Americans are into celebrity but there are also many amazing people in various fields whose names they don’t know who are powerhouses of creativity. There are some out there who don’t become famous as a name brand but they’re superb and busy comedians, actors, comedy writers. There are writers and bloggers who write under pseudonyms. Bloggers often do it to keep their real identities divorced from their politics or just because they want a degree of anonymity when they write.
The world lost one of these unsung geniuses on July 29th when Gil Christner, comedian, actor, comedy writer and the skippy of the Internet’s award winning and beloved progressive blog skippy the bush kangaroo (which he did in lower case as he did with his emails and text messages) died at the age of 66. Here’s his website.
Ironically, I “knew” Christner as a blogger since 2004, during the golden age of blogging which is now definitely over. Our friendship was all by email. I again “met” him in a different capacity on the Internet in something related to comedy but had no idea this was the person I had corresponded with for so many years. He wrote comedy for various people including a ventriloquist who I know very well. I first physically met him at the Providence Tarzana Medical Center in Tarzana on July 24 in room 510 where he was battling a lung condition and facing a bad prognosis. Five days later I was shocked to learn he had died. More on that below.
I was then further shocked to find that there was no real obituary on Gil. Nothing that explained even a little of who he was. So here’s some info that will now remain on the Internet unless The Moderate Voice is ever deleted.
Here’s his show biz biography on IMBd:
Raised in Aurora, Colorado, a suburb of Denver. Attended Colorado State University majoring in Theatre Arts. Moved to San Francisco in 1976 to work in stand-up comedy and with the Committee Improv Group, moving later to film and movies. Won San Francisco International Stand Up Comedy Competition in 1977, and got first big break working in George Lucas’ “More American Graffiti.” Moved to Los Angeles in 1980 and has appeared in dozens of commercials as well as becoming a regular in Roger Corman’s stable of actors for Concorde and New Horizon Films.. Currently writes and produces comedy for Premiere Radio networks and various stand-up comics as well as The Tonight Show.
Here’s a promo for the 2008 movie “Man Overboard” in which he appears.
Los Angeles actor, comedian and playwright Blad Slaight, a friend and colleague of Christner’s, ran these photos in his Facebook page post sadly announcing Christner’s death, explaining: “A couple of shots of Gil from a mockumentary called ‘The Bitter Truth.’ He played a comedy club owner. He booked more commercials than just about any other actor I know.”
Keep and eye on the right side of the screen and you can see Christner in this Coors Light “El Train” commercial:
Here’s a video Christner put on You Tube featuring his walk-on role in the iconic cable drama Mad Men:
He can be seen in this 2003 trailer for the movie Mind Games:
His website notes that his TV work included appearances on Chicago Hope, 3rd Rock from the Sun, Sabina the Teenage Witch, Showtime Presents Jonathan Winters on the Ledge, Men Behaving Badly, Family Matters and more. His movie work included Family Values, Deadly Delusions, Masque of the Red Death, More American Graffiti and more.
When asked about Christner, Slaight says: “Gil Christner was a talented comedian, actor, and the go-to guy when you were putting together an improv show. I had the pleasure of working with him many times and considered him a good friend.”
As a blogger, Christner, writing under the name “skippy the bush kangaroo,” was one of the most beloved progressive bloggers on the Internet. His posts were terse, witty, but pointed and bloggers listed his blog on countless blogrolls back in the days when there were many blogs and they all had blogrolls.
There were some bittersweet ironies in my friendship with Christner. Here’s the Facebook post I did within minutes of getting learning the shocking news about Christner’s death:
A SHOCKER: R.I.P. Gil Christner. Comedian, actor, frequent face in TV and commercials (Mad Men is one and many commercials since he was a “type” and highly expressive) and comedy writer Gil Christner has passed away…I just learned by reading my friend Brad Slaight on his Facebook page. This is a long post (I am devastated by the news) so be forewarned. But bloggers AS WELL as show biz types knew and loved Gil Chrisner. He was the famous SKIPPY THE BUSH KANGAROO blogger and tweeter — who by the way did everything in lower case (even on his texts).
I have a SPECIAL CONNECTION WITH GIL on several levels and grew to finally know his real identity (apart from being skippy) the past month. I write a lot of my own jokes in my show but over the years have also worked closely with some comedy writers. Brad helped me out on great material (some of which i still use) in the early 90s. He recently helped punch up and in many ways rewrite a new routine I’m doing with a zombie character, but is no longer doing comedy writing due to his busy schedule as a popular stand up comedian, playwright and actor. So he referred me to Gil in June.
Gil and I really hit if off — all by email and Facebook Messenger. Two weeks ago I appeared at the international ventriloquist convention in Cincinatti and did a 15 minute set. Gil had helped me with a few of the jokes. I had also bought a batch of jokes from him for my old man character (puppet made by Landon Harvey) that have yet to go in.
Our chemistry was GREAT and I was absolutely devastated when I read a post of his July 10. We had been in touch about a few jokes for the convention and he had sent me some for one part of it but he dropped out of sight for a week. Now I knew.
GIl is the one who messaged me. “Joe, I know you. You’ve known me as skippy the bush kangaroo.” In other words, we had “known” each other since 2003 since I often linked to him, quoted him and included him in my many roundups on The Moderate Voice.
But on July 10 in his post he said he’s not joking now. He’s dying. And he lived alone and if there was a lung transplant he’d need certain things he couldn’t get at home alone,. He was thinking of moving in with his sister in Denver, but the doctor told him he might never make it out of the hospital.
I had a very strong feeling that I wanted to visit him in the hospital. Very strong. On Wed I had a library show at Woodland Hills slated for 3 pm. I left very early so i could visit him before the show. The morning was a disaster since the hospital phone kept disconnecting me, and the lobby security would not even let you call up to the room unless you had a password. I finally got Gil and he told me the password was “swordfish” and that he was in therapy, so I told him no matter what I would see him AFTER the library show which was over at 4. So I got there at 5.
He was clearly a very ill man. The first thing he said without skipping a beat was that he wanted to change the way I pay him so I’d have to pay a little less. He repeatedly returned to talking about the comedy writing, we discussed his heatlh. “It is what it is,” he said and said he felt better now than when he went in.Gil would have to stop at times while he regained his breath.He had other issues with breathing and swallowing.
A respiratory therapist came in, and his doctor called and he asked me and the respiratory therapist to leave the room while he talked to his doctor.
I heard him say “it is what it is,” when I was outside and he called me back in. This time we talked about comedy. I told him he needed a portable dvd player so he could spend his time watching some comedy. It turned out his favorites included Harold Lloyd (I had a collection of DVDs) and Charlie Chase (I had silents and sound shorts on DVDs). I told him that with a week I’d find and mail out to him my portable DVD player with these dvds.
Then he talked about comedy again. “I have a hard time talking but I want to write for you. Let me know what you want. I can write from here. When I write I’m happy and busy.”
I told him that I would call him at the end of next week (this week) and we’d start. In reality, this month isn’t when I wanted to or really could buy material but no matter what I was going to start with him since he was gung ho.
We said good bye and, after spending 90 minutes with him, I was my way home, getting stuck in traffic all the way.
Then came today.
This morning I mailed out to him UPS my portable DVD player, fully charged, with my entire remastered Harold Lloyd comedies and four DVDS containing every short Charlie Chase ever made.
So I KNEW Gil and loved him as a faceless blogger and internet friend (and I need to rewrite this for The Moderate Voice since many knew and loved skippy the bush kangaroo) and thanks to Brad Slaight I got to actually know Gil as a comedy writer and person, which was a wonderful gift. It didn’t last long but Gil’s wisdom, humor, talent and courage in the face of his prognosis won’t be forgotten.
Yes, it is a cliche. But he can’t be replaced.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.