Joe Rocha, comedian, 49, would hate this tribute

Joe Rocha, eldest of four, was a kid at heart. Photo courtesy the Rocha family via Facebook.

There’s nothing so sweet as a joke that lands — and whether carefully constructed or off the cuff, Joe Rocha knew how to hit his target.

A staple of San Francisco and, later, NYC comedy clubs and improv theaters, Rocha died on Aug. 22, at the age of 49, of a severe lung infection; empyema complicated by diabetes.

The eldest of four children, Bayardo Joseph Rocha was born to parents Bayardo and Norma Rocha on March 3, 1968 in San Francisco, California. After high school, he immersed himself in that city’s comedy scene; first as a host and performer, then as a teacher.

He moved to NYC in 1999 and was a regular presence at venues including the Comic Strip Live (where he emceed) and the Peoples Improv Theater, and comedy showcases including Ug! Comedy Show!! and No Name Comedy Variety. Rocha is survived by his sister, Veronica Sophia; brothers Isaac Antonio and Cesar Augusto; niece, Milagro Apollonia Rocha; and, noted Veronica, “countless friends that he considered family.”

To access a memorial fund, visit youcaring.com/josephrocha-914304. From 5-8pm on Sept. 10, a “Joe Would Hate This” tribute show will be performed at the Comic Strip Live (1568 Second Ave., NYC; #RoastJoeRocha).

Excerpts from Facebook postings and remembrances solicited by this publication appear below — but first, these jokes by the late, great comedian will give those unfamiliar with the guy a good sense of his gift for observation, absurdity, wordplay, and surreal imagery. For those who knew Rocha well, they’re just 10 of the many reasons why he’ll always be with us.

—Cigarettes and black coffee are poor people’s Ritalin.

—The only reason I’ve joined cults, supported political candidates, followed any and all philosophies is… I really like drinking Kool-Aid.

—There is a definite sexual tension between this woman and myself. I want to have sex with her, and that makes her very tense.

—You can blame secularists, atheists and the Constitution for keeping God out of our schools. Truth is, his grades are just not up to snuff. And he refuses to apply himself. I’m sorry, but we have to have standards.

—God had a massive bestseller with his virgin book, The Bible. Nothing since. Not even a short story or essay. Such promise, yet nothing. He is the J.D. Salinger of deities.

—My family grew up very poor. We shopped at Incomplete Foods.

—Another successful white comedian complains on radio show hosted by white host how free speech is now only for minorities. Meanwhile stock in Irony continues to soar.

—When black people talk during a movie it’s called rude and disrespectful. When white people do it, it’s called “MST3K.”

—I’m opening a Latino legal consulting firm called Waivers Rancheros.

—I don’t get the name Bed Bath & Beyond. I mean I see why it’s called bed, and the bath part but beyond? Here’s soap… from the FUTURE!!

Mighty Joe Rocha I can’t believe you’re gone… we were friends in a time before Facebook, when a whole motley crew would sit outside all night, coming and going on MacDougal Street, until dawn or the garbage truck sprayed juice, talking and laughing and debating until we were hoarse. You never let me feel like the musings and concerns of a 19-year-old were anything less than valid and genuine and worth hearing, and you had the biggest heart, and the best laugh, and gave the most wonderful hugs. You brought out the best in everyone and when you told them why they should believe in themselves, you meant it. I admired your determination and gusto and humor and your dedication to your writing and craft. We reconnected recently, having not seen each other in years, and I was so looking forward to seeing you, and hearing you’re gone feels insane, like my grief is in a vacuum, as I know so few people from that time anymore, but seeing all this outpouring of feeling and emotion is a lot of comfort for a broken heart, and I hope you’re out there somewhere and you see this and know how much we LOVE you. Safe travels, dear friend.

-—Ani Sarkisian


I should say this right up front, I am mad as f**k at Joseph Rocha. And I’m mad at him for what I think is the best reason to be mad at someone, I loved him. Rocha was one of the most talented and fun people I have ever met. He was also my friend. But not one of those things stopped him from pissing his life away. The night before Joe died he called me on the phone. He wanted to reach out and check in. He told me he had just vomited but was feeling better now. I told him he should go to the ER. But it was strictly a pro forma statement. I and other friends had already suggested he go see a doctor well before this phone call. He was on Medicaid so there was no financial barrier to him seeking medical assistance. But as with all things Joseph, there was an always excuse for why he refused to help himself. Joe wasn’t working but he had people in his life who got him jobs or interviews for jobs and blew those jobs and those interviews off. Joe wasn’t a full-time comic but he had people in his life who could and wanted to help him achieve that. He blew them off too. So of course any chance to rescue himself from the abyss was going to be equally brushed aside. I don’t know and now never will know what was it so deep down inside Rocha’s soul that made him hellbent on self-destruction but after 49 years, he finally pulled it off.

Still, for all his many, many flaws, he was a man of deep passion. He was man of beautiful light. He gave his time. He gave his talent. He gave his humor. He gave us his warmth. If he sought you out you probably never fully appreciated how lucky you were to have him around. I know I didn’t. We all loved this big, funny, f**k-up of a man and the world is going so much darker without him.

-—Joe Dixon


I’m blown away by how many people Joseph touched deeply, how many friends he was there for, how EVERYONE talks about his warmth, love, genuineness, support, his goodness… . And while I read all of these posts, I am also amazed by how many people Joseph had consistent chats, emails, texts, Facebook chats with… every day/every night?! I hope Joseph knew how loved he was. Tell everyone that you love them. So they know.

-—Lisa Gedulig


Joe was one of my first friends I met at the Peoples Improv Theater back in 2006. … I would meet Joe a lot after open mics/jams and bounce material off of him, and of course he would always embellish each joke and offer me valid suggestions; essentially making it 10 times funnier than what I had originally written. I would also meet Joe (or “Roch” as I got to calling him) at random between 2 and 3am on sleepless New York City nights when I was wired from the intense buzz of the city and the stressors of college life. … I will miss the laughter and friendship he brought to me and so many others and all that embodied what Joseph Rocha, the man himself, was; a funny, gentle, kind, selfless human being.

-—Michaela Quinn


He kept me humble on nights I would do well on stage — always pushed me to get better even if I had a great set. I remember some “agent” came up to me after an open mic and gave me his card after a set at a sushi restaurant. I was so full of myself and tore up the card after the guy walked out. He told me to never do that. He said even if the guy was full of shit the fact that he took the time to tell me he liked my set should be worth something. I was so full of myself back then it took a week to really set in after he saw me bomb horribly at Pip’s in Brooklyn. He had the biggest grin on his face as I walked back to the table, he hugged me and said, “Don’t worry. Nobody will give you their card after that one.” I’m glad to see so many people sharing their memories. It’s hard to accept he’s gone. He had a lot of friends and he truly deserved them all. Rest in peace, Joseph Rocha. Now please let me sleep.
-—Charlie Moreno


It’s hard to believe I met Joseph Rocha met 21 years ago. It’s hard to believe he’s gone now. The reality hasn’t quite sunk in yet. Part of it is the fact that, in comedy you make a lot of friends that drift in and out of your life. Sometimes you see them every night, and then you don’t see them for years. I was always happy when I did see Joe, because he was one of those guys who could get frustrated with the business, but never got bitter. A funny guy, a really strong writer, and a fantastic comedian. I think that’s what he want to be remembered for. Last time I hung out with him was a few years ago, but I would always see him in passing at shows, and I would always be happy to find out he was on the lineup. Facebook memorials are weird, and he would probably be the first one to make fun of me for writing this. That’s okay. Really good dude with his head screwed on to his shoulders. The world is a little bit poorer for his passing

-—Liam McEneaney

Joe Rocha’s material was solid, but he was also able to improvise

There aren’t a ton of Latin comedians, but Joseph Rocha was always one that I’d see around when I started and he made it a point to introduce you and help you out if you were. Because of him I try to do the same thing. You’ve read how welcoming and nice he was. He was also sharp and just enjoyed doing comedy. He had great energy and I can’t remember him being in a bad mood. I would hope we all treat each other the way he treated all of us.

—-Alexis Guerreros


Heartbroken and devastated by the passing of Joseph Rocha. Such a good guy, comedian and friend. I’m repeating myself here Joe, but you always appreciated when I said this, “Why do all the wrong comedians keep dying?”… This world is worse off without you.

-—Bernadette Pauley

I never met Joseph Rocha in person, but we were good FB buddies. We wrote to each other often and dreamt that one day we would do a “Stand-up Nicaraguans” tour. He was warm, funny, generous, humble, with a mind as sharp as a diamond and a heart as soft and sweet as cotton candy. He always wrote me when he sensed something wrong; like if I had posted a cryptic quasi-sad status or said that I was sick. Joseph’s humor was delicious and everybody who was in contact with him on FB, whether we knew him in person or not, will miss his witty remarks, but especially the way he made us feel. R.I.P., dear Joseph.

—-Martha E. Chaves


Joe Rocha was one of the kindest, smartest, flat-out funniest people you could ever hope to meet. He first did “No Name” about 17 years ago, and immediately became one of our most frequent and best-loved guests. He embraced the spirit of playfulness our shows strive to foster, and he remains one of my all-time fave comics to watch work. He was always writing, often even just before going up. And when he got up there, he just ran with his instincts. He might play with the idea that hit him two minutes prior, he might do some wonderfully written, skillfully executed routine, or he might ditch all of that just to shoot the shit with the audience.

My favorite Rocha performance? We were doing a fundraiser at a Moose Lodge. We got paid nicely, and Joe was the headliner, set to do 20-25 minutes. Just before going onstage, he tells me he has to run to do a late spot at the Strip and can only do maybe 10 minutes. I looked at him, horrified; he was already paid, and we had to deliver what we promised. He said he’d try to do close to 15, but he hadda go, he was late. He hits the stage, and the crowd is well-lubricated and, uh, chatty… somebody yells out something, and Joe replied, turning it into a laugh. Somebody else yelled out something, and the same result. Joe then took the bull by the horns, and began talking to the audience, doing crow work. In under two minutes, he had them eating out of his hands, fully in control, and getting some of the biggest laughs I’ve ever heard. He did close to 40 minutes, and not one scrap of material.

After the show, I said, “I thought you had to run to a spot at the Strip?” He says, “Yeah, but I was having fun.” We hung out for a bit, and he went home.

—-Eric Vetter


Joseph Rocha was a phenomenal person and friend. He was passionate about so many subjects. He loved comedy and all the people in it and was so supportive. He personified friendly and he made people immediately count him as a friend.

He was a brilliant comic. I often think about Joe’s material out of nowhere and laugh. He was a rarity in, as Jess Wood pointed out, he did not talk negatively about people. Or if he did, I didn’t hear it and it was part of his loving spirit. Many don’t know he was additionally a talented artist and gave me a beautiful drawing once.

He was voracious reader and an incredible conversationalist. We drove to shows for hours and as you can imagine with his loquaciousness, we talked all the way and he was always full of energy about topics, smart, engaging and funny. I know he went through many difficulties but you often did not know it because of his up spirit. Sadly, I did not see him much recently, but we constantly talked through texts, or should I call them, essays to each other — not surprisingly, most recently on politics and the state of America. We were very likeminded, which increased our bond. He was horrified by racism and hate, and talk about rare; a real feminist and quite sensitive to continual prejudice toward women in general.

Joe loved animals, and was a frequent caretaker of quite a few dogs. He often babysat my cats and just adored them. The last note I got from him was the sweetest note in the world about my cat passing, which says so much about him: “Hope you’re ok. Such terrible news. I hope she wasn’t in pain at the end. Please feel loved and supported by myself and the many who know and love you. I’ll miss her.” Talk about terrible news. I wish what he wrote to me a billion, trillion times more. I hope he knew how much he was loved by so many.

Another thought on Joe Rocha: He was the son of Catholic Nicaraguan immigrants and was himself non-religious, even anti-religion. Yet he was very interested in and knowledgeable about things Jewish, often more than me. I learned the Yiddish word “tsuris” from him. During the late spring holiday Shavuot, he said that’s when Jewish people eat dairy. I said, “What in the hell are you talking about? I have never heard of such a thing.” I barely even heard of Shavuot, probably because the Hebrew School year ended before it. Also, there are just too many holidays to cover. Joe said, “It’s the holiday when you eat cheesecake and study through the night.” After thinking that was every night, I said, “Really? That’s what we do on Shavuot or whatever you call it? Thank you. I never knew.”

In addition to everything else, Joseph Rocha was a surprise fountain of Jewish education.

—–Hilary Schwartz