Who Is Drake Sather?

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Trawling YouTube is a weekly look at one interesting story or oddity from YouTube. You ever go down a YouTube rabbit hole and suddenly you’ve wasted five hours watching every Madonna video? This is about those rabbit holes, but the comedy-related ones.

Here’s a fun little ethical dilemma: a comedian kills himself. You hear that before he shot himself in the head, he placed funny notes around his house with arrows leading to his body. Do you try to ask around to see what the notes said? You know, what if they were like really funny?

That’s what Drake Sather did when he committed suicide in March 2004 (according to an off-hand remark Marc Maron made in a 2015 episode of WTF that I have no reason to not believe). Here is everything else I know about Drake Sather: he wrote Zoolander (like, really wrote it, including creating all the memorable stuff like “blue steel”), he was nominated for an Emmy for writing on The Larry Sanders Show, and according to a radio interview from 2006 Louis CK was masturbating in a hotel room when he got the news that Sather had died and then had to finish “before [he] could properly grieve.”

Apparently Sather was a very beloved member of the LA comedy world in this era when blogging was just catching on. Here’s a post about him on Margeret Cho’s official website. And when Zoolander 2 came out a few months ago, Esquire ran this interview with Ben Stiller about the challenges of making a sequel to that movie now that Sather is dead. When you read between the lines of all these tributes, you realize his suicide was driven by some kind of divorce/family issue, so probably best to leave that part of his life alone. The whole notes thing doesn’t seem quiiiite as funny.

Another thing about Sather, now that we’re talking about it, is that the last project he was working on was a Mr. Ed remake that apparently was really bad and he was just doing it for the money and felt shitty about it. That’s another aspect of his life that is pretty starkly tragic. Of course there is no redeeming value in implying that that’s a legitimate worry and that artists should feel shitty about doing things like making TV shows about a talking horse. No, there is absolutely no virtue in having artistic integrity. A waste of time! Sather was obviously very sick!

Anyways, here are some videos of him doing standup:

The Louie story above comes in the context of a radio discussion about the disproportionate number of comedians who kill themselves. This is pretty obviously true, to the point where comedian suicides can almost be categorized into recognizable subgenres: Robin Williams the sad clown, Richard Jeni the success who feels like a failure, when Doug Stanhope finally kills himself it’ll be almost an extension of his I’m-the-darkest act. Sometimes it’s shocking or counterintuitive when a comic dies, like Robin Williams — his act was so loving and human, you’d never expect him to be able to even consider suicide. Sometimes there is some tragic coherence there: Jeni is a super-neurotic who gets more and more paranoid that he’s a fraud until one day he tells his girlfriend “I’ll be right back” then shoots himself in the bathroom. Sather is harder to pin down. In these clips, he does have some wry sarcastic quips about death (“Eternal life, but it’s with a bunch of Jehova’s Witnesses? No thanks.”) But is he “fixated” on it? If so, pretty much every comedian I know is “fixated” on death.

Sather really is an anomaly here, and I think that has a lot to do with his style of standup. He does what I like to call two-liners: flitting from topic to topic doing a few jokes on each without getting too deep or serious about any single one. Sometimes there seems to be something more serious going on under the surface (“Jehovah’s Witnesses”), most of the time he’s kind of being a sarcastic dick (“45 minute limit at Burger King? But I like to finish my burger and then lounge around on all that comfortable furniture!”)

In any case, his story is extremely tragic, like every suicide. But his is maybe the one modern high-profile comedian suicide that hasn’t been discussed ad infinitum on podcasts and blogs. So it’s still kind of mysterious and interesting. He’s like a cool, indie comedian suicide. The comedian’s comedian suicide.

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