Craig Tyler Smith jumped to his death from the Parthenon Towers building in Nashville, Tennessee the evening of November 5th, 2015. He was a comedian, an arborist, an artist, a father and a friend. Debbie Smith, Craig’s mother, says he had been to a doctor because he has been coughing up blood for months and had severe chest and back pain for the last week. Craig believed he had terminal lung cancer and, we assume, didn’t want to be a burden to his family while he withered away, suffering.
The intros for Craig Smith from emcees that knew him varied from “Satan’s favorite comic” to “a very special person.” One of the darkest and most prolific writers on the Nashville comedy scene during the early 2000’s, Craig’s persistent honesty and tales of absurdist reality set audiences up for something they didn’t see coming – laughter, even if in spite. He closed every show with the line, “See you in the future,” and you got the feeling he meant it.
After months of working out material as an active regular at The Bar Car open mic nights in Cummins Station, Craig’s first paid gig as a comic was on September 25, 2003 at Christopher Pizza on Demonbreun where he performed with Mary Mack and Chad Riden. Within a few more months he had opened for Neil Hamberger at The End, and began organizing and hosting two monthly events, the Native Engine Comedy Show at The End and NashvilleStandUp.com Presents at Hair of the Dog.
Smith also booked shows at Springwater, Edge Hill Studios, Radio Cafe (which was where Mad Donna’s is now located) and Exit/In. Craig’s contribution to Nashville StandUp can not be overstated. He created opportunities for comics while understanding the importance of promoting the community as a whole – always mentioning NashvilleStandUp.com from the stage and on his show fliers. Not only was Craig a pro-active leader within the DIY indie comedy show scene, he also got work within the comedy club circuit. He performed at Zanies Comedy Showplace in Nashville and worked as a house emcee at the Knoxville Comedy Zone, often booking and hosting his own shows there as well.
Native Engine was a well loved showcase style show where comics could do 10-15 minute sets in a punk rock environment, whereas most other comedy shows in town at the time were open mics where comics performed for 3-5 minutes. The Hair of the Dog shows from 2004-2005 were also important because of the show format. Craig hosted, doing time up front before introducing one of two comics booked for the night, who could then do whatever amount of time they wanted. Other than the ‘Truth Beauty and Goodness Coffee House’ shows in Ashland City, this was the only show comics could learn to pace themselves over a longer set and structure a half-hour or hour-long act.
On January 29, 2005, Craig recorded his Hair of the Dog performance and self-released a 50 minute album called, “Craig Smith’s Pre-Apocalypse Comedy.” Chad Riden introduced him that night saying, “I’m always excited to see this guy do time. He’s incredible. He’s one of my favorite comics. Honestly, he’s one of the most prolific and introspective and perceptive.. and funny.. just raw, funny guys I know.” Craig’s topics ranged from crack whores to Friedrich Nietzsche, touching on his marriage, his father’s death, racism, politics and a lot of silly stuff. Here’s a few excerpts:
“You know how people have those angels and devils sitting on their shoulders? My devil is a really, really fucking bad one. He got my angel strung out on hard drugs and he doesn’t come into work any more. So now, it’s just me and my devil hanging out, shooting dice, writin’ comedy.”
“I had a brainstorm the other day. Large areas of my brain were devastated. Hundreds of thoughts were left homeless. Motor skills were severely disrupted.”
“I was walking home the other night and it was so cold my right testicle actually had to slaughter a Tauntaun and take shelter in it until a search party could arrive. If you get that joke, by the way, you might be a little bit of a geek. For those of you who don’t know the Star Wars reference, a Tauntaun is like a space yak.”
“‘Accelerate your life, join the Navy.’ You think by ‘accelerate’ they mean ‘fast forward to the fucking end?’ ‘If anybody wrote a book about your life would anyone want to read it?’ Maybe not so much like Mr. Navy Seal over there but I’ll bet mine’s going to have a few more fucking chapters and some pages you might want to jack off to.”
Although Craig had booked shows at Springwater as early as June 2003 using the show name “Standup Commanche,” the first “Dive Laughing” comedy show was on Thursday, September 15, 2005 and featured Craig with Justin T (“Spice J”), Robert Reeves, Chad Riden, Joel T Wilson, and Jesse Perry. Craig ran several more booked “Dive Laughing” shows through the first half of 2006, which led up to him performing on Doug Stanhope’s “See Me Before I’m Dead Tour” show there May 4th, 2006 with Brett Erickson. Craig booked and hosted random other dates until Wednesday, July 7, 2010 when “Dive Laughing” was re-launched as an open mic recurring the first Wednesday of every month.
Craig once had a lineup for a Friday show he had booked at Springwater fall through at the last minute and he wanted to do something special to fill the date. He arranged for Nashville’s Utopian Suicide Suspension Crew to suspend him from hooks inserted into his back for 33-minutes as he performed a standup comedy set while hanging from chains. Craig sent the full video out to comedy club bookers. This short promo video was produced by Joel T Wilson:
For years now, we’ve been promoting the Springwater shows by saying, “There’s always an element of danger with comedy shows at Springwater. Several things can be rough: the crowds, the language, and finding a seat in the packed house. You never know what’s going to happen, but you can bet it’ll be funny and exciting.” The reality was you kinda knew what was going to happen: it was going to be smoky, comics would sign up and do their best (or their worst), Dave Cloud would get up and do his thing (possibly exposing himself), and Craig Smith would be there drinking and smoking and telling jokes.
Craig appeared as himself in Todd Snider’s 2013 film “East Nashville Tonight,” telling jokes and credited on screen only as “Comedian t.b.a.” In April 2015, Craig performed at The East Room as part of the Guinness World Record breaking #BrokenRecordShow. Over the last four or five years or so your best chance of seeing Craig onstage or off was by dropping in at Springwater. Regardless, his presence has continued to loom large throughout the Nashville comedy scene.
Craig often worked as an Arborist, tending to trees. In 2012, Chad Riden was being sued by his Homeowner’s Association because his awful neighbor wanted him to cut down a beautiful Cedar tree in his back yard. Craig and his son came to Riden’s house – on Father’s Day even – to help his friend and fellow comic by climbing up the tree to prune it and make sure it was in good health. Later, Craig’s testimony in court was the nail in the coffin that won the case for Riden. Chad and Craig always joked that it was the only time either ever walked out of a court room victorious.
Nashville StandUp will be soon re-releasing Craig’s 2005 album, “Craig Smith’s Pre-Apocalypse Comedy” with the proceeds going to Craig’s 16-year-old son, Tyler Chance. Christine Hall, Craig’s ex-wife and the mother of his son, says that he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes scattered as they did with his father about 15 years ago.
Rest in peace, Craig. See you in the future.
UPDATE: Official service for Craig Smith will be held Tuesday November 10th from 4pm to 6pm at the pavillion in Centennial Park by Springwater followed by an unofficial celebration of his life from 6pm-8pm at Springwater (115 27th Ave N, Nashville, TN 37203).