BWW Feature: Birmingham Artists Give Tribute to the Creative Life of J'MEL DAVIDSON

BWW Feature: Birmingham Artists Give Tribute to the Creative Life of  J'MEL DAVIDSON

Over this past weekend family and friends said goodbye to a bright young man with dynamic talent and gifted comedic wit. Birmingham's J'Mel Davidson was nothing short of a juggernaut of creative vibranium. He was a big guy with an even bigger ability to reach people with well crafted words and bountiful laughter.

J'Mel was a master storyteller with sharp and vast mental rolodex of references. He could pull facts from TV shows and films like it was nothing. We once discussed the scientific applications required for the car to do its 90 deg. turns on the 80's cop show 'Automan". If you got lost in that references, please buckle up, cuz its about to get worse. Google away. He could give dissertations on everything from the collected works of Tim Tommerson to Tim Conway. Bruce Campbell to Tobe Hooper, Riptide to Ren and Stimpy, Hanna Barbara to Liquid TV. Showtime After Dark to Amazing Stories. Michael Keaton to Michael Jackson. If you could remember or recite entire lines of dialogue from films, TV shows or obscure song lyrics. You could keep up in a conversation with J'Mel. He would always have a surprise bit of trivia to share for even for us boss level film nerds.

BWW Feature: Birmingham Artists Give Tribute to the Creative Life of  J'MEL DAVIDSON

I was privileged to see him perform improv with Torrential Downplay, Ugly Baby and the Extemporaneous Theatre Company (ETC for short). He was born with an abundance of gifts to be a writer and performer. His comically boisterous nature and quick, expressive character work was awe inspiring. He was gifted with natural comedic wit that people study for years to try to obtain.

Growing up he was an extremely creative child who loved going to movies. His sister Deidre Joy Carter shares her reflections on what made J'Mel so funny. "His sense of humor was unstoppable. Was he always a funny guy? Yes. One of the funniest things he'd do that would having me bent over from laughter was break dancing with his fingers and making up stupid silly songs."

In the few times I had the pleasure to perform improv with J'Mel its was electric. He would not leave you hanging if you got lost in a scene. I reached out to previous cast members from the troupes he was in to share their thoughts.

WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO SHARE THE STAGE WITH J'MEL?

BWW Feature: Birmingham Artists Give Tribute to the Creative Life of  J'MEL DAVIDSON

Chris Davis (Ugly Baby, ETC, Torrential Downplay) - "Doing improv with J'Mel truly felt like I was working without a net when onstage with him. His comedy mind was like an unpredictable high wire act! Even if you fell off the wire, he'd be there to catch you. He was all about making everyone look good and making the funniest scene he could. He could go from smart to crude to cryptic to smart to hilarious with ease. Being on stage with him was always fun and I was lucky to share it with him.

Billy Ray Brewton (ETC) - "EXCITED TERROR! That's what it was like for me to do improv with J'Mel. I would be so excited at the thought of getting to play a scene with him, but so terrified because I knew that ANYTHING could happen once he hit the stage. It didn't matter what you were doing or how you were doing it - J'Mel would enter, the energy would change, and God help you if you weren't on your toes because his improv talent did not suffer fools kindly.

Debbie Smith (ETC) - "The hardest part of doing improv with J'Mel was not laughing when you were on stage with him. He always brought his A game."

Mike Cunliffe (Ugly Baby, ETC) - You hear all the time about performers being "a force of nature" on stage. I didn't really know what that meant until I met J'mel. Imagine if the boulder at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark was made of the funniest comedy you've ever seen. That was J'mel. When I was lucky enough to perform improv with him, it took every ounce of skill I had keep up with him, because if you faltered just half a step, he wdould flatten you with his brilliance. That's not to say he wasn't a generous scene partner, on the contrary. Every line he offered to you was gold. If you allowed yourself to get swept up in his tornado, he would take scenes to places you had no idea existed until he opened his mouth and brought them into being. It wasn't just comedy, it was an adventure. He was absolutely fearless on stage, and no topic was out of bounds. It was the most freeing experience performing with him because you knew no matter what you offered, he would take it and run with it, adding to it something unique and brilliant and completely unexpected. He made me a better performer because in order to play with J'mel, you had to be at the absolute top of your game. Every single time. I will miss the gift of that.

Douglas O'Neil Jr. (ETC, Feminist Debutant Guild) - "J'Mel was an incredibly giving improviser. He would give you as much as you needed to find your footing in a scene, and if you froze up, he'd run through the whole thing himself an STILL make you look fantastic. I remember being in a scene with him in rehearsal during the torrential downplay days. It was a Star Trek scene, and it was, uncharacteristically for the two of us, going HORRIBLY wrong. In the middle of the scene, he dropped character, threw his hands in the air, and said, "Cut, cut, cut! This isn't working at all! [whirling on me angrily] Damn you, DeForest Kelley! Damn your dead hide! Get back in that CryoChamber! [shaking his fist] Get back in that..." At that moment, having overcome the shock of this turn of events, I turned into a space monster and growled at him. I swear to God, he then levitated in the air, wound up his feet like Fred Flintstone, turned and shot off the stage, screaming. It was beautiful. J'Mel could come out of left field with AMAZING stuff - he could completely throw you for a loop - and he would never let you fail in that moment. He was unbelievable in that regard."

BWW Feature: Birmingham Artists Give Tribute to the Creative Life of  J'MEL DAVIDSON

Sam Landman (Torrential Downplay) - "He once created a character called Johnny HauntedHouse for a project we were working on, who was a guy who could create fully-formed haunted houses out of thin air & throw them at people. He'd always talk about getting a tattoo, which was going to be a barcode that, if you scanned it, would pull up a Pee Wee Herman doll from 1987. When he was up in Minneapolis, he once saw a billboard for "Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels The Musical" & improvised an entire opening number in my car, complete with tap number he created with his fingers on the dash board (I still remember most of it). J'Mel opened up a vast world of comedy, music, comics & pop culture that a lot of us would never have been exposed to if he wasn't there to share them."

WHAT MADE J'MEL SO SPECIAL TO YOU?

Chris Davis - "He had a good heart and a big heart. Which meant it got broken sometimes but he persevered. He was public and open about depression. It was a part of him. Instead of shying away from it, he'd tame it and channel it into creativity whether performing stand-up comedy, improv comedy, writing a weekly column, stories, plays, screenplays or just shooting the breeze over sushi. Either way, he was sometimes funny, sometimes serious, and very often, thoughtful."

BWW Feature: Birmingham Artists Give Tribute to the Creative Life of  J'MEL DAVIDSON

Sam Landman - "Our local hangout used to be the bar at the Pickwick Hotel in Southside. We'd sit there and drink, people watch and write. He'd be working on a new screenplay and I'd be jotting down trivial names and references that I claimed I'd use one day when I actually wrote something. This went on for a long time. And one night J'Mel goes, "Sam, when you gonna stop writing junk down and actually start writing?" That really threw me. We all know J'Mel can be brutally honest. Even brusque. But I'd never had it directed at me before then. And it put a fire under me. Not long after that, I'd write my first one-act play. After that, my first screenplay. Now I make a living as a Copywriter. And none of that would've been possible if it weren't for that one night at the Pickwick Hotel bar with J'Mel."

Billy Ray Brewton - "His brain. I know that's broad, but it's most appropriate. His brain worked unlike any other person I have ever met. His knowledge was vast, his quickness was impressive to everyone who met him, and his sense of humor covered such a wide range that it was impossible to peg him into any one 'type' of anything. And that same brain was so unafraid to say or do whatever needed saying or doing. It was a fearless brain that refused to accept any limitations that his physical body might have been forced to entertain."

Douglas O'Neil, Jr. - "J'Mel was unabashedly honest. If what you brought to the stage was crap, he'd call it crap. I can't tell you how many times I looked at him in shock, and he simply shrugged and gave me a completely deadpan "sorry." He was also completely honest when he loved something - he would throw his head back and laugh his booming, open-throated laugh - usually clapping his hands and following up with exclamations of joy".

"J'Mel wasn't one for sugar-coating his opinions. He gave everyone the respect of his honest feedback - even if it hurt. The first time I ever independently produced a show, it was a J'Mel show. He brought the script, I brought the bankroll, and we did every bit of it together as equal partners. We were completely honest with each other, and when we disagreed, we worked it out as gentlemen. (I think we both walked away from that show with about $120.) I would never have had the guts to produce ETC's first run of shows had I not had that experience with J'Mel Davidson".

BWW Feature: Birmingham Artists Give Tribute to the Creative Life of  J'MEL DAVIDSON

These testimonials show just how much he touched so many us of in the arts in Birmingham. Back in 2014, Mike Cunliffe was directing his first feature film that he had written, "It Is What it Is". Mike had written a role in the film for J'Mel but sadly he was unable to commit to the shooting schedule due to his illness. Mike came to me and asked if I would be interested in taking on the role of Thorsby. I accepted and had a wonderful experience. I did feel sadden for jumping into a role he would of shined brightly in. Later on after the film premiered I bumped into J'Mel at an improv show. He boomed at me from across the room "Well there he is. The other "big black guy" in town that's getttin all my scraps"! As we laughed, he made me feel welcome. This was a true testament to his noble character. I admired J'Mel's tenacity. He was a writer and a brilliant performer. I will miss being able to share in the all joy he brought.

At the funeral, Sam Landman shared how the ending of a Simpsons episode had a profound effect on J'Mel. "It's the final scene from an episode called "Mother Simpson" from season 7 (episode 8, 1995). In it, Homer's mother leaves him for the second time in his life, as she flees from the law. As she's getting into a van, Homer says, "Don't forget me." She replies with, "Don't worry, Homer. You'll always be a part of me." Then she bangs her forehead getting in the van & goes "Do'h!" Homer watches her drive away. A sad orchestra swells. A harp strikes up gently. Crossfade to Homer sitting on the hood of his car, looking up at the stars. J'Mel loved this ending scene so damn hard. And I think that's because he knew that's who he was. A little guy dwarfed by the majesty and grandeur of the universe spread out before him, inspiring him to imagine weird wonderful worlds out of what he saw. A little guy who was essentially doing the same stargazing when it came to love, life and hope. That was J'Mel Davidson. And ultimately, that's all of us, too."

BWW Feature: Birmingham Artists Give Tribute to the Creative Life of  J'MEL DAVIDSON

J'Mel Davidson held a very special light. He was extremely giving and quick to talk or debate with great enthusiasm. He gave so much of that light to the world. He is a true testament to the power of laughter. His body may be gone. But his light still shines on. Just imagine what he can inspire now that he is up in heaven. Maybe Johnny HauntedHouse will get optioned by Marvel to join the Avengers? Just sayin...

Thanks for all the laughs J'Mel. Rest in peace my friend.

BWW Feature: Birmingham Artists Give Tribute to the Creative Life of  J'MEL DAVIDSON

A GoFundMe has been set up to aid his family in covering the funeral expenses for J'Mel. If you would like to pass on something toward the family, please click the link here. Your blessing is greatly appreciated.

https://www.gofundme.com/funeral-expenses-jmel-davidson

As I write this I can literally hear J'Mel's voice as Sally Brown reading her letter to Santa in "A Charlie Brown Christmas" - "send as many as possible. If it seems too complicated, make it easy on yourself: just send money. How about tens and twenties?" Even in death, J'Mel's wit still cracks me up.

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