HaHa Club memorial show gave comics Fuquan Johnson and Enrico Colangeli one last laugh
Wayans family and more comedy pros celebrate the two L.A. comics who died of a suspected overdose that killed a third and sent another to the hospital.
In a blur of laughter and tears, a packed crowd gathered at the HaHa Comedy Club in North Hollywood to pay respects to beloved L.A.-based comics Fuquan Johnson, 43, and Enrico Colangeli, 48, who died over Labor Day weekend with their friend Natalie Williamson, 33. Sitting at tables strewn with stiff drinks and crumpled-up tissues on Wednesday night, friends and family shared stories, old voice memo recordings, forgotten footage and other remembrances of the two funnymen. But even in the midst of sadness, a bout of unintentional comic relief reared its head in a way that felt like a sketch straight out of “SNL.”
After several comics came onstage to lovingly roast their fallen friends, host and comedian Jack Assadourian Jr. prepared to show a tribute video for the two comics better known as Fu and Rico — but he couldn’t get the large TV on the wall of the club to work.
“Can I get a tech guy to help me out here?” the comedian known as Jack Jr. blurted out while feverishly turning the flatscreen off and on. Awkward seconds of silence triggered nervous rumblings in the crowd as several comics came up to try to save the day. They whipped out their phone flashlights and inspected buttons on the side of the TV as the crowd laughed and shouted troubleshooting instructions at them as if they were contestants on “The Price Is Right.”
Finally, the TV decided to cooperate and cheers erupted from the crowd as images and footage of Johnson and Colangeli flooded onto the screen backed on the sound system by P. Diddy and Faith Evans’ “I’ll Be Missing You.” Even in death, Boston-bred Colangeli and Johnson, a New Jersey native, gave the L.A. crowd and the club that loved them one last laugh.
The Ha Ha Comedy Club in North Hollywood will host a benefit for the two comics, who were found dead early Saturday.
“I respected these guys so much,” Jack Jr. said to the crowd. “They left their homes in Boston and New Jersey to chase their dreams and had no family here. ... They made family. We’re here right now.”
Both comics and Williamson died at a home in Venice Beach after a suspected overdosing, reportedly on fentanyl-laced cocaine. A fourth person at the gathering, comedian and model Kate Quigley, 39, was taken to a hospital and later recovered.
Those who knew Johnson and Colangeli best spilled their funniest memories and rawest moments with the comics, fighting back tears while recounting drunken late nights in cabs or clubs after hours in struggle to make it in comedy. They reminisced about their everyday shenanigans — crashing on their friends’ couches, hiking or working out with them or just being there to pick up the phone when called upon. No matter how those in the crowd came to know them, everyone in the crowd seemed to have a story.
“I like seeing that Fu was loved by people I don’t know,” said writer and producer Craig Wayans, one of the several members of the famous comedy family who spoke about Johnson, including artist Cara Mia Wayans and actor Damon Wayans Jr. “I’m sure some of y’all are in here seeing people like ‘who the f— are they?’ All of you were probably in Fu’s phone for the most part. And while he was hanging out with us, he was texting y’all.”
Many of the comedians and friends who spoke met Johnson and Colangeli through the HaHa, either as employees or regulars onstage. Despite some comics’ veteran status as headliners touring in front of crowds across the country, emotion got the better of them when they choked up while telling jokes about their friends to a supportive audience that cheered them on.
“This is our family. This was a place that took me in when I moved to L.A. They took Rico and Fu in; they were brothers,” comedian Amir K. said during his set. “When I was going on tour, every time I came back I would always come to this place.”
For friends, family and veterans of the L.A. comedy scene, the deaths of Johnson and Colangeli have resonated loudly. For the HaHa, which announced it will host a show every year on Sept. 15 in memory of the two comics, the laughter and legacy left behind by Johnson and Colangeli won’t be forgotten.
“There’s so much energy in people sometimes that when they leave it shifts the universe,” said comedian Agostino Zoida during one of the final comedy sets of the night. “They both had that much energy that we’ve all felt the impact. You can’t kill somebody who has so much life and they too had so much life. They’re not dead, they’re alive in every single one of us and they’re alive in this room right now and they’re gonna live on forever.”
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