When Joe called to tell me that Dan Ronan died, I didn’t believe it. Not that I couldn’t believe it, of course I could. I had all but foreseen it. But it’s one thing to believe something and then be confronted with accepting it as having happened. What a ridiculous moment in time. Perhaps this is premature as I’m sure I haven’t fully processed the reality we’ve all been forced to face, but I felt compelled to write this. To write something. It’s probably going to be sloppy but perhaps it should be. I lost a friend. I am crying as I write this.
If I’m being honest with myself, I lost him months ago. Back in December, when I looked into his eyes, I realized he was already gone. Something had taken hold of him so completely and it did not let go. It grabbed his soul by the hair and everyone around him was forced to watch him thrash and struggle against the demon that would inevitably swallow him whole. I saw this in his eyes. I knew then it was a matter of when, not if. I resigned myself to that and walked away to spare myself the turmoil. To spare mySELF! How selfish! Who am I to place my own sense of well being above a loved-one’s fight to LIVE?!
I’m sure as time goes on I’ll feel guilty about that day. I’m sure I’ll have my Oskar Schindler moment. “I could have done more!” But the cold truth is I am not a magician. I couldn’t fix this. I tried my best to do everything I could to help and to prevent this. I held interventions, I talked with his family, I talked with his friends, I talked with him for hours and hours and hours. We cried in each other’s arms in the wake of some of the damage. But those were all human efforts against what proved to be a superhuman force. We were all relegated to sideline duty as Dan sparred with himself.
I don’t care for the word “addict.” Dan had such a drive, mostly powered by compulsiveness. If only that energy could be funneled toward something productive - comedy, producing a show, being a friend - all would be well! But our humanity kicks in. Stress and insecurity try and knock us off the high wire as we try and keep our balance. Some people are able to walk easier than others. Dan’s walk was a burdened one. It wasn’t something I would wish on anyone. He was plagued by his own mind and spent his entire life trying to regain and maintain his balance. When the turbulent internal forces became too great, he would often succumb. He gave in because it was borderline insane to keep fighting. Just give in! It’s so easy and would feel sooooo nice! And I’m sure it did feel nice. At first. It’s hard for anyone outside of his pentagram to make a compelling argument not to give in. Everything we say, all of our cozy rationale, our entire web of “logic" is devoid of the intimate knowledge of what it is to be incessantly harped on by a tireless succubus that lives in your heart and feeds on your emotions like a spiritual tapeworm. It’s ugly, ugly, ugly. I should know. I looked into its eyes. They were right where my friend’s used to be.
Forgive the morbid language. I would be remiss to neglect the goofiness that Dan loved and embraced. The same motor that drove his troubles also powered his talent. A yin and yang, if you will. He was indefatigable in his pursuit of comedy. Not just as a job, but as a way of life. He was the first one to crack a joke at his own intervention. He is author of some of the greatest “Man on the Street” moments (a segment of The Lincoln Lodge where an anchor would go out to the street and conduct impromptu interviews with passersby). He was a huge part of The Late Live Show. (Check out one of Joe’s favorite sketches.) He was invaluable to the production of Comedians You Should Know. Almost every booker he came into contact with took an interest in him and wanted to help him by giving him spots.
I remember taking him to LaCrosse, Wisconsin for a god-awful one-nighter. The headliner closed with 15 minutes of Simpsons and Family Guy impressions and the whole drive back, after staring out the window in utter disbelief for an hour, we laughed at how ridiculous this whole comedy thing is. He was always fun to have in the car or on the show. He sincerely wanted to be a good person. He wanted to be a good friend. He wanted to make everyone’s lives better, whether it was by making them laugh or just by being with them.
These are facts, untainted by any nostalgic glasses with rose-colored lenses.
Even so, fuck the facts. The facts are brutal. I acknowledge them, but I choose to remember Dan as the person he wanted to be. He was a good friend, he was a talented comedian, he was a caring human; it’s just that his self-actualization was cruelly interrupted by the hands of fate. And so we press on against that same tide as best we can. Together.
I honestly believe Dan is in a better place now. I don’t mean that in any spiritual or metaphysical sense. I am not speaking about an after-life. I mean that the total absence of consciousness in Dan’s case is almost preferable to being bombarded with daily waves of violent compulsion. He battled as well as he could. He had some really beautiful and special people on his side who I have been lucky enough to know and we will all lament this loss.
Dan’s fight is over. He is finally at peace. The heart-breaking tragedy is that he never got to live that way.