Former Second City actor-writer Michael Lehrer, who had ALS, dies at 44

The performer, who continued to do comedy after developing the neurodegenerative disease, ‘died with dignity on his own terms,’ says his life partner and caregiver.

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Michael Lehrer in 2011.

Michael Brosilow

Michael Lehrer, a former Second City performer who remained active in comedy after developing ALS, died Tuesday in Portland, Oregon. He was 44.

He was terminally ill and chose to end his life with the assistance of a doctor. “Michael died with dignity on his own terms,” said his life partner and caregiver Colette Montague. “... Medical aid in dying was the hardest decision he ever made.”

In his final years, Lehrer continued performing audacious comic monologues focused on his life with a neurodegenerative disease. From a wheelchair, in a voice that was slurred but robust, he delivered jokes marked by stinging observations and plentiful profanity.

”I have ALS,” went a one-liner. “One question: Where the f--- did all that ice bucket money go?”

He also noted his TV bingeing habit and observed, “Netflix is the best thing that happened to disabled people since in-call hookers!”

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Michael Lehrer performs on the “Kill Tony” podcast.

Joe White

Lehrer was a regular on “Kill Tony,” a live, anything-goes comedy podcast in Austin, Texas, frequented by Joe Rogan and Ron White. He performed there 99 times between 2019 and 2022.

“The courage this man had to do stand-up while battling a debilitating disease was insanely impressive,” Rogan said Wednesday on Instagram, “and though he struggled to get words out the man would KILL onstage.

“He was a real legend, and I’m going to miss him very much.”

Longtime friend Seth Weitberg said Lehrer “had no regard for where the line is, in the most beautiful way — a total willingness to push buttons and push envelopes and follow the funny no matter what. He was just a total fireball, and willing to do absolutely whatever for comedy. In the 20 years I’ve known him, he spent about half that time with his shirt off for a joke.”

Lehrer had deep roots in Chicago’s comedy scene. A Columbia College grad, he co-wrote and co-starred in three revues at the Second City e.t.c. theater, where his castmates included such future stars as Aidy Bryant (“Saturday Night Live”), Chris Witaske (“Chicago Party Aunt”) and Tawny Newsome (“Space Force”).

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Michael Lehrer appears with Aidy Bryant (left) and Jessica Joy in the 2011 Second City e.t.c. show “Sky’s the Limit (Weather Permitting).”

Michael Brosilow

Earlier he performed with Second City touring companies and at an offshoot theater in Las Vegas. A post on Second City’s Facebook page Wednesday lauded Lehrer for his “irreverent and iconoclastic material.”

Lehrer also appeared at iO and ComedySportz. In 2014 he was selected for the New Faces of Comedy showcase at the prestigious Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal.

After his diagnosis, he took a hiatus from comedy for treatment in Buffalo, New York, but resumed performing there in 2019.

“In the last few years with the disease,” Weitberg said, “he was very open about feeling like he found his voice in stand-up and an opportunity to connect with people through what he was going through.”

Weitberg, who performed with Lehrer in a freestyle hip-hop show at the Playground and an improvised talk show at iO, visited Portland last week and spoke with his friend about his decision to end his life. “He just realized that there wasn’t going to be any kind of amendment to his situation that was going to make his life better,” Weitberg said.

“His spirits were good. He was, I think, really at peace with his decision.”

Montague said Lehrer made arrangements to donate “his beautiful, creative, complicated brain for research to help others.”

A native of Anaheim, California, Lehrer grew up in Queens, New York, and then Wyoming.

In addition to Montague, he is survived by a son, Colin Heaton; a brother, Jon Lehrer; a sister, Jennifer Lehrer Pitt; his father, Mike Lehrer, and his stepmother, Karen Smith-Lehrer.

A GoFundMe page has been posted to raise money for Lehrer’s son.

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