According to Hannah’s brother Phillip, the comic collapsed at his Dallas-area home Monday. He was 45.
Hannah started his comedy career as a fixture on open-mic nights at the Funny Firm in Chicago. He later graduated to opening for headliners like Harvey, who met him at Chicago’s All Jokes Aside comedy club, said Raymond Lambert, former owner of the club and producer of the movie “Phunny Business: A Black Comedy.”
“Even then, he was a very, very talented writer,” Lambert told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I think I would classify it as observational. I think he had very good insight into human nature and observations and could be very brutal and very honest in that delivery, which sort of set him apart.”
Hannah’s style of comedy would eventually strike a nerve with Harvey, Lambert and Phillip Hannah recalled, adding that Harvey liked Hannah so much that he him to write for his WB sitcom, “The Steve Harvey Show,” for the six years it aired. In addition to “The Steve Harvey Show,” James Hannah wrote for TV’s “Meet the Browns,” “My Wife and Kids” and “Cedric the Entertainer Presents.”
The entertainer appeared on “P. Diddy Presents the Bad Boys of Comedy” and BET’s “Comic View.” In addition to the Funny Farm and All Jokes Aside, comedian Godfrey Danchimah told the Sun-Times that Hannah appeared at the Cotton Club in Chicago alongside headliner Bernie Mac.
Another feather in Hannah’s cap came with writing for Chris Rock, said Phillip, who counted Rock’s “Bigger & Blacker” HBO special among his brother’s accomplishments. Online, Mr. Hannah was known to weigh in on current events and issues in the African-American community in YouTube snippets he called TruthPaste.
News of Hannah’s death resulted in tweets from comic performers on Monday, including comedians London Brown and “New Girl” star Damon Wayans Jr.
In addition to his brother Phillip, Hannah is survived by his wife, Crystal; his children, Christopher, Cameron and Chloe; his parents, Essamina Freeman and James Hannah, and his sisters, Leah Hannah and Charisma Griffin.
Services are expected to be held in Dallas and Chicago, his brother said.
To read more about the life of James Hannah as well as reflections from those who knew him, click here. A performance from Hannah can be seen on the video below: