Comedian John Pinette Dies at 50

When I read the news of the death of comedian John Pinette at just 50 years old, I felt very conflicted. After learning of some additional news about John, I feel even worse.


As a stand-up comedian, it seemed as if John based his entire career on his weight. I never knew until I read his obituary that he did excellent impressions. I’m sure his Vegas shows were far more broad than what we saw of him on television. He may have been best known for being the mugging victim mocked by the Seinfeld gang, landing them in prison for a violation of the Good Samaritan Law. George makes snide remarks about the fat victim being robbed of his wallet, “[The mugger is] doing him a favor. Less money for food.” John made jokes that many, myself included, believe would give fuel to fat shaming. Consider this bit:

“I live in Las Vegas. I’m a gambler so I go to the all-you-can-eat-buffets. I figure if I’m going to lose at the tables, I’m gettin’ it back at the buffet. I lose $1000 and I see a sign that says all you can eat $8.95? We’ll see who wins this hand. (John stands up from a stool and hoists his significant girth toward the audience.)  I do believe I have blackjack. I’m at the prime rib counter saying ‘Hit me again!’ I scare them too, I walk in, I kick down the door. (John yells) ‘I’M STARVING!'”

The routine conjures up an image of a hulking fat person, hell bent on gorging himself to the shock of everyone who will view an act of gluttony. I can just imagine people in Las Vegas seeing overweight people at buffets and making jokes about how they must be stuffing their faces to make up for gambling losses.

Comedians often base their work on their personal foibles and insecurities. Audiences respond positively to self-deprecating humor. John Pinette made fat jokes about himself but did he actually affirm and assert the shaming views that people want to believe about fat people? Would his audiences believe his jokes were only about him or would they think he was telling truths about overweight people?

In the days since his death, I’ve seen several obituaries and a few mentions on TV but NONE mentioned that John had actually completed a 200-lb weight loss just months ago. I only found articles when I tried googling for any mention of John’s actual weight. By mid-2013, he’d lost the weight and had plastic surgery for loose skin. He’d also reportedly had other unspecified surgeries which apparently took their toll. By August of last year, John entered rehab for addiction to the pain meds he’d been prescribed.

Just six months ago, John was here in Chicago on WGN’s morning show, talking about how his life and his performances would be changing. Click on the image to see the video:

I hadn’t seen John on TV in a long time. When I read that he’d had heart and liver disease, I wondered if his weight had hastened his death. I thought about how he devoted so much of his humor to fat jokes. The story is that he acknowledged that was what would sell. Obviously, he’d reached a point in his life when he wasn’t willing to be what the audience expected him to be anymore. He was starting to develop a new show titled “Call Me Slim.” He had cancelled a number of appearances saying he was “physically spent.” I could not find any information about how John lost weight or how long it had taken him. Did he crash diet and drop a lot of weight very quickly? Had he used an extreme or very unhealthy diet? Did he use any kind of drugs? Did something happen that scared him into thinking he had to lose a lot of weight in a short period of time?

I find myself feeling very sad that John had worked so hard to bring major change into his life and improve his health only to lose the battle right at the end. I know from experience that 2012 and 2013 were probably the toughest and most stressful years of John’s life. Had the weight loss been too late to revive his health? I will wonder if it was ultimately decades of serious overweight and attempts to lose weight that took their toll.

1 comment

  1. I just discovered John Pinette on Youtube and noticed his mastery as very worthy of further views. So I watched a view of his clips and realized I was watching a genius comedian. I stopped the video during his shows and saw how every few seconds his facial expressions changed to add dimension to his comedy. He resembled in some aspects (not just because he was heavy) Oliver Hardy, looking off to the side in a slightly perturbed manner after speaking a phrase. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. And so sad to see after looking at his bio that he is no longer with us. I would be tracking his live work if he were, and will hereonout with mixed feelings see all I can that was recorded and uploaded on the net.

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