Stage mic

Zachary Winrow saw the humor in life.

Members of the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship remembered Winrow as sweet-spirited and funny. He was a familiar face at open mics, and several Denton comedians knew him as guarded, even aloof, but also as someone who blossomed as he tried his hand at telling jokes in front of people.

The 25-year-old was found dead last weekend near a vacant nursing home on North Bell Avenue. Police here are treating his death as a suicide, with autopsy results still pending. The reaction to the news about his death gave a renewed focus on the notion that tortured souls make for good entertainment.

“I think that’s why he hung out with comics, is he had a lot of things to say behind those eyes and he didn’t know how to say it,” said David Eller, a Denton comedian who knew Winrow. “They need to express in order to feel better.”

Winrow was somebody a lot of people knew of, but didn’t really know. He could be seen with groups of people not saying a lot, just listening.

Kamyon Conner met Winrow in 2016. They attended DUUF. Among the only black members of the fellowship, Conner said she and Winrow shared a strong sense of “POC camaraderie.”

“He understood the humor in things,” Conner said. “We would share glances over things we thought were funny.”

Not very many people knew about his personal life, but Winrow shared some with Eller.

“I was having a drink with a friend of mine,” Eller said. “[Winrow] sat down next to me and started talking to me about how he lost his job and became homeless.”

Eller, having struggled with depression himself, said he tried to put Winrow on a path toward fixing himself up.

“He never really showed emotion,” Eller said. “You could tell that he was sad, you could see the scars.”

He did not attract big crowds, and he didn’t even take the stage every time he went to an open mic, but Winrow was remembered this past week as funny when he did go up.

“He didn’t say a whole lot, but he would perk up when he did go onstage,” Eller said.

Denton comedian Joey Johnson found it too difficult to talk on the phone about Winrow.

“The idea that you have to be tortured to be a good artist is a toxic one in my personal opinion,” Johnson wrote in a message. “As comics we spend most of our time focusing on how to make other people happy, [and] in that process we often forget to focus on our own happiness.”

Johnson, who met Winrow at an open mic at the Bearded Monk bar, joins Eller in saying that comedy can be a form of self-care, but he says it’s mostly just surface level.

Funny people, like everybody, should seek treatment. And people who suspect a loved one or friend is thinking about suicide should be direct about helping that person. So says Phyllis Finley of Denton County MHMR.

“It’s a good idea to have a conversation about it, and don’t let it fester, because you don’t know if this is your last day with someone,” Finley said.

Ask straight-up if the person is thinking about ending their life or self-harming, she said. Do it in a way that isn’t judgmental or critical. Respect their privacy.

“No one ever wants to believe it’s that serious,” Finley said, “but if you ask the most concerning questions first, then you can work with what’s really going on.”

DALTON LAFERNEY can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @daltonlaferney.

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