Bob Lacey

When Bob Lacey was having a good day, his humor was buoyant, mischievous and irreverent. If he was having a bad one, his humor would get acerbic and more irreverent. Either way, his wit remained razor-sharp, his turnaround of a ready quip just as quick, and his eyes twinkled above his snowy beard when he shouted out greetings to old friends, which he made most acquaintances feel like. Above that beard lived Mr. Lacey's legendary sharp mind.

His resume readslike a who's-who and what's-what of comedy shows and competitions, comedians, publications, programs which he booked or wrote material for - and stunned people who aren't laughing in the face of his death. "He'd call me and say, 'I thought of a joke.' I wouldn't laugh, even if it was funny. I'd say, 'It's got promise,'" said Deb Durst, wife of satirist Will Durst, for whom Mr. Lacey wrote material. "He'd say, 'Someday I'm going to make you laugh.' Now, I wish the phone would ring. I'd actually laugh."

Comedy-club habitu/s across the greater Bay Area and beyond hail Bob Lacey as a fount of topical one-liners, a comedy devotee who spoke that language fluently, and for his smooth organizational savvy as an event producer. "He was always brimming with full life. Always looking for the next punch line," said Foster City comedian Dan St. Paul, who performed at the June 10 block party to benefit Cunha's Country Grocery employees - with entertainment coordinated by Mr. Lacey and featuring headliners The Tubes. "I think he tried to surround himself with (comedy.) By producing it, that was a way to be around it, and present it to everyone else. He loved it, he enjoyed the opportunity to pop up on stage, try a few jokes - that was always a thrill for him."

Coastside friends and associates salute Mr. Lacey as a man who lived life sometimes hard but fully, a comic genius with endless reservoirs of those crackling one-liners - and a ready community benefactor, poised to tap that energy and talent for the town he loved. "He did so much for the community, and very rarely would take money," said Mr. Lacey's fiancee, Diane Landis of Half Moon Bay. "Half Moon Bay was very important to him. He really loved it. I am so thankful that in the last few years ... he was able to express his talent (here.) It was what he always wanted to do." The couple had planned to marry in May or June at the Palm Springs home of Mr. Lacey's father.

"He could have used his talent all over the Bay Area and all over the state if he'd wanted, but he chose to keep close to the community," said Cameron Palmer, who worked for 20 years on the Pumpkin Festival Committee with Mr. Lacey. Furthermore, "He was a true friend and someone who could always lift your spirit if you got down. He could see the positive in almost any situation, (and) he did make you think, with the way he looked at the world."

This week, they all mourn Mr. Lacey, who died April 30 at Stanford Hospital a week after suffering a heart attack. He was 57. "I am going to sorely miss this guy," said Russell Bissonnette, commander of the American Legion Post 474 in Princeton, a favorite place of Mr. Lacey's. "I loved his mind for his quickness. He had a way of being so fast you almost didn't have to talk to him."

Mr. Lacey was born in Dayton, Ohio, on Aug. 11, 1946. His parents, Dr. John and Beatrice Lacey, were a scientific research team who are credited with findings in neurology that left an impact in psychophysiology. He grew up in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and Antioch College in Yellow Springs, which he left in 1968 just short of graduation to accept a position as a features writer with the Dayton Daily News.

He had visited California with his family as a child and, once he saw San Francisco, "never wanted to leave again," said Landis. Disliking the cold Ohio winters, he did relocate, first to Colorado and then San Francisco. He settled on the Coastside in the mid-1970s.

His multifaceted career emerged in 1975 with nationally known comedy team Rick & Ruby (Brian Seff, Monica Ganas), which he produced, directed, co-wrote and managed until 1993. He created their performance-art musical comedy "The Last Prom," which became an award-winning annual event with Robin Williams, PeeWee Herman, Dana Carvey, the Tubes and other luminaries. He began showing up in the San Francisco Chronicle, quoted literally hundreds of times in Herb Caen's column. Other writing credits over the following 20 years included monologue material for Jay Leno and "The Tonight Show," and "Dennis Miller Live!" on HBO, Golf Today and Just for Laughs publications as a regular correspondent, Reader's Digest and CompuServe magazines as a regular contributor, and others. His writings appeared in the Bantam Books anthology "The Great Escape" and television, radio and print advertising copy for major chains like Macy's and Emporium. He generously wrote standup material for special events and for comedians the likes of Robin Williams, Will Durst, St. Paul, Roseanne, Dr. Gonzo, Bob Sarlatte, and more. His subject matter was fresh and topical, said Sarlatte. "He liked the opportunity to write (special-event) material," like for the Cal-Stanford big game. "He was really good at topical material. ... We used other writers, but Bob, he was the best guy. A good guy, a clever guy." Mr. Lacey gave his barbs a well-crafted polish. "People don't realize, humor isn't magic," Sarlatte said. "It doesn't just happen. It is constructed, prepared, performed. He was a very good joke constructor ... a technically sound joke writer, based on facts." "As a comedy writer, Bob was very, very crisp," said St. Paul. "He didn't labor over a joke. He was able to edit it to its essence and make it very funny. Though he wasn't a performer, he was such a good writer, he was able to craft a good joke."

On the Coastside, Mr. Lacey booked entertainment for eateries including the Miramar Beach Restaurant, the former Frank Torres (now the Outrigger,) and Scott's Old Princeton Landing (which later dropped the "Scott's.") An old friend in those days was local fisherman Don "Ooga" Smith. "We'd encounter each other in some musical (event,) in some watering hole on the coast," Smith said. "He always made you feel good whenever you ran into him. He made you feel like you were running into an old pal."

In 1982, Mr. Lacey married his wife, Karen. The marriage continued for 16 years and produced a daughter, Alexis. Now 20, she lives with her mother in San Diego and is pursuing a career in nursing. In the mid-1980s, Mr. Lacey turned his talents to the Pumpkin Festival. For nearly 20 years, he booked nationally known and local headliners on the festival's three stages and as street performers. "Bob was a great friend," said Tom Rigney, fiddler for the Sundogs and Flambeau bands which Mr. Lacey booked on the south stage. "He was always straightforward, easy to work with." "He was as smooth as it gets," said Palmer. "He always came through." Filling those shoes won't be as smooth, Palmer said. "It's going to be extremely difficult," he said. "(Mr. Lacey's) connections (were) something you can't instantly create. He's built a lifetime of friends in the industry."

In 1986, Mr. Lacey became an associate producer with Mill Valley organization Fox Productions, which produces the San Francisco Comedy Competition. In this role, until 1990, he booked major and smaller comedy clubs from the Bay Area to Lake Tahoe. "I can't even begin to express how much of a loss this will be to me personally, (to) everyone who knows (Mr. Lacey), Half Moon Bay and the Bay Area comedy community," Jon Fox told San Francisco Chronicle writer Mark Simon. "I've never known a wittier, more positive man. "Bob was my soul mate," he sighed later. "He's irreplaceable."

Since the mid-1990s, Mr. Lacey had booked talent for the "Comics and Champs" golf benefit for the Boys and Girls Club of the Coastside. An avid golfer known to swing a club with Bobby and Barry Bonds, he emceed the annual Artichoke Golf Classic, and had been scheduled to emcee the recent "We Love the Coast" event too. "Whether being funny, or being poignant, or bringing us grand music, Bob did a lot of volunteering on the coast for nonprofits," said Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber of Commerce President/ CEO Charise Hale McHugh. "If you asked him to emcee, he'd be there. It was his way of giving back. He was always there."

In recent years, Mr. Lacey frequented the American Legion. "He's in there every day," said Bissonnette. "It's almost like he holds court there." Though a Son of the American Legion, Mr. Lacey found acceptance in the Legion's closely-knit community for his own sake. His natural bonhomie and the comedic flair behind his raspy voice gave him an entree among the veterans, who shared the bonds of their experiences and their own rough-edged humor. "He had this banter. The way he'd give it back to you," said Bissonnette. "They respected Bob for his mind. He was a quick, intelligent, sensitive kind of human being."

About four years ago, Mr. Lacey approached cartoonist and fellow comedy promoter Mark Hershon of San Francisco, whom he had known since the early 1980s, to produce cartoons for the Review. Through e-mail, they bandied ideas and developed cartoons. Starting from drawings, they progressed to photographs and realistic computer-manipulated photographic images. They leaned towards the topical, and with both offering complementary views, a creative symbiosis grew. "On any issue, one would be conservative, one would be liberal, we'd push against each other and come up with something of a broad appeal and a more neutral stance," Hershon said. "His sense of humor made it a joy to work with him." That work "flowed so easily," Landis said. "He loved 'seeing his name in bold.'"

Meeting Landis in 1999 marked a new tranquil period for Mr. Lacey. She loved cooking while he spent hours writing in his cozy office filled with files of cartoons and articles, or watched "The Apprentice," of which he was a devoted fan. He reveled in the online contest "This Joke's on You," in which a cartoon was supplied and contestants came up with snappy captions. "He was really a homebody," Landis said. "He loved to work in the yard. He was a soul mate, a best friend. That was Bob."

Mr. Lacey is preceded in death by his mother, Beatrice, who died in 2000, and his sister, Carolyn Turner, who died in September 2002. He is survived by his fiancee, Diane Landis, of Half Moon Bay, his father, John Lacey, of Palm Springs, his ex-wife, Karen Lacey, and daughter Alexis Lacey, both of San Diego, and two cats, "Clinton" and "Lewinsky."

A party to celebrate Mr. Lacey's life will be held at 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 6 at the American Legion Post 474, at 470 Capistrano Road in Princeton. It will be emceed by Sarlatte, and true to Mr. Lacey's wishes and lifestyle, will include live entertainment.

Bob Lacey Kept Them Laughing

Half Moon Bay Review, 5 May 2004


Stacy Trevenon