SIOUX CITY | J. Medicine Hat, Siouxland’s star of comedy, died unexpectedly Monday at the age of 52. A tribute show is planned at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Chesterfield, 1225 Fourth Street.
The Lawton, Iowa-raised comedian was born Jent Monk, but as his career took off, he adopted his grandmother’s maiden name, Medicine Hat. She grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
Medicine Hat saw his first comedy show in Sioux City in 1982 and started right into stand-up, performing during open-mic nights at Kenny’s Komedy Korner. At the time, he was still working at a local slaughterhouse.
Garie Lewis, 49, of Sioux City, started out in comedy at the same time, performing at Kenny’s Komedy Korner, where he met Medicine Hat in 1983.
"He was driven. He wanted to be a comedian more than just about anything," Lewis recalled.
That dream was soon within his reach. By 1987, Medicine Hat had switched to doing comedy full time and his unique brand of hypno-comedy, a combination of hypnotism and stand-up, brought him praise as a comedic innovator.
"When he first became a hypnotist, I made fun of him. I called him a name you couldn’t put in the paper. But he was great," Lewis said.
According to the biography on his website, Medicine Hat's introduction to hypnotism came in 1994, when he performed as an opening act for a hypnotist. After the show, he poured all his funds into learning the art and performed his first hypno-comedy show 10 days later.
"I am the only comedian hypnotist who has added hypnosis after being a comedian," Medicine Hat told the Journal in a January interview. "Other people weren't funny. Their shows were clunky. I thought if I could do 15 minutes of stand-up and then get into the hypnosis bit people would really like it."
They did. He was named Showtime’s funniest person in Iowa and opened for Jerry Seinfeld, Dennis Miller, Sam Kinison, Roseanne Barr, the Beach Boys, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. He holds the record for most shows ever in one room at the FunnyBone Comedy Club in Omaha -- 2000 shows.
Medicine Hat came back for a performance at the Chesterfield in Sioux City on Jan. 14. Both shows sold out.
"If I had known it would be the last time I saw him, I would have razzed him more," Lewis said. "He told me he had had a stroke, but when he got on stage, all that passion just came out and he looked like he was the happiest man on the planet."
Lewis said both he and Medicine Hat had calmed down since they were first starting out in the 80s, but when Medicine Hat got on stage "it was just Monk at work, just like always."
"I’m going to miss him. Entertainment’s going to miss him. His shows made people happy, they just loved him," Lewis said.