Whenever anybody—without warning and for no apparent reason—dies way too young, the living react with incomprehension at the senselessness of the universe, and little reverence for the mysterious ways in which God or nature allegedly moves.
That is doubly true in the case of Timmy Wood, a 32-year-old New York comedy writer and improv performer whose body was discovered last weekend in the Brooklyn home he shared with Julie Gomez, his wife of five years.
While the cause of death hasn’t been disclosed, with the results of an autopsy pending, his friends suspect undiagnosed heart disease, an illness that apparently ran in his family.
Model-handsome and athletic—with a luxuriant, glossy beard and dark, piercing eyes that gave him the look of a Henry James character—Wood was full of life.
“It’s just tragic and crazy, and it still doesn’t feel super-real,” Wood’s friend and artistic collaborator, AJ Patton, told The Daily Beast as he prepared to take part in a memorial tribute Thursday night at The Upright Citizens Brigade, the sketch comedy mecca in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood where Wood was a fellow cast member and Gomez is a producer.
“Timmy wouldn’t have wanted a funeral,” said UCB creative director and comic filmmaker Todd Bieber, a close friend of both Timmy and Julie, and an organizer of Thursday night’s memorial performances. “He was such a joyous person. We joke he would never get angry ever. Being sad is not something we associate with him.”
So many of Wood’s admirers wanted to come to the Thursday night event—more than a thousand—UCB had to run a lottery to seat the audience in its relatively small theater, and accommodate the crowd with three separate performances.
Wood’s widow and UCB colleagues have also started a Timmy Wood Comedy Memorial Fund, which as of Friday morning had raised more than $39,000 toward supporting talented comedians with small grants that will help them to take time away from their necessary day jobs to hone their skills and pursue their artistic ambitions.
“This thing is insane,” Patton said. “People are incredibly heartbroken.”
“This came out of nowhere—most of us are still in shock about it,” said Funny or Die News head writer Nate Dern, UCB’s former artistic director. “We’re thinking we’ll wake up and it would just have been a bad dream.”
Wood wasn’t famous or widely celebrated, but he was deeply loved and respected in “the community,” as the people who do comedy in New York tend to think of themselves, and the grief at his sudden loss is especially anguished at the UCB, an institution that launched Amy Poehler, Horatio Sanz, Zach Woods, and Kate McKinnon, among other stars—and might have done the same for Timmy Wood. “He was not someone who was a household name, but he was on the verge,” said Bieber. “He was high-energy, boisterous, just magnetic…and he had a love for the absurd, high-energy comedy which made him such a unique and fun presence at the theater.
“There was something subtle, but absolutely in-your-face, about how he presented his comedy and himself.”
Wood was talented enough to join UCB’s national touring company, performing on college campuses among other venues.
“Timmy had the journey of any comedian: He moved to New York and took a barista job: Comedy touring pays shit, so you have to have a regular job,” Bieber recalled. “About seven months ago he booked his first full-time writing comedy job, for an app called Poncho in which he wrote jokes about the weather, and in the last two weeks he got promoted to head writer. It was not a prestigious writing comedy job by any means, but it was that first fucking job.”
Wood’s crazed, zany stage presence in “The Hype Squad,” a riotous sketch that he wrote and performed with Patton, in which the two of them enacted stupid human tricks with near-religious zeal, was emblematic of his uncompromising allegiance to being goofy.
“One of the things that comes to mind is how committed he was, and that was true both offstage and onstage,” said Dern.
“Some comedians are kind of cynical and sort of detached, and if an improv isn’t working, there’s a tendency to want to bail and wink at the audience as if to say, ‘Yeah, I know this isn’t great either,’ and give up on the scene and be too cool for school.
“Timmy never did that. When he was performing he brought total commitment to whatever he was doing. He made you believe whatever silly character he was portraying, doing really silly things, and he was completely just a delight to watch.”
The experience of performing with Wood “was electric,” AJ Patton recalled.
Wood grew up in Texas and met Julie in the theater program at the University of Houston.
In one show he danced in a scene she choreographed, but, as the story goes, she was irked that his balletic exertions were consistently greeted with audience laughter—not what she’d intended. She swore she’d never date him.
He took her vow as a challenge.
“I think he had to chase her,” Nate Dern said, noting that Timmy followed Julie to New York. “They were so clearly in love. In a group of people who seemed to be stuck in arrested development, putting off adulthood, getting married and having kids, we looked up to them.
“They were a model married couple. We joked that they were the ‘It Couple’ of the comedy community. But it was also true. Everyone loved Timmy and everyone loved and respected Julie.”
According to friends, Timmy and Julie were so consumed by their careers and dedicated to each other, that they weren’t planning on having children.
Indeed, Wood went under the knife for a vasectomy, and when he died, they were in the middle of making a light-hearted documentary about his surgery, with the theme being how the man in a relationship can take on the birth-control responsibilities too often saddled on the woman.
Wood was a standout in other ways as well.
In a line of work populated by people who mine their funniest material from their own psychic damage, depression, anger, fear, and feelings of inadequacy, “Timmy was the antithesis of that,” said his friend and fellow comedian Timothy Dunn. “He would walk up to strangers and give them a hug, and make everyone feel good. He was warm and generous with his praise of other comedians.”
UCB colleague Ben Wietmarschen emailed that Wood “was truly as warm and enthusiastic and sincere an acquaintance as you could possibly have in New York City…To the comedy community, it felt like he was a pure distillation of some of the major qualities we value: Willing to get excited about funny dumb ideas and immediately take them way too seriously and way too far. And more than anything, I personally experienced how he was so willing to assume the best of the person he was talking to, whether he knew the person well or not.”
At Christmas, Bieber revealed, Wood dressed up as ‘Del Claus,’ a combination of Santa Claus and [the comic and UCB teacher] Del Close, and organized a gift exchange between 300 people.
“There is such a big community at UCB, with younger comics coming through and older comics who’ve been around, that not everyone knows each other,” Bieber said. “Timmy would organize this gift exchange so people could just connect.
“He also orchestrated this thing called the UCB Novel, in which young comedians, famous comedians, old comedians, would write a page of a novel, but only by looking at the page previous to theirs, so it became this absurd story that made no sense. He was such a connector.”
Dern—who befriended Wood around five years ago, not long after the Texan arrived in New York and worked a series of odd jobs to sustain his artistic ambitions, including stints brewing coffee, making crepes, even a daylong gig as a Ralph Lauren model for an advertising spread—had a similar impression.
“Everyone in the whole community only got positive feelings from him,” Dern said, noting that this quality ran very much against the comedy-biz stereotype. “He loved art and he loved to create, and he loved the stuff that other people did, and he was really good at lifting them up. So many comedians get bitter and jealous when you get success. But Timmy would be really excited about it. He worked really hard, and he made sure he showed gratitude to other people working hard, too.”
Dern added: “He was one of those guys that if he walks into a room, you’re happy that he’s there. If you show up at a party and hardly know anyone, you know you’re going to have a good time if Timmy’s there. You’re going to have at least one friend there. Timmy made everyone feel like that.”
Bieber, by the way, pointed out that Wood’s modeling gig was a one-shot deal: “Timmy was never exactly a model. He got stopped in Williamsburg last year by a recruiter from Ralph Lauren. He was a fucking handsome guy. And he appeared in a spread for them. He had no passion or interest in modeling, I think he did it for the story more than anything.”
Wood, according to friends, accepted people and things on their own terms and with an open mind, while others reflexively turned up their noses.
“He wasn’t jaded,” Bieber recalled. “He would watch things with such joy. He’d appreciate the most inane stuff. He would put forward a very convincing argument as to why Kim Kardashian was an extremely brilliant artist. And you’d end up saying, ‘That’s a valid point.’”
Along with his wife, Wood was a ravenous consumer of novels and a devoted movie buff—favorite film: Silence of The Lambs—and gorged on popular culture, a pleasure denied him when he was growing up in a strict, conservative Christian household where his father was a born-again Pentecostal pastor who preached against the evils of worldly temptation.
AJ Patton, who grew up in a similar Christian conservative family just outside the college town of Ann Arbor, Michigan, said he immediately connected with Wood three years ago when they met in a UCB improv class and did their first seat-of-the-pants sketch together; Patton played a Pony Express rider encountering Wood as a grizzled old newspaperman.
Neither man retained the religiosity they were raised on, and in one of their “Hype Squad” routines, Patton performed supposedly amazing feats, such as shattering cinderblocks with his bare hands, while Wood jumped in the air like an ecstatic televangelist, repeatedly proclaiming Patton’s pointless accomplishments as proof of “the power of Christ!”
“Timmy and Julie did everything together,” said Dern, so it was a sad irony that she was out of town when he died, in Arizona for a bachelorette party, said Bieber.
When Julie had trouble reaching him, “her wife’s intuition told her something was wrong,” said Patton, and she asked a friend to check in on Wood; thus the shocking discovery in Brooklyn.
“Timmy was good, people feel like we’ve got to shine a little brighter now,” Patton said, reflecting on his friend’s legacy. “It’s so easy to be cynical and find humor in that, but he was this positive and amazing person who wanted everyone to share in that excitement about life. Now it’s up to all of us.”