it looked like he was always poised to be a player in whatever aspect he wanted to be in this town.
In 2007, I was a rookie comic in Las Vegas. The places to work for newbies were limited to the dive bar the Bunkhouse or the dive bar Boomers. Then David Himmel came along and started a show at the Freakin’ Frog. It was a breath of fresh air with college crowds, academic crowds, crowds who actually came to see comedy because they enjoyed it. Looking back, the two best friends I made there were Himmel, who is no longer in stand-up, and the guy who ran the soundboard, Tommy.
Very quickly, Tommy and his band of critics there let me know they appreciated my work, which probably meant more to me because they were just as quick to mention how many of the comics sucked. Thus began our friendship, one steeped in honesty, a mutual respect, and likely the fact that a lot of people thought we were both assholes. Neither of us cared that they though that.
Here’s why: Tommy was an asshole—if you didn’t know him. I get the same thing said about me. The people who knew him knew of his kindness, his generosity, his sensitivity and his creativity.
One night I’m downtown on a first date. The girl tells me she’s an evolution-denying Christian or Catholic or something else. I’m not. But she’s had sex even though she’s not married, doesn’t intend to stop and thinks Jesus will forgive her. That’s when Tommy shows up. I introduce him to my date and catch him up on the conversation. He rips her a new one and then leaves, saying something along the lines of, “I can’t be in a conversation with someone as stupid as you.” Guess what? There was no second date. I’m not saying you cock-blocked me, Tommy, but fuck, you didn’t help.
Tommy and I became really good friends when I asked him to produce a short film I wrote. It was a narrative about struggling stand-up comedians in Las Vegas, a subject we both knew well. After reading a draft of a feature I wrote on the same subject, the always-honest Tommy told me, “There’s a movie in here somewhere, and I’m going to help you make it.” We’d meet for brainstorming sessions on how to put together the short, rewrites, pre-production meetings, casting, location scouts, anything involving the movie. Mind you, of the money raised, I’m pretty sure Tommy never took home a penny of it. This was our bond. When we found art we were passionate about, we’d throw all caution (and financial smarts) to the wind, because making good art was more important than making money. We always thought the money would come if the projects we made were of high enough quality.
The creative process often leads to fighting. And Tommy and I fought. The creative process often leads to losing friends over creative differences. But friends we remained. There was never any question of that.
In the past few months, we began seriously meeting again. We discussed ideas for reality television shows and a web series. We talked about including live comedy in the new venue he was helping put together at the Hard Rock Hotel. And we’d always talk about our favorite television show, No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain. That was the standard we wanted to live up to. Could we ever do something that great? Many times, Tommy told me his dream was to have a show like that.
I always thought a feature film would be in our future. But now I’ll do it without Tommy, wondering what great suggestions he’d have, what he’d say that would piss me off and how we’d put it all together in the end.
Here we are, a few days later. Some people are angry. Some are hurt. I imagine we’re all surprised. Me, I’m mostly sad. Sad that I lost a friend. Sad that I didn’t know how badly he was hurting. Sad that there was nothing I could do. If we had discussed this situation, I imagine it would have started seriously but ended up like this:
Tommy: I’m gonna do it.
Jason: You’re being an idiot.
Tommy: If you’re going to try and talk me out of it, don’t use any of the clichés. At least come up with an original take.
Jason: Can you at least wait until we set up one of our projects? It’s going to be a bitch if I have to start these all over again without you.
Jason: Thanks. One more thing. You know if you do it, I’m going act extra sad around women to try to get some sympathy pussy.
Tommy: Then it will all be worth it.
Tommy would probably crush me, all of us, for being so sappy during this time—tell us to stop being pussies and buck up. That’s fair, but I want to ask you, Tommy. You shot yourself? For a guy who valued originality so much, that’s a pretty standard way to do it. Where was the creative “fuck you?” Nice job, asshole. We both know you could have come up with something with more of a “wow” factor.
I’m sad for Mel and Ryan and his entire family. I’m sad for all of his friends who loved him. I’m sad for me personally and selfishly I’m sad for me professionally as Tommy was one of the few people I would want to collaborate with on a number of projects. His opinion mattered and usually made things better. He was that damn good, that damn smart, that damn invested in making the work count.
I’ll miss you, Tommy. I already do. Anybody want a cupcake?
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