Please. Stop it. No. Don’t. A Funny man nearly breaks my funny bone. What he speaks on is deadly serious.
“So, I’d applied to be a police officer (it’s always been on my bucket list). I made the final round, and two detectives show up at the house, unannounced, to see what my home life is like, and I’m not home. Wendy (my wife) answers the door. They’re doing a background check on me after I passed the physical. They show her their badges.
Wendy says, ‘Look at this, two detectives at my front door first thing in the morning. Just like old times. Come on in!’
After they’ve walked around the house, they sat down and explained the job. Then the detectives tell Wendy that there’s a one million-dollar insurance policy on my life. Does she have any questions?
‘Yes. One million dollars?’
‘Yes. A million dollars.’
Wendy pauses. Thinks.
‘Does he really have to wear protective vest?’ she deadpans.
That’s my lovely wife.”
I was in pain. My sides hurt so much from laughing that I was hoarse. My throat hurt. My stomach ached.
Two solid hours of this.
Frank King is a professional comedian. You can tell. The above is a true story. I sat with Frank last night at a Starbucks in Springfield. We’d met when I attended the Cecil Phillips Bodybuilding Classic in Eugene, Oregon on June 24th. I watched him come across the stage, his slim but muscular body decorated with a bright red bow tie, a tiny pair of red competition shorts and nothing else. He sashayed on stage to Steppenwolf’s Born to be Wild, and showed off his muscles to the music.
First of all, anyone who knows anything about bodybuilding, especially in the all-natural world, knows how difficult it is to build any kind of size when you’re tall and thin. I’ve been at it nearly five decades and I still struggle to have size. What Frank has done is stupendous.
He’d always wanted to get into bodybuilding. And be a policeman. The latter didn’t work out. You can see why. A lot of other things did. They almost didn’t for lots of reasons, which is why I wanted to share Frank’s story.
However, if I may. You might have noticed in the top photo that Frank has a long latticework of stitches which replaces a regular tie down the middle of his chest. He tells people, while pointing to this long line of titanium railroad tracks, that he was delivered by Cesarean section.
Think about it.
I fell on the floor. Good thing I hadn’t eaten anything.
Frank’s “factory defect,” which he inherited from birth from his father, was that he was missing a key heart valve. His father passed away at forty from the same problem. Frank has had two aortic valve replacements, a double bypass surgery and had a heart attack.
And here he is on stage, posing down virtually naked in front of a crowd, at 64 .
A guy who on multiple occasions nearly decided to end it all a lot earlier thanks to Chronic Suicide Ideation. A number of people in his family did, in ways which would terrify anyone.
A lot of folks, including me, are very glad he changed his mind.
Frank is a guy who makes a living making people laugh while they deal with the macabre. He is also someone who has long dealt with suicide ideation, which is the macabre about which he speaks, and finds ways to make it funny. Frankly (pun intended) only those of us who have pondered suicide can appreciate the humor, if for no other reason than the pure relief that ultimately, at least for the time being, we have chosen life.
So did Frank.
Others can be deeply uncomfortable about the topic, which can all too often mean that the key signals are ignored, and nobody talks about it until it’s too late.
Frank’s work is to ensure that first, we aren’t afraid to discuss suicide, and second, we can read the signals, and third, we know what actions to take. This article is about Funny Man Frank who made me spit out my coffee at Starbucks.
Back in the eighties, he was married to his childhood sweetheart and selling insurance. Both were horrible deadends, and he knew it. Enough so that he was seriously considering making that dead end happen a lot faster if he couldn’t end the pain of being on the wrong train which was wrecking his life.
Happily for us, he ended his marriage, and his job. In 1984, he was at a grocery store watching a gorgeous blond Viking in a low-cut top put her groceries on the conveyor. That was all she wrote. He handed her a business card which read, Call me for a laugh. She did. They made a date.
When he walked into her apartment, which was at that time in a part of San Diego known for its gay and trans community, he wasn’t sure that this heavily- muscled, seriously gorgeous, eyelashed and makeup-laden beauty didn’t have a Crying Game surprise waiting. He said there was a “good chance she might have had either indoor or outdoor plumbing.” The evening went well, but not before Frank called his roommate at 11:45 pm —the roomie he had told to send the cops were he not back by midnight- and with Wendy standing right next to the phone, he said,
IT’S A GIRL!
Indeed, a beautiful girl with a squat rack with two 45-lb plates set up in her apartment.
That’s my lovely wife, he said again, smiling.
Frank had spent some two decades writing jokes for Jay Leno (you can tell).
Before that, he lived in the Carolinas, where he’d been born, raised and married that childhood sweetheart, selling insurance and dying on the vine.
Frank worked his way through radio, which was both a stunning and extremely brief success solely as a learning opportunity, cruise ship work and stand up comedy at clubs. That might seem exciting work until you speak to those who have done it. It’s anything but exciting, unless you discount the thrown beer bottles for flubbed lines, and trying to live on a very low income.
He’d taken his comedy on the road with Wendy in tow for 2629 nights. Not that anyone was counting. Frank had gone corporate, which for all comedians who have suffered the comedy club scene can argue is manna from heaven. Polite (sober..okay okay mostly) audiences. Big paychecks. Okay okay okay, much bigger paychecks.
When someone would ask him how he could justify being paid $5k for forty-five minutes of clean comedy- you’ve no idea how rare that is- he would tell the booking agent that it’s “comedy insurance”: At the end of the program I make sure the meeting planner still has a job.
Frank called it White Collar Comedy. He’d joined the Carolinas chapter of the National Speakers’ Association in 1995, which he credits with helping him learn how to run his speaking business.
They left North Carolina in 1997 just in time to get slammed by Hurricane Fran first (just to increase the motivation)and moved to San Diego because, well, “Life’s short.” And, because the lovely Wendy, she of the Olympic squat racks and Large Muscles, asked when the comedy club thing was over, could they please move back to San Diego? (or else?)
For a good long while life was good, the money came in and they settled into the SoCal lifestyle.
They’d bought a farm, then they nearly bought the financial farm when the 2008 recession hit them hard. He lost 80% of his business. They had horses, dogs, acreage, rentals, all purchased when things had been good, as had most folks. They lost pretty much everything, which hit Wendy even harder, being a horse lover.
At that point, Frank dealt with suicide ideation again. He had a great life insurance for $1m. He knew Wendy would be financially set. AND. He believed, as so many do when at this point, that he was a burden, the world and Wendy would be better off without him. Finally that we was worth more dead than alive.
I’ll bet more than a few of you reading this can relate. I sure can.
At one terrible low point, the barrel of his gun was in his mouth. He could taste the cold, bitter, metallic metal. The hard stop at the end of a bullet. The end of the pain.
But for Wendy, just the beginning.
AND. He had sold insurance. That stopped the trigger. He knew that there might be a suicide clause. He called his life insurance agent of many years, who read the signs. Long story short, he realized that his suicide would do more damage than good.
Frank recalls, “I didn’t want to leave her brokenhearted and broke.”
That for so many of us, when we choose a spark of fleeting sobriety in the midst of terrible pain, is what can so often save the day.
As serious as Frank can be about what can be — no pun intended- a deadly topic, he is the most lighthearted and witty person I’ve ever spent time with. I lost a brother to suicide eleven years ago, and have all too often considered it myself. When Frank strikes up casual conversations and answers the question “What do you do?” and he tells them, it’s remarkable how often people will go right to their barest truth. They too, have considered taking their lives.
There is a need for what he does, and how he does it.
Frank and Wendy moved to Oregon, where Wendy was from, and ended up out on the McKenzie in April of 2010.
These days, Frank is a Ted Talk coach. His clients usually get their first Ted Talk done in just two to four months, which is a remarkable record. He still speaks on suicide, an example of which you can see here:
Bodybuilding had always been on the bucket list, and instead of kicking his bucket, Frank fulfilled his dream. His first contest was in 2018. You can see where he is today with his work, how he has made fun of the Faustian demons that touched his family and almost took him.
The good news for me, and for those of us who have met or seen his talks, Frank’s wickedly dark humor and his ability to make sense of the senselessness of life have saved a great many more.
For my part, this delightfully funny man saved a lot more than just his life and his marriage. His willingness to make light of what is a heavy subject, face down his personal demons and be willing to help us laugh in the face of our own, are gifts.
The gift he gave to himself was to stand on stage in a tiny red bikini, flex his hard earned muscles and smile at us. Like he meant it.
He did mean it.