Words by David Thomas
I don’t know how to write this piece. All I know is that it sucks. LaShonda Lester passed away last week and it’s heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking for her husband, her son and everyone who was close enough to call her “Shondee.”
And though they’ll never know, it sucks for the rest of the country. Two weeks before she would have undoubtedly set the world on fire on her first Comedy Central special, she lost a fight with kidney disease. It ain’t fair. I don’t know why people like LaShonda – these brilliant flashes of light – the ones who catch us and leave us stunned – are only destined to be on earth for to short a time.
She was funny and genuine and left nothing on the table. Yet, on stage, she almost came off as naive. Like, “Oops… how did I end up in the Rio Grande Valley doing comedy in front of cartel members?” “Now how did I end up at a seedy hotel talking to a madam who’s buck-ass naked? Who knows, but let’s see where this goes.” Those bits and stories helped her earn the title of 2016 Funniest Person in Austin. They were great. I’ll miss them, and the cool chick who lived them.
I type this through bleary eyes, and I only knew her casually. I can’t begin to imagine the sadness of her loved ones and friends. Our collective hearts here at Comedy Wham go out to all of you. Comedian/rapper/sketch writer, Kat Ramzinski, was close friends with LaShonda and she has many great stories about the Kitten from Murder Mitten. Here’s an abridged one:
“This is one of my favorites. (I know it’s long, I type how I talk…way too much info and backstory but fuck it, it’s my story and I talk a shitload, so my bad, just hear me out.)
First, you need to know what “Marking out” means. If you are a wrestling fan, skip this part, you get it. If you are not a fan of pro-wrestling, that’s okay. Marking out* simply means being a fan…but like a super fan.
Why do they call it a “Mark”? I don’t know. Probably cuz some ding dong named Mark who got too excited at the Undertaker. I should find out actually.
So why is this important? I was a Mark for my friend Lashonda. And no, this isn’t a metaphor, because if you didn’t know this about Shonda, brace yourself… Your girl used to work in professional wrestling.
Oh yeah, and while that might not seem like a big deal to some folks, I remember the first time I mentioned the name Bubba Ray Dudley (of the infamous Dudley Boys, circa ECW/WWE-present). Her response, “I knew him. He had a big ass crush on me.”
Oh yeah, and she wasn’t havin’ it apparently. When I asked her if she ever had any interest in going to “Dudleyville” she responded with a big fat, “Yeah right, he wishes.” She then went on to tell me what she knew as she name dropped Paul Heyman, Beaulah Magillicutti, and Tommy Dreamer, all quite synonymous with ECW hardcore wrestling superstars. At at the time, it was still a local, albeit massive, promotion at the Philly Bingo Halls and NYC/Detroit wrestling circuit. Lashonda herself, knew all of these wrestlers and performers that I grew up obsessed with. She knew them personally. They had crushes on her.
I harassed her about this CONSTANTLY. Sometimes I introduced her at shows as Miss Electricity… she hated it, lol!
She was kind of weird about talking about her wrestling background, because of all the “Shady Shit” that went on in the pro-wrestling circuit – how corrupt it could get in a world where people actually made each other bleed. It was hardcore. Back then there was no women’s revolution, and behind the scenes she said it got kind of sad to see. She never had a desire to delve any deeper than a few valet runs and some dirt sheet commandeering. Shondee liked talking about fond memories, not the bummer stuff, which seemed to overwhelm that scene. She said her favorite parts of it all were going to shows with her homie Tony at the classic ECW venues. She didn’t really ever have much to say beyond that as far as juicy deets on the business go. Sometimes she would crack and give me a good nugget of old-school gossip that would get me all marked out all over the place. She never thought it was that big of a deal. As far as I was concerned, she was my Miss Elizabeth Turnt UP!
First, you need to know that she was a valet for a duo called the Cold Brothers who wrestled out of the ICW promotion in the Detroit/Canadian territories, and acted as a fill in valet, last minute. When they needed a badass to take them to the ring and get the crowd pumped, Shondee was there to help. A valet, is like a hype man or manager for the wrestlers. Her team comprised of two beefcakes that went by “Ice Cold” and “Stone Cold”, not the Texas Rattlesnake, but a Kazarian/Christopher Daniels type of duo that worked the indie circuit in the Detroit and Canadian territories well into the early 2000’s, before the attitude era took hold of the beloved Stone Cold* moniker. God, that’s so cool to me.
She also ran a wrestling hotline aka, “Dirt sheet”, where she kept in-depth and up-to-date info on the matches that came through various territories. Spoilers, because back in the nineties, unless you were there live, you weren’t going to find out shit about a show until it aired on TV, or you bought the tapes later when they came out. When I found this out, she went from my Miss Elizabeth to the lady Meltzer of the D in my eyes. She was not just a valet, she was the guy behind the guy now as far as I was concerned. Shondee knew who won, how they won, and who was injured before the rest of the wrestling fans. Her job was to make sure she got that info out. That made her a fixture in the wrestling community for a couple of years, and because of this she met people like Sexton Hardcastle (Who you may now know as Edge, the Rated R Superstar.) She regularly attended wrestling shows in the peak of the ECW hardcore era. This information was like a drug to me, and I was begging for more – like a damn Mark.
One day, she drops by to bring me corned beef, which she forgot thank goodness because I have no idea how to cook corned beef, and I happened to be watching ECW. (I planned this so that it would force her to tell me wrestling stories because I’m evil and sneaky). She sits down and says, “How the hell you watchin’ this???”
I tell her we have the WWE Network. She scrolls through and says, “Vince Macmahon got his own Youtube now??? DAMN! WAIT. Is this old ECW??”
“Yup”. (At this point I’m a pig in shit I’m so happy she is taking the bait.)
“I think I’m in some of these crowds, is this the nineties??”
“Yup…do you want to see? I bet we can find you?” I ask.
She says yes, but we have to find a specific event. She is wearing a lime green jumpsuit and was pretty tipsy that day, she explains. She should be somewhere in front she says. She also said she had sunglasses on for at least half of it, and know for sure she fell asleep at some point. A “Fat ass dude who was scary” won the headlining match of the night she said. Those were our clues. It was sometime between 95 and 2000 she said. No problem, I can work with that.
After two hours of scrolling through, watching Shane Douglas, Sandman’s drunk ass, and Sabu brutalizing his body, we spot Bam Bam Bigelow. She stops me.
“There. THERE I AM!!!!! OH MY GOD GIRL!!!! LOOK AT ME!!!”
She points to the screen, and I laugh so hard.
There she is, sitting right there with her buddy Tony as Bam Bam Bigelow destroys his opponent for a title shot, with a crowd going absolutely insane at a historic hardcore matchup. It’s Shondee. Sitting in a lime green jumpsuit. Possibly asleep. At one point later in the match she is wearing sunglasses indoors with a big ass cup, looking completely unamused, as people continue to freak out around her. You can spot her pretty well considering this was a 1997 November to Remember PPV we are watching. The match in question is actually a flashback to a previous match, where Bam Bam took the title, as Lashonda sat, in her green jumpsuit.”
Stories like this is what people will remember about LaShonda Lester. I’m sure in time, the comedy scene will laugh again. In the mean time, there’s work to be done. LaShonda leaves behind a hard working husband, Dana, and a son, Alex. Katie Pengra has started a Go Fund Me campaign to help Dana find and fund childcare and other needs for Alex. Click the link below to donate. I am sure that a benefit is in the works as well. We’ll keep you updated.