UNITED STATES—I knew Jesus before he was Jesus. That’s a line I liked using way more when Kevin, the man who became known as Hollywood Jesus, was among us. This is my prism on his journey, both spectacular and quietly moving.
It started in 2001. I am a comedy writer managing a laundromat on Fountain Avenue. It was late at night, closing time. This lanky customer was still washing. He looked sketchy; there was a scrape on his cheek for some reason. He might have been bare-footed, too. He started saying something that, perhaps because of his soft, searching tone, resembled incoherence. For some reason the words of a priest in Mexico came back to me: be aware that at any time the sketchiest of the sketchy may be Christ and may come back later to ask “What did you do for me?”
I listened carefully to that lilting way he had of talking, interjecting wordplay and acute observation. In five seconds I knew I was in the presence of charming, weirdly funny, intelligent soul. That first night we talked about Boyle Heights, gags, urban planning (he saw what was coming way ahead), We talked way past midnight; the auto lights were off in the laundromat. Kevin now received the privilege of being able to wash his clothes after hours. Really, I was the privileged one: to share in this brilliant flow of conversation that left me stoked up on writing, on Los Angeles.
Kevin always left me with a project. One was to be honorary Mayor of Hollywood, taking the matter out of the hands of the Chamber of Commerce and taking the title Mayor Hollywood. He left a lot of projects wherever he went, closely allied to the person’s nature. His intent was to help nature’s gifts flower.
The Jesus thing started around 2007. I knew of it from the perspective of Kevin dropping by the laundromat in full regalia about to hit the streets at sunset, on a Friday say, or else laundering a new sackcloth elegantly detailed. Significantly, he never purported to be playing Jesus; quite the opposite. He explained it this way: “I am…” and he rattled off the name of some Renaissance figure who had served as Botticelli’s model for Christ.
That’s a good example of Kevin’s erudite whimsy and distancing himself from the common perception of him. Was he funny? Yeah, in a very distinct way. A musical like “Spamelot” might have been the fullest expression of his kind of humor, but something else was in store. The Christ thing.
You know I think of Kevin sort of like Rosa Parks, who exposed a nuttiness in the world by just not standing up on a bus, and she started a revolution; Kevin simply put on a robe, and people did the rest. By being there, he did his part. Take the case of a woman at Kevin’s memorial. She recalled her only encounter with him, glimpsed from a moving car moments after she had cried out an anguished, “Oh God, show me a sign!” Then he emerged coming down the sidewalk, robes flowing.
In the laundromat and later at the café next door he’d give me updates and the comedians he was seeing at the Comedy Store and repeat some of their best moments. Kevin was an early and enthusiastic fan of my comedy writings, seeking out every new edition of the Canyon-News. He loved “Deep Cleaning,” a survey of philosophers through time and their vexations over housekeeping, and he endlessly quoted the question I posed, “if molasses had dripped on the floor… who’s free to do the philosophizing. It was Shakespeare to him and he recommended my piece from L.A. to the U.K, Gosh, it felt good to have Kevin as a fan.
It now makes perfect sense that he was guardian angel for a whole stable of young comedians, whom he kept from starving and fleeing back home to the desperate and lonely places they had fled from to pursue their dreams. (Kevin himself fled from Pasadena).
Next week: How it started… Fame… Orson… 911… a night at the Comedy Store.
Grady Miller is the author of “Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood,” available on Amazon.