A photo of Martin Manley, a Kansas City sportswriter who blogged about his suicide.

“My mom said I was always a happy baby.” The Suicide of Martin Manley

[This post obviously deals with suicide. Do not read on if the subject makes you uncomfortable.]

Martin Manley killed himself.

This in and of itself isn’t so unique. Thousands of suicides happen without much notice. Manley was a public figure, a former sports writer for the Kansas City Star and editor for the website Sports In Review. However, what makes his suicide bizarre is that he created a website (no longer active; going to the URL now could subject you to a virus) to explain his reasons for his actions. The final thing he wrote was a post for SIR.

In his final post, Manley explains:

The reason for my departure is 100% within my ability to control. You see, earlier today, I committed suicide. I created a web-site to deal with the many questions a person would rightfully have. It’s called martinmanleylifeanddeath.com. It went live today. In my opinion, there is no question which you could conceivably ask that I have left unanswered on that site. My goal with this post is closure for SIR.

Martin Manley shot himself in front of a police station. His final post touched on some of his reasons, but mostly he seemed to just want to put everything in order. The website he created was split into 2 categories, ‘Life’ and ‘Death.’ I won’t try to summarize or pull quotes. There was too much there to be crammed into a single blog post. The man laid bare his entire existence, from beginning to end, and if people are interested, there are mirror sites where people can still read his writings.

martin manley


There are two reasons this story caught my eye (besides for the sensational angle of it):

First, he was from Kansas. He says that he lived in Topeka and then moved to Overland Park. Both of these cities are about 30 minute drives (in opposite directions) from my hometown of Lawrence. While I haven’t lived in Kansas in years and I was never one to read sports stories in the newspaper, I have to imagine that I have a lot of friends and old acquaintances that were familiar with this man, maybe even regular readers.

Secondly, there was something he wrote in his Pictures section of the site:

These are pictures of me when I was around one. My mom said I was always a happy baby. It seems odd to me that would be the case considering I’m not sure I ever really learned what happiness was as an adult.

Emphasis mine. That really stuck out to me, because my mother has said the same thing of me. She says I was her “sunshine baby.” This has always struck me as odd because for as long as I can remember, I have dealt with depression. I’m sure for anyone who has dealt with lifelong depression it’s hard to remember a time when you could be roundly described as “happy.”

If this story blows up, and it likely will because of its odd, viral nature, it will almost certainly spur a conversation on suicide. I hope it does. But if the comments on related articles are any indication, the conversation may get buried in dross. As soon as a public suicide hits the internet, the opinions start flying: People should be allowed to kill themselves. People who commit suicide are idiots. Only God can help you fight depression.

Everyone brings their preconceived ideas to the topic and nothing of importance ever gets discussed. The conversation takes bunny trails off into topics such as “Is depression genetic?,” “Is suicide wrong?,” and “Is there a God?” Personal agendas get brought in and pretty soon no one is talking about what really matters: How do people who have suicidal thoughts cope?

There is no single answer for everyone, and I don’t feel like getting into my personal beliefs on the topic. (I’ve done so elsewhere.)

It’s that phrase that keeps coming back to me: “My mom said I was always a happy baby.” We all have loved ones in our life and we think we know them, we think that we know what they’re capable of. Part of the reason that suicides so often take us by surprise is that most of us pride ourselves on being perceptive, at least when it comes to the people in our lives.

The TV show House M.D. had an episode where a main character committed suicide. At the time, there was considerable online chatter about whether it was just for shock, many arguing there was no hint that the character was going to do it. But, as unexpected as the episode was for me, it also struck me as incredibly true. My own personal experience of suicide was with someone who I (and, I imagine, most of the kids who knew him) thought was the happiest, most well-adjusted person.

I wasn’t familiar with Manley. I’m sure as people unpack his website and his backlog of articles things will come out that will make his suicide “obvious” and easy to predict in that perfect 20/20 hindsight sort of way. And maybe he had hinted at it to his readers for a while, I don’t know.

But the broader truth is that suicide isn’t something we usually can predict, especially not with our loved ones. There are those who display early warning signs, but for every person on suicide watch, there is a ‘happy baby’ who takes their families and friends by complete surprise.

I think what Manley was trying to do (what the writers of House were trying to do too) is bring this difficult conversation to the forefront and get people talking. Your opinion on Manley’s actions are irrelevant. It happened. Where do we go from here?


If there is any one person in culture having this conversation the right way, it’s the stand-up comedian Maria Bamford. She talks openly in her routine about her Bipolar Disorder and suicide. One of her best bits is called “Stigma” and you can listen to it on Spotify. I can tell you that for someone with depression, it is one of the funniest, most cathartic comedy routines I have ever listened to.

I don’t know if society will ever be capable of taking on this topic in a way that doesn’t fall back on preconceived judgments and fears, but I hope that if anything positive can come out of Manley’s death, it will be a willingness to look at this subject with fresh eyes.

Let us not hide from this.

“So You’re Offended, So Fucking What?”

~ Stephen Fry

Let’s skip the foreplay: Once again, a comedian has gotten themselves into trouble for a bit he did in his stand-up. This pretty much happens every other week. Offense was taken, the internet has thoughts. Here are mine.

Daniel Tosh (of Tosh.0 fame, though he was doing far better stuff before that) was making some rape jokes at a show, a woman got offended and interrupted his set, and then Tosh started aiming the jokes at her. You can read her account (or really, a friend’s transcript of her account) here.

This woman’s personal experience is her own, and I have no ill will towards her. I just don’t happen to agree with her assertion that, “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!”  Because, actually, sometimes they are. I mean, I laugh at rape jokes. Not every one. A rape joke is like any other kind of joke: If it makes me laugh, I consider that funny.

(Edit – For the record, even though I don’t believe this should have to be said, I’m going to say it: I don’t think rape is funny.  I think it’s horrific and should be punished.  But humor helps take away the power of horrible things. It’s a common refrain among Jewish comedians that they are so prevalent because, in their culture, they used humor to help get through the atrocities they faced. Humor is good. Dark humor is healing.)

I laugh at racists jokes. I laugh at dead baby jokes. I laugh at “The Aristocrats” (like, a lot). Louis C.K. has called his 3-year-old daughter an asshole and I have laughed uproariously. You know what all of those items have in common? They’re jokes. If they don’t make you laugh, it almost certainly says more about you than it does about the joke or the comedian telling it.

Comedy is a hard thing to talk about intelligently (even though I’ve attempted it in the past) because perhaps more than any other art form, it really does stretch the limit of subjectivity. Laughter is so involuntary and so powerful that it’s pretty much impossible to share or explain. If you’ve ever tried to retell a joke or explain one of those “You had to be there” moments, you know what I mean.

This woman’s response to Tosh’s material was her raw emotions, and that’s just as real as laughter. She has every right to feel that way. But, while I can’t defend Tosh’s response to her (though I’d have to have been there to form a real opinion), I still find what this woman did to be annoying because her actions were pointless (if people are laughing at a joke, you saying the joke isn’t funny is clearly incorrect) and basically just a way for her to act morally superior. If she was truly offended, the best thing she could have done was stand up and leave. Lecturing the comedian, and by extension the crowd who was there to see him, is ridiculous.

But what I find most obnoxious about this whole kerfuffle is that a site like Boing Boing picked up the story and is using it to seethe with moral indignation.

Take your offense and shove it

Here’s what bothers me: Taking offense. Taking offense and expecting other people to share your offense. Taking offense and expecting other people to share your offense, and if they don’t pretty much labeling them reprobates.

I will not be offended. Not for you, not for myself, not for anyone. Offense is a meaningless reaction. It’s completely reactive, never proactive. It says nothing about the offender and everything about the offended. 

What really grinds my gears is that people who get offended rarely care about other people’s offenses. The people who are offended by Gay Pride parades cares little about who their religious protests offend. People offended by graphic anti-abortion signs have no problem with overtly sexual works of art in public. If you’re offended, it’s the end of the world, but if your ideological opponent is offended, they’re just too sensitive.

Hypocrisy, offense be thy name.

I’ve seen Boing Boing stand up on behalf of groups and belief systems that other people would find offensive. For the most part, the site tends to lean pretty liberal, which means that by the very nature of having an opinion on anything, they are going to offend someone. Do they apologize every time one of their articles ruffles feathers? I hope not. If you’re going to take a stance, don’t be a chickenshit about it. But at the same time, if you’re going to be someone who is willing to offend, don’t expect people to care when you’re offended.

This goes for religion, politics or personal beliefs as well. If you’re offended, so fucking what?*

Get over yourselves. Get over your offense.

Offensive Comedy

The best comedy offends. At least, that’s my opinion. You might not agree if you find Reader’s Digest’s “Laughter, The Best Medicine” section to be the height of comedy, but otherwise let’s just all accept that comedy is largely about making light of real life which is, for the most part, miserable. We joke to feel better, and much of the humor comes from taking a serious subject and undercutting it with humor.

It’s understandable if a rape victim doesn’t find a rape joke funny. I wouldn’t expect a 9/11 widow to guffaw at a 9/11 joke (although, maybe she would).  Individuals for personal reasons may find certain types of jokes distasteful. I get that. At the same time, there are people who face their horrific past with humor. I had a generally fucked up childhood, so what do my siblings do when we get together (other than drink and fight)?  We joke about it.

There is no one-size-fits-all for comedy, and I’m tired of self-righteous bloggers and pundits trying to make it so.

If you don’t want to hear rape jokes, don’t go to a comedy show without checking out the comedian ahead of time.  Because I hate to break it to your virgin ears, but rape jokes are pretty popular. Off-color is the new black. Perverse humor sales, and for good reason: perversity offers a unique and enlightening perspective on life. Stand-up comedians don’t tell knock knock jokes, get used to it.

There are genuinely funny comedians who do pretty safe material, but even the nicest comedian will offend someone.  Because people are pussies. You, you are a pussy.

So stop telling me what jokes are funny.

P.S. I know a lot of Tosh’s fan-base are annoying frat boys and Bros, but for all you people claiming he isn’t funny, keep in mind he has at least one pretty solid supporter:

*Only one thing offends me: Willful stupidity.

Have you ever heard the one about…


(I’m letting you know early, just so you’re safe, you precious flower.)

The recent brouhaha over at NBC concerning The Tonight Show (with Conan O’Brien; as it should be) and the absolute fail that is/was The Jay Leno Show has me contemplating one of my favorite art forms: Stand-Up comedy.

First off, if you don’t know about the Jay Leno/Conan O’Brien mess, let the funniest guy in Late Night explain the situation:

Note:  When I say funniest guy in Late Night, I’m not counting the Comedy Central Duo of Awesome that is Stewart/Colbert (2012!), because they are their own beast.

Comedy is a subjective thing, obviously.  Personally, I find Jay Leno to be fairly dull, with a monologue that is a solid 10-15 minutes of sliced unfunny in toasted boring bread.  But, okay, I get it, for some people he’s the bee’s knees.

Those people are wearing adult Pampers.

I’m just playing, you can like whoever you like.  Unless that includes Carlos Mencia.  Then you’re probably your own uncle.

I love comedy down to my core.  I pathetically don’t have the balls to do stand-up myself (maybe one day, if I’ve free-based enough heroin), but watching live stand-up comedy is one of the best experiences you can have.  The first stand-up comedian I ever saw in person was Lewis Black, way back in the day (I got his autograph!).  Later, in my college years, one of my brothers did stand-up for some time, so I had regular viewings.  Then, when I moved to SoCal, my roommate and I would go see Daniel Tosh all the time at the Improv.  If you’re unfamiliar with Daniel Tosh, let me introduce you.

(If you aren’t tracking down more of his comedy right now, then we probably don’t have similar senses of humor.  That’s okay, I’m sure your parents are to blame.)

Continuing my personal journey with stand-up:  When I moved to San Francisco, one of my roommates was an Australian pothead who fancied himself a stand-up comedian.  Trying to be friendly with the new roomies, I met him and his girlfriend at one of his gigs (if you need to picture this couple, think of a couple so horrific, the Jerry Springer show would have deemed them too depressing to put on TV).  In the process of warming up for the show, this momentously unfunny man, let’s call him Larry the Cable Guy, got himself plastered.  When his time finally came, Larry went up to the stage, angry that he had to go on so late, drunk as Bukowski at a wedding and too Australian to make any sense.  In a 5 minute tirade of what was presumably supposed to be jokes, the only intelligible words were a smattering of ‘fuck’, ‘cunt’ and ‘Jerry Seinfeld’ (yeah, I don’t know, either).

It was funny in the same way that videos of guys on pogosticks nutting themselves are funny.

Stand-up comedy, to me, is the rawest form of performance, and for that reason I have a healthy mix of admiration and astonishment for those who get up on stage and risk all levels of humiliation on the assumption that the funny voices in their own head might amuse other people.  I have many favorite comedians, most of which could never headline an ABC sitcom because their material is bit too, as they say, blue.

For instance, there is the king of wrong:

Louis C.K.

This clip may actually be the perfect summation of his comedy, because it’s awkward and wrong and filthy and bizarre and yet so so smart.  I’m surprised to be typing this, because I have so many favorite comedians, but I think Louis C.K. is my all time favorite, the person who most perfectly fits my sense of humor.  If you haven’t heard me make this kind of joke, it’s because I don’t think you can handle it.

Dave Attell

This guy kind of looks like my oldest brother, so there’s the family connection.  Plus, this guy can take a completely ridiculous idea and make you follow it as if he were just telling you a story about going to the grocery store.  I’ve been a fan of his since he hosted Insomniac on Comedy Central (now that was a kickass show).  He drinks too much and will fuck anything that moves.  Essentially he’s a writer in the body of a comedian.

Sarah Silverman

This isn’t her best clip.  Not even close, but I like it for the shot of Laura Dern looking particularly uncomfortable.  Sarah’s comedy  has the amazing ability to not only be unfunny to certain people, but to make them ferociously angry.  She made fun of Paris Hilton (and I mean, come on, talk about an easy target), and people flipped out (as if anyone would give a guy shit for making the same jokes).  Some people just fucking hate Sarah.  Maybe it’s because of how sexual she is in her jokes, maybe it’s because she says absolutely terrible things (some of which some people like to label ‘racist’), but I think it comes down to this:  People are shocked by a woman making the same kind of filthy, un-P.C. jokes that male comics make all the time.

These three comedians (and Daniel Tosh) are the comics who make me laugh every time, without fail.

I have many many more that can make me slap my knee (literally; when I laugh it’s a full physical reaction).

Jim Gaffigan, Zach Galifianakis, David Cross, Patton Oswalt, Eddie Izzard, Mitch Hedberg, Steven Wright (aka the original Mitch Hedberg), Maria Bamford, Dave Chappelle and on and on into the night.  I love stand-up comedians.  I miss having cable where I could watch Comedy Central’s Friday Night Stand-up, but thank God for the internet, because I’m never truly at a shortage for great comedy.

But I don’t just love the comedy, I’m fascinated by the personalities that do stand-up.  It’s no secret that comedians tend to be pretty fucked up people (again, like writers, but with better stage presence), usually with major depressive issues or other mental problems.  Watch the movie Funny People for insight (a movie that didn’t do very much box office despite being quite good; if you haven’t seen it, do, but don’t expect a comedy.  Yes, it’s funny, but in a very personal way.  It really is a drama that just happens to be about comedians).

That’s why I loved the new book, I’m Dying Up Here by William Knoedelseder.  It gives an entertaining and fascinating look into the comedians and club managers that made the comedy scene of the 70s into such a boon time (both Leno and Letterman are major players in the story, along with some of the greats who have long since fallen out of the public consciousness).  I can’t do the book justice here, but if you have even the faintest interest or respect for stand-up, this book will be well worth your time.

The book will also give you a lot of great insight into the history not just behind Letterman and Dave (which is mostly public knowledge and still very interesting in a Schadenfreude sense) but also the integral part that the Tonight Show has played in launching comedy careers.  It’s why I completely respect Conan’s stance to not tarnish the long running standard of the Tonight Show by pushing it back a half hour.  NBC is about to ruin a comedy institution.

Still, there’s nothing funny about talking about comedy, so I want to leave you with this.  It is a collection of comedians telling the greatest joke of all time, taken from the DVD extras of the documentary, The Aristocrats.  You know when people say stuff like, “I know we can be friends if you like this band or this movie”?  That’s what this movie is for me.  If you don’t laugh your ass off watching this incredibly dirty and fantastically insightful film, then… well, we can still be friends, but you probably wouldn’t want to be.

If we’re ever out drinking (and there’s no one around who will get their panties in a bunch), just ask me and I’ll tell my personal version of the joke that’s so good it got Jesus to raise from the grave just to say, “The Aristocrats!”