This is the time of year that a lot of comics are finding out whether or not they were booked for festivals, in particular Just for Laughs. It’s a big deal to book that fest and for sure a goal every comic works towards.

I remember showcasing (a fancy word for auditioning) for JFL back in 2004 and having a great set. I was sure I was getting it that year. Like, really really sure. I was wrong. When I found out I had been passed over I was absolutely devastated, it hit me so hard. Why am I doing this? What’s the point? These thoughts kept going through my head and I’m sure the notion of quitting entered my mind. If that set couldn’t get me booked then I didn’t know what else I could possibly do to get noticed. I was ranting and raving to friends and family for a couple of days, no doubt being super annoying. Then I found out a comic named Kerry Talmage had passed away and I felt so bad for having been angry. Perspective immediately set in and I realized everything I was stressing about didn’t matter because I was going to get another chance next year and I was fortunate to be healthy and alive. You tend not to appreciate those things at 24 and it took Kerry’s passing to show me how much of a baby I was being. To this day, I have never known a performer to love stand up more than Kerry.

I was around 22 years old the first time I met Kerry Talmage. He was an established comic on the circuit and one of the comics other comedians loved to watch. Like me, he was also a short guy who told dirty jokes and quickly became one of my heroes on the circuit. He even went to bat for me with a club owner on one occasion. He called out the manager for not booking me while I was standing right there. Huge. I was running around name-dropping him all over the place and eventually someone said, “You know Kerry’s really sick, right?”

To say that Kerry was ill would be a massive understatement. He was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic as a child and faced more health issues than any individual should have to shoulder. He survived heart attacks, kidney faillure, a kidney transplant and subsequent rejection as well as a lot of other ailments. In total, Kerry had over 30 surgeries in his life, and through it all never lost his love for performing.

In fact, you could argue that the stage gave him strength. The story I think every performer/artist needs to hear is the tale of Kerry’s final tour. He wasn’t doing well at all and was back on kidney dialysis. For those of you who don’t know what dialysis is, it does the job of the kidneys and cleans your blood of waste and toxins. You get tubes put into you called shunts which make it easier to connect you to the machine that filters your blood, it’s a daunting ordeal that takes a toll on the people who have to go through it. Imagine dealing with all that and then also going on the road, because that’s what Kerry did. That’s how much he loved performing. The story goes that Kerry arranged for dialysis from town to town all along that final tour. There was one night in Edmonton where the dialysis was taking longer than expected, Kerry literally stopped the procedure and left the hospital to do the gig. Terry Clement opened for Kerry on that last tour, he shared some thoughts with me:

“He came to the club and told me that he had then stop his dialysis to do the gig. I told him he was a crazy asshole! haha! He also had me watch him for the show in case he collapsed. He did the whole set, go a partial standing-o and then I helped him off stage. It was pretty crazy.”

On how Terry found himself openeing for Kerry on this final tour:

“One day, I got a call from Talmage. I’m not sure if he was living in Hawaii yet or not. Ultimately, he told me that he was dying for real and wanted to do one last tour of the West Coast to say goodbye to some folks. He wanted me to open for him AND there was a catch. He told me that his doctors told him that he might not live to the end of the tour and that I would need to accept that. It was fine with him and it was fine with Ildiko (his wife) so I said yes.

When I met up with Talmage in Calgary I immediately started joking with him that he was gonna croak before the first show. But once he started doing shows, he started getting healthier. By the time Cheryl joined us in Vancouver (where they thought Talmage’s body might give out) he was giving us guided tours of the city.”

I guess my whole point with this article is to remind people to take stock in what’s really important. None of us chose to be artists because we thought it would be easy. We chose to do what we do because, to us, it makes life worth living. Every now and then when I’m bummed out over missing out on something, I think of Kerry. Would he make a big deal of this? If Kerry had spent his time complaining then he never would’ve toured the world. He headlined everywhere from the UK to South Africa and all while dealing with major health issues. I wish I could have gotten to know him better, but I’m thankful for the laughs and to this day still inspired by him. Kerry Talmage was amazing.

“Kerry squeezed as much out of life as his time allowed. Filthy, funny, yet always vulnerable” – Kenny Robinson on Kerry Talmage