While doing comedy I’ve been fortunate enough to run into a few folks here and there who have a profound impact on not only who I am on stage, but who I am off of it.
Jim Wiggins is in that group.
Jim was about 5′6″ if he tried and had a bullfrog’s croak of a voice. He was an undeniable presence in the room.
Jim Wiggins and I went boot shopping one afternoon. We drove from Comedy Etc. in Fairview Heights, IL to Chuck’s Boots in Fenton, MO. The hour long car ride was filled with talking. He told me about stealing pot off of a corpse because “the guy owed me”. He talked about his relationship with George Carlin. He warned me of the three dangers of the road: women, whiskey, and hard drugs. “Too much of any of them” he said, “and you’ll end up hating something you love”. We wound up at the boot emporium, where he was determined to buy some new snakeskin footwear. We walked in and were greeted by a young man in a pearl snap shirt, too tight jeans that were kept in place with a leather belt that was all buttoned up with a larger than life oval buckle. He wore a large tan hat and a goofy smile. Had we not been in a boot store or a rodeo, he would have been woefully out of place.
After being greeted, Jim looked the young man in the eye and asked his name.
“Dakota” the young man replied.
“North or south” Jim calmly asked.
The kid stared at us in disbelief, and Jim kept eye contact until the kid politely chuckled and walked off.
The whole time while looking for boots he asked questions about my year old comedy “career”. He asked where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do, why did I start, and other open ended questions that I was more than happy to go on and on about. He was the first headliner I’d worked with who seemed genuinely interested in me, the emcee. There was no hollow point in the conversation. There were no vague questions whose response was met with an uncomfortable silence.
He settled on a pair of snakeskin boots; grey, black, and white with hints of green. He was polite to Dakota, who was more than happy to get us out of his store.
We got into my car and headed back into Illinois. He told me about his wife, an artist, who had suffered from depression for years. She’d killed herself long before we’d met. He told me that he couldn’t fathom how much pain she must have gone through before she’d made the decision to die. That knowledge made his problems trivial. Her death granted him some sort of odd serenity; that no matter how bad things got, they weren’t what she had endured.
Upon arriving at the hotel, he invited me to dinner, his treat. I passed. He then said he would go to his room and take a nap and if I wanted to come watch TV and make sure he didn’t die in his sleep, I was more than welcome.
That night, I watched Jim Wiggins sit on a stool and work a room of maybe 12 people into believing that they were special. It worked because Jim thought of comedy that way. He told me that every crowd was a blank canvas, a group of people never to be arranged in that manner ever again, not throughout the history of time. He told me that it was my job as a comic to make them forget about their money problems, the kids at home, the shitty job, all of it. My job was to paint whatever picture I wanted to onto that canvas and to make them believe that they helped create it.
He told me of an old saying he and George Carlin used to write to one another. “We cannot fear feer, and feer is anything you’re afraid of.”
Jim wrote that on a piece of paper for me, which I framed and brought to Texas when I moved here three years ago. It hangs on the wall next to my bedroom door. I look at that piece of paper every day for years, and when I do, I’m reminded of all of the wonderful things that have brought me to this point; family, friends, my home club, and all of the wonderful people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting over the years. Jim was truly one of a kind, and I’m honored to have known him.
Rest easy, friend.