Remembering Darryl Lenox: "This is going to hurt, and I’m sorry"

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      By Chris Griffin 

      Vancouver comedy, Canadian comedy, and stand-up comedy in its purest sense lost a giant on Sunday. For anyone who knew him, or anyone who was pulled into his orbit for even a moment, whether while he was on stage or on some bar stool, Darryl Lenox was larger than life. He carried a magnetic aura that broke down personal barriers. On the mic, he provided a comedic experience unlike any other—part philosophical, part therapeutic, part inspirational, and always wildly hilarious.  

      Lenox, who died in hospital after a heart attack, had a career that spanned almost 35 years. His accolades and accomplishments included an appearance on Conan O’Brien’s Conan, his own episode of the WTF podcast with Marc Maron, his number one comedy album Super Bloom, and a segment on the This American Life podcast dedicated to him that reached millions of viewers.It was this last accomplishment he was most excited about because it was written by renowned author and professor Kiese Laymon, which led to award-winning author Caseen Gaines signing a book deal to write Lenox’s story.  

      The comedian couldn’t wait for the book to drop. He was back and forth to New York meeting with agents. He was ready to make the move back out there next year.  

      Originally from Las Vegas but having spent time in Seattle, Los Angeles, New York and Florida, Lenox considered Vancouver his home. Roughly half of his comedy career was spent living in his adopted country.  

      If you didn’t know Lenox, he was a physically imposing Black man who wasn’t afraid to make his presence known. Since childhood he was afflicted with a degenerative eye condition that would eventually leave him blind.  

      At some point early on in the pandemic, I was sitting with Lenox at his place the 45th floor of Telus Gardens downtown with an unimpeded view of the ocean and mountains. “Look at the view,” he’d boast, never having seen it himself.  

      After a couple of hours, and perhaps somewhere around his fourth Patrón shot of the evening, he slapped two hands on his granite countertop, leaned back, and said “The light went out yesterday.”

      For a moment, I looked up at the kitchen lights in confusion, but before I could say something dumb, I understood what he meant.

      Lenox had hung onto a sliver of sight for a number of years. The ever-closing portal for the last five decades had finally extinguished. He was prepared for this moment, but the weight of it was still significant. Still, he wasn’t going to let blindness stop him. And it didn’t. 

      “My blindness has overtaken my Blackness. People aren’t afraid of me like they used to be,” he would confess on stage.  

      It was true in practice. Strangers would wrap their arms around him within minutes of knowing him, spilling their deepest insecurities like they were old friends. If it was a female, Lenox might stop them with “Hang on one minute, I’m blind. Can you remind me how handsome I am?”  

      And they always would, much to his delight as he flashed his trademark pearly white smile, equal parts charming and mischievous. Then, he would ask them for their Zodiac sign. He would ask everyone, and he would remember it for life.  

      I’ve seen people come up after shows: “Hey Darryl, it’s Jenna. Do you remember me? We met in 2003 in Denver after a comedy show.” 

      “Yes!” Lenox would exclaim. “Jenna the Taurus. You had a toothache that day, and you still haven’t gotten over your high school sweetheart who dumped you when you were 19.”  

      His memory was impeccable, almost otherworldly, perhaps only outdone by his ability to consume vast quantities of tequila without any outward signs of drunkenness. The only indication he was drunk was that his usual boastful claims would become even more exaggerated: “I’m going to buy every comedy club in this country!”  

      “Okay Darryl, let’s start with this $300 bar tab first,” I’d say.  

      Once a fan gave him a box of 1996 basketball cards because he knew Lenox loved to play in his younger years. Lenox had me choose cards at random, and simply from the player’s name he would know the teams they played for, the college they went to, the position they played and roughly how many points they averaged. Every single card.  

      One night, prior to the pandemic, I had flown into Milwaukee to meet Lenox for shows. He always wanted me to come in a day early so we could run through my jokes and focus for the week. We’d usually spend that night at some bar where all the staff knew him and we’d drink and talk comedy until they were literally locking the doors to leave.  

      This night when I flew in, Lenox said he wasn’t up for hanging out, which to this day is the only time that happened. I didn’t think much of it. The next day we met for lunch and he told me that his first wife had taken her own life after years of struggling with pain.  

      It was the first time I’d seen him lost for words.  

      It was also the first time I was able to be there for him. He spent the hours before our show telling me stories of their time together. On stage he talked about it, as he was known to do with every traumatic event in his life.  

      He had the audience holding onto every word, some dabbing tears from their eyes with napkins, as he talked about love and loss, only to release the tension with booming laughter, his signature style.  

      Between his first wife’s death, the loss of his vision, and the end of his second marriage to his wife Claire (they both loved each other deeply despite the marriage not working out), Lenox was struggling. 

      I texted him one night: “I know you’re always out there for other people and they put a lot on you, but this is our time to support you. I need you out here to fight the good fight.” 

      He replied, “I know. I love you for understanding.” 

      In 2020 wildfires devastated California wiping out everything in their path, only to be followed by further destructive torrential downpours. From this perfect concoction of disasters, however, rose a super bloom, a phenomenon that produces an incredible flourish of vibrant flowers in the desert. Lenox drew the parallel to his own life, as he rebuilt after accepting his physical disability, heartbreak, and learning to rely on others for help.  

      The last show I did with Lenox was a fundraiser put on by comedian John Perrotta for two children afflicted with degenerative eye disease. Lenox had done it every year for the previous eight years. I asked the mother of the children, Christina Henderson, to provide some words:   

      Meeting Darryl for the first time was a moment I’ll never forget. I felt a sense of comfort, relief and inspiration as he told his story. Somehow I knew my kids, who are also suffering from vision loss, would be ok. A well-known comedian, top of his game, a man who has never met us, decides to do our charity event, and support Hendo’s Heroes and my family’s fight against degenerative retinal diseases causing blindness. It’s rare to find such a genuinely caring soul like that. We formed an instant connection. My family is so grateful to have met him and felt so lucky to have him in our corner. 

      Lenox challenged me that night to do a whole new comedy bit for the audience: “Take a risk Chris Griffin. Play big league ball. Be great.” I took him up on it and it went well. The next afternoon he texted me: “I’m very fucking proud of you.”  

      In 14 years of friendship he’d never said anything like that before. Perhaps he knew his time was limited. He did have a way of seeing the future. 

      News of Lenox’s sudden death sent shockwaves through the comedy community this past Sunday. I had spoken to him mere hours before it happened, and he was his usual boisterous self. I’m grateful I was able to do one last run of shows with him in Sarasota, Florida less than a month before his death at his favorite club McCurdy’s. We spent all seven nights bar hopping and eventually staying up at the comedy condo until 4am talking shit.  

      As much as I’ll miss Lenox, I don’t have any regrets about the time we spent together because we maxed out every moment we had with deep discussions, roasting each other, laughing endlessly, and talking big dreams all while J. Cole blasted in the background. D’s favorite rapper. They had the same birthday, January 28. Aquarius.  

      Lenox’s surgeon, before a procedure to extend his limited vision a few more years, said to him: “This is going to hurt, and I’m sorry.”  

      Making the decision to love someone is also accepting that at some point you may get hurt. Just as the light eventually went out on Lenox’s vision, the light is now extinguished on his mortal existence. But as everyone who knew Lenox will attest, his spirit was so much more than that. He wouldn’t want us to dwell on loss, but rather on the wisdom he imparted along the way—be vulnerable, be authentic, be exceptional, take risks, accept help.  

      If there is one lesson over them all I’ll take from Lenox, perhaps his best quality, it would be to listen. Everyone is going through something, and if you give them the space to say it, they’ll usually tell you.  

      Whenever I was with him, if I had something to get off my chest, he would listen intently, without interruption, to every detail. Sometimes he would offer advice. Other times he would rub his hand along his jaw, a huge grin growing across his face. And then say, “Man, you came all the way down here to tell me that dumb shit?”   

      (Chris Griffin is an internationally touring Vancouver-based stand-up comedian.)

      A Memorial and Celebration of Life will be held for Darryl Lenox on April 29 at the Butcher and Bullock beginning at 7pm. All are welcome.