What the world can learn from Judy Fabjance

Goddammit, I hate it when people die.

This time it was Judy Fabjance — one of the greatest pioneers to ever emerge from the world-renowned improv comedy group, Second City.  The same comedy group that produced the likes of Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert.

No small feat.

Judy was a mother, she was 41-years-old and she was the wife of my childhood friend, Kelly Beeman.

Kelly and I grew up together – playing soccer and pulling pranks as far back as I can remember. Kelly was the life of every party, every soccer field, every scene and every outing. A dull time was never to be had when Kelly Beeman was around.

KellyThank goodness.

It’s no surprise to me that Kelly found a life partner in Judy Fabjance, a human being who lit the world on fire with her honesty and humor and forged a trail for thousands of people to follow in her footsteps.

While I never met Judy in person, I’m incredibly aware of the impact she had on this world.

In 1996, Judy was one of the founding members of the first openly gay sketch comedy troupe in Chicago. Think about that date for a minute. If you’re good at math you’ll recognize that it was 19 years before the Supreme Court would legalize same sex marriage.

How brave and how bold.

I often write about how my currency is impact. And Judy’s life and her work is one of the greatest examples of impact I’ve ever seen.


The outpouring of love and gratitude for Judy’s life has been overwhelming…in a good way. The Internet is all abuzz. I can’t pull myself away from it. I’m overwhelmed with joy for her bravery and overwhelmed with sadness for Kelly — the life of the party who just lost the greatest thing in her life.

Where the hell is the silver lining?

As I wrote last year, I believe when we’re overcome with grief over the loss of life, we have to try as hard as we can to let the “good wolf win.” So in the spirit of that belief, and a lack of confidence in knowing what the hell else to do, I’d like to share what I’ve learned about Judy…with one hope in mind.

My hope is that on this day, and in this moment, we can take a piece of Judy’s bravery and infuse it into our own lives.

Starting today.

Do not wait until tomorrow to live like this. Tomorrow is promised to no one.

You don’t have to be a nationally recognized comedian to live this way. Don’t weigh yourself down with that pressure or that excuse.

You just have to be you. That’s all Judy was ever trying to do.

JudyHere are four lessons we can take away from Judy’s very bright life:

 1. When you stand in your truth, you allow others to stand on your shoulders. Judy seemed to have a wonderful grasp on the fact that you have to save yourself before you can save anyone else. Judy took pride in who she was as a gay woman and once she began speaking her truth in spotlights and on stages, she gave other people permission to take pride in themselves as well. As one friend of hers said, “A generation of audience members were transformed by seeing comedians not only be ‘out’, but proudly proclaiming so publicly, while satirizing the society working to prevent it.” What an impact she had on the world.

We should all be so brave.

What do you believe in so strongly that you’d be willing to say it out loud so you can pave a path for others to do the same?

 2. Give other people the life-changing gift of self-esteem. The stories of Judy’s impact on young comedians (men, women, gay, straight) while she was an instructor at Second City is enough to induce the Oprah ugly cry — which may or may not have happened in my entrance foyer last night. Different people from different walks of life have been portraying Judy’s impact on their lives and the theme has been the same every single time: “Judy believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself and my life was forever changed because of it.” My goodness.

We should all be so kind.

Who in your life could stand to believe in themselves a bit more and how can you help?

 3. Be a wonderful mother. But be more than that, too. Being a mother is a profound experience and Judy was a remarkable one, but she had additional gifts to share with the world as well…and boy, did she. As one website quoted, “Judy was a comedian, a teacher, a trailblazer, a friend, a co-star, an actor, a teammate, a co-worker, a writer, a coach, a mentor, a brilliant wit, a tireless champion of others, a role model, a daughter, a sister, a loving wife and an endlessly devoted mother to her amazing daughter Daphne.” What an amazing legacy.

We should all be so generous.

What gifts do you have inside of you that can benefit your children as well as the rest of the world?

 4. Don’t hide from the hard times. When Judy was in the thick of cancer diagnoses and treatments, she didn’t retreat. She refused to hide. She channeled her fear and anger and love and hope into two hilarious cancer-themed comedy shows. And in doing so, she helped thousands of people affected by cancer know, and trust, that they were not alone in the fight. She changed lives with her willingness to say the hardest things.

 We should all be so bold.

 When you go through tough times, do you hide the hard parts or are you brave enough to wear them on your sleeve?

kellyjudyI’ll end with one of my favorite sentiments from one of Judy’s friends. As you read it, just imagine that someone could be so inspired by you and your actions that at the end of your life they’d say the same thing about you.

“Let’s all live how Judy lived. Let’s greet each other with love, humor, and huge, joyful smiles, even when we’re embattled. Let’s study, practice, and teach our craft with dedication and exuberance. Let’s embolden the fearful and welcome the misfits. Let’s be brave. And generous. And strong. Let’s love our family beyond measure, and build a family of friends. Let’s leave everyone better for having known us. Thank you, Judy, for all this and more.”


It’s never too late to start living life the way Judy did. Let Judy light the way.

Start today.

…and to my forever funny friend, Kelly. Promise that you’ll live your life in a way that makes this song the perfect song for you to sing to Judy.



Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

andy casonreply

dear judy fabance may god blesss you in heaven your friend andy

Katherine Wintschreply
– In reply to: andy cason

Thank you for your sweet sentiment, Andy. Judy was such a light in this world- she will always be missed.

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