What I Learned from Comic Josh Haddon

This week in Canadian comedy, we lost another giant.

Josh Haddon
Josh Haddon – Photo by Anthony Sheardown

Before you jump to Google, I’m not talking about one of our founding fathers of Canadian comedy. Not one of our few CBC mainstays or our iconic club comics who’ve crossed the country for decades, paving the way for an entire generation of Canadian comics (myself included).

Instead, we lost a comedian who only lived as long as most of those comedy forefathers have been on the road. He was born in 1986. That’s the same age as my younger brother. And yet he leaves behind a comedy club he founded. Two festivals. He once ran for public office. He was a regular fixture in the local press in Windsor (home of his club, The Comedy Quarry) And he leaves us with a book he published towards the end of his life. Written, by the way, to try and show others in his situation the light. And lighten the mood for others facing the same struggle, when things seem so bleak. Josh Haddon honestly believed that laughter was the best medicine.

His book The Funny Thing About Cancer, was his parting gift to us. I know a lot of comics in this country who are going to find it hard to tap into that ‘funny’ inside themselves for the next little while, after hearing this news. But that’s probably the opposite of what Josh Haddon would have wanted.

He was too young to have to go up against Cancer. He was certainly too young to succumb to it. It’s incredibly unfair and profoundly sad, and perplexing to me. I guess that’s the cruelty of this disease though, isn’t it? Cancer doesn’t discriminate. Cancer doesn’t have a code of ethics. Cancer has no qualms about an IV drip in the arm of a 6 year old whose parents are huddled beside a hospital bed in the wee hours.

Cancer doesn’t mind robbing children of their parents, or grandparents. Cancer isn’t ashamed to metastasize publicly in people we watch on TV or on movie screens, so that even the illusions that we find a distraction in – sometimes remind us how fleeting life can be. Cancer doesn’t care if you’re famous, or if you’re too poor to afford even a fraction of a chance to go up against it. Cancer fights dirty.

But Josh Haddon didn’t go out like a lamb either. That wasn’t exactly his style. He fought. He kept us all updated over the last year. His travels to Europe, his search for the home soil, his unapologetic pledge to LIVE fucking life (he would have said ‘fucking’ in there, I’m pretty sure).

I didn’t get a chance to know Josh as well as I would have liked – and aside from other people who have passed in my own personal life, that’s another thing Cancer has robbed me of. It took Josh away from us all. We could have learned a lot more from him. Luckily, Canadian comedy is a small village. An extended (albeit dysfunctional) family. Josh was a colleague. A friend. A family member to many. He came out to a show of mine, on the heels of a major operation – and you wouldn’t know it. It blew me away. He took to the stage as if he never even went under the knife. He laid into a microphone with all the manic energy of someone who was simply unstoppable in the fact that they were doing what they LOVED with their life. He had found his place in the world, and not a single seemingly impossible obstacle on this earth was going to take that away from him. He did what he was driven to do.

Think about that for a second. How many of us punch the clock every day and donate our years to some company, some cause we don’t care about, in the name of something that fuels nothing inside of us? All for the sake of just getting by? Josh Haddon had no time for that. And if we learn anything from him (not just his fellow comics) – I’d say it should be exactly that.

Live your life. Cliche? Sure. But most cliches come to exist only because they bare the fruit of absolute truth.

In the last few months, Josh did a culling of his social media. Which seems insignificant to mention here, but he paired down his friends and contacts to a specific few. Mainly just to keep some semblance of sanity while he focused on living his life and facing his fight. He rallied against all the sadness in the news, the pettiness and infighting bred by social media. The endless tirades of negativity and mindless mob mentality. I felt fortunate in a way that I survived that purge. And over the months he’d message me about a show I was doing or a gig I mentioned, offering input or insights. He’d ask questions about what I was up to, offer feedback – he was in all aspects, a comic’s comic. He seemed to have as much love for his fellow comedians as he did the art itself.

I’m not without my own negativity, that’s well documented in my own inner circle. So whenever I’d find myself punching at the walls like a fed up 5 year old, I’d think of Josh Haddon. He served as a stern reminder that I was wasting my time. How much can my time on this earth be better spent honing my craft, paying my dues, learning from my fellow comics and slapping them on the back. How much could my own energy be better spent creating more work that I’d be proud to leave behind – like he did.

He forced us all to feel good. To change what we didn’t like in ourselves. To focus on being better, doing more, making waves wherever we went.

Life is too short, he reminded us.

Josh Haddon lost his battle and lived just three decades. But in his absence he leaves festivals, a comedy club, a book, and an influence on an entire community in Canadian comedy that will hold him on a pedestal long after he’s gone. He’ll live on, every time a comic takes his stage. Every time a new patient faces their diagnosis, and finds their inner fight in the pages of his book. Every time one of us sprints downstairs at the Quarry, and almost loses an eye to that statue of him that a fan donated!

He’ll be remembered in comedy clubs and green rooms and hospital beds across this country. And his name will be spoken proudly by every comic who was lucky to have crossed his path.

I’d say that’s a life well lived. We could all aim to do half as much as he did.