L.A. comedians mourn deaths of fellow comics Fuquan Johnson and Enrico Colangeli
Laughter was hushed at the HaHa Comedy Club in North Hollywood over Labor Day weekend as comics and fans mourned the deaths of two beloved funnymen whose absence onstage was felt even as their names glowed in memoriam surrounded by golden lights on the marquee.
Fuquan Johnson, 43, and Enrico Colangeli, 48, were found dead early Saturday at a home in Venice Beach after overdosing, reportedly on fentanyl-laced cocaine. Also declared dead at the scene, according to reports, was Natalie Williamson, 33, while comedian and model Kate Quigley, 39, was taken to a hospital. Quigley later reported that she was doing “OK” and is expected to recover.
Jack Assadourian Jr., a friend who had seen Johnson, Colangeli and Quigley at the HaHa just days before, said he woke up to a text Saturday morning breaking the news.
“I thought it was a sick joke,” said Assadourian, who also performs as a comedian, under the name Jack Jr. “We’re all comedians who’ve done some dark jokes before, but this seemed like the worst joke ever.”
The deaths of Johnson and Colangeli dealt a devastating blow to local and superstar comics alike who knew the pair and watched them grow. After years of hustling for open mike spots at the HaHa, the best friends had in recent years taken their careers to the next level. Both were doing cross-country tours, and Johnson had recently worked as a writer and comedian on the TV series “Comedy Parlour Live.”
The loss of the two entertainers, better known as “Fu” and “Rico,” embodied the journey from struggle to success.
“Fu started from the bottom. He could do open mikes, just always working his craft and always getting funnier,” said Jack Jr.
Jack Jr. met Johnson around 2009 while working as a bartender at his parents’ club, the HaHa; Johnson had just moved from New Jersey to become a comic. Unlike most comics, Johnson had arrived with bona-fide contacts; he’d grown up with Damien Dante Wayans of the Wayans clan and was friends with Kevin Hart and other major comedy stars. Johnson would eventually tour as an opener for Shawn and Marlon Wayans, but only after the boisterous, raspy-voiced comedian worked hard, doing innumerable open mike nights and small gigs.
“Fu was a Wayans,” said TV producer and writer Craig Wayans. “But he worked his way from the ground up. He earned his name in the comedy streets. A lot of people come out here and become comics; he came out here to be a comic.”
Like Johnson, Colangeli left a solid, middle-class upbringing to pursue his craft as a comedian, doing whatever he could to get in the scene. Jack Jr. remembers his father telling him how Colangeli would sit outside the club before it opened, reading a book as he waited to speak with someone about getting an opportunity to be onstage. Jack Jr.’s father gave the wannabe comic his shot — first by carrying crates of water into the club, then by doing odd jobs, including the time-honored task of working the door, to earn stage privileges.
“One night, he was working the door at the club, " Jack Jr. said, “and I walked in with two girls. And my dad always said, ‘Charge everyone that comes in the door.’ So I’m walking in, and then Rico stops me and says, ‘Hey, hey, it’s $20 to come in,’ and I laughed, and I said, ‘You got a job.’ After that, we became friends right away.”
At one point, Fu, Rico and Jack Jr. lived together in North Hollywood in an apartment building known for housing comics. They called themselves the Cartwright Crew after the street they lived on and spent every day together, including holidays. “Imagine living in a building where every single unit was your friend, so it was like we never really went to college but that was our college,” Jack Jr. said. “We were all very close, and we were like the show ‘Friends.’”
Once the three friends’ careers started taking off, they began hitting the road together, touring the country. Jack Jr., who performed Monday night at the Las Vegas Laugh Factory, says Colangeli was supposed to be on the show with him this weekend as a host. Instead of focusing on his act, Jack Jr. says he’s been crying nonstop, talking with reporters and reaching out to the families of his friends.
“Rico was supposed to be with us in Vegas. I got this penthouse suite, and we were going to hang out and have massages and eat steak dinner. Now, I’m in it all alone,” Jack Jr. says.
Still, the show must go on; Jack Jr. did two sets Monday night and only as he left the stage at the end of the first set did he mention his loss. “This is my first show back,” he told the audience. “Two of my friends recently passed. This show is dedicated to them.”
Headlining comic Amir K. also came out guns blazing, but with the memory of his friends tucked in the back of his mind. At one point, he revealed flashes of raw emotion between jokes. “It’s hard to perform, because two of my friends aren’t able to do this s— anymore. I don’t know why I just said that. Back to the jokes. I have a small d—.”
After the show, the comics sat in the green room, swapping stories about their two friends, laughing at times even as they shook their heads in disbelief.
“Doing stand-up comedy is my passion, and it was Rico’s and Fuquan’s passion. I wouldn’t think they’d want any of us to stay home,” Jack Jr. said. “They’d want us to go and be funny. They would want us to be up onstage. I mentioned them at the end of the show because I had this feeling like I had to. I really felt like they were in the audience. It’s just been really hard.”
The HaHa will host a benefit show for the two comics and their families Sept. 15.
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