Tommy Futch, who left mark on Atlanta comedy, dies from cancer

022114 LAKE BUENTA VISTA: Braves fan Tommy Futch, Nashville, Ga, shares a laugh with Craig Kimbrel while filming a t.v. spot with him during spring training on Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Lake Buena Vista, FL.   CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM



022114 LAKE BUENTA VISTA: Braves fan Tommy Futch, Nashville, Ga, shares a laugh with Craig Kimbrel while filming a t.v. spot with him during spring training on Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Lake Buena Vista, FL. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Tommy Futch lived to leave them laughing.

The man credited with bringing life to Atlanta improvisational theatre and laughs to audiences for more than 30 years died Sept. 21 after a brief battle with cancer. He was 69.

A memorial service is set for 3 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 1, at Dad’s Garage Theatre on Ezzard Street in Atlanta, where Futch performed his off-the-cuff but always clean comedy for years.

Friends described Futch as a gifted and natural comedian who was considered a legend in Atlanta improv and who mentored many aspiring comedians, voice-over artists, and actors.

Improv — a form of theater, usually comedy, that is unplanned or unscripted — meant everything to Futch, said his wife, Monique Gainsley Futch.

Tommy Futch gave decades of his life to teaching improvisational comedy in Atlanta. He died this month from cancer.

Credit: Courtesy

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Credit: Courtesy

“It was just as easy as living and breathing to him,” she said.

Born and raised in the small south Georgia town of Nashville, Futch became a paraplegic at 17 after a traffic accident.

The disability never dampened Futch’s “zest for life” or his pursuit of happiness, fun, mischief and a good prank.

Futch would, on occasion, speak of being in a wheelchair, but usually just to put his audiences at ease, said longtime friend and actor-comedian-filmmaker Gary Anthony Williams.

“He just had this way of dealing with an audience in just the most warm and comforting and funny way,” Williams said. “I was just drawn to his presence on stage.”

At the time of his death, Futch still ran Laughing Matters, billed as the longest-running improv comedy troupe in Atlanta. He founded the troupe in 1985.

Later, he would broaden his comedy to schools, corporate training rooms and murder mystery shows. In the 1990s, he wrote and produced radio and TV spots. He even worked with a national training program for criminal defense attorneys on preparing for trial and the unexpected.

Tributes to Futch flowed this week on internet forums, from admiring fans and others who said their lives and careers were enhanced by Futch.

Actress and improvisational comedian Amber Nash, best known as the voice of Pam Poovey in the animated television series Archer, credits Futch with putting her on the path to success.

In the 1990s, Futch was doing improv at the Dave & Buster’s in Marietta, where Nash was a cocktail waitress. In a chance meeting, Futch encouraged her to audition for his improv group. That opened the door to other meetings and opportunities, she said.

Futch taught improv comedy at Laughing Matters, an improv class he founded. (NICK ARROYO/STAFF)

Credit: AJC staff

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Credit: AJC staff

“I guess Tommy saw something in me,” Nash said. “He was always looking for the potential in a friend or an artist.”

She and Emilio Perey, another longtime friend, fan, and fellow comedian, put together a podcast for Futch’s eyes only and gave it to him in his final days.

The two interviewed people who shared stories of how “they wouldn’t have had the life they have or the career they have without Futch.”

“He changed people’s lives,” Nash said.

Denise deLaRue, a friend of about 35 years, was among the many who said Futch was more than just a funny man.

“Tommy was everyone’s champion,” she said. “If he cared about you or saw potential in you on any level, not just as a performer, he was proud of that, he would champion that. He would let other people know what was wonderful about you.”

Futch loved to go with a group for a bad all-you-can-eat buffet.

“I despise those places, but I never declined an invitation for the sheer pleasure of the laughter and warmth of the company,” deLaRue said.

Futch was always up for making people laugh, having a good time, and doing acts of kindness for others, Williams and Monique Futch said.

One time, he did a little of all three, recalled Williams.

He and Futch were flying to Mexico one time and encountered a long flight delay.

Futch suggested the two put on an improv show to keep up the morale of the passengers. The only space they had to perform was a small hallway.

“We get to Mexico, and people are saying: ‘I saw your show at the airport,’” Williams said.

“I learned so much pay-it-forward kind of things from that guy,” Williams said.” He did not care to advertise the kind of human being he was.”

Futch proposed to wife Monique at the DeKalb International Farmer’s Market. They married four years ago at Fox Brother’s Bar-B-Q restaurant.

“It was the easiest relationship and marriage I had,” Monique Futch said. “Every day was funny.”