Few people know Ed Bailey as well as Day Bracey, who co-hosts the Drinking Partners podcast with him.
“We came up around the same time,” says Bracey. “Ed was always cool. There weren’t many black dudes on the scene—there still aren’t that many—so we kind of bonded in that regard. We were booked on a lot of shows together so over time our friendship grew.”
In 2014, Bracey and Bailey were looking for another comedic outlet they could branch into, and Drinking Partners was born. To date, the pair have racked up more than 100 episodes on the Epicast Network and have interviewed a who’s who of Pittsburgh personalities, from Rick Sebak and Liz Berlin to Jasiri X and Bill Peduto, pairing hilarious, often alcohol-induced banter with trenchant social commentary.
The podcast was continuing to grow and attract bigger names until the night Bailey nearly lost his life. As Bracey recalls it, he, Bailey, and another comic, John Ralich, were all booked to play the same two shows the weekend of January 20 and 21. Tragically, Ralich, who was 34, died suddenly at home on the 21st, and it was when Bracey went to pass along this news to Bailey that he heard of his accident. (Arcade Comedy hosted a memorial for Ralich on March 11, and there was another in his hometown of Weirton, West Virginia the same day.)
The next day, Bracey went to visit Bailey in the ICU.
“It was a pretty tough moment,” he remembers. “He was on a ventilator, unconscious. It was me and my fiancée and Khamil and his family, and [my fiancée] asked me if I wanted to say anything to him. So I leaned over to Ed and said, ‘well, at least you still got your face. Your face is looking good, bro. I’m sure you’ll have some jokes about this.’”
Bracey, with characteristic insight, states that comedy has always been a coping mechanism, a therapeutic way to deal with trauma both personal and societal. Besides, he was right about Bailey finding comedic value in his accident.
“When I saw him again at the hospital a month later, he was like ‘Man, I’m just glad I didn’t fuck my face up.’”
By all accounts, the speed of Bailey’s recovery has been remarkable. He credits the physical shape he was in prior to the accident as one reason—“I was benching 225; that’s what they do at the NFL Combine,”—but more so because of the unending love and support of his family and girlfriend.
“To wake up with your significant other by your side—she’s working from the hospital room from her laptop—there’s a sense of calm you have to have. As I was sedated and I kept waking up, my family was driving back and forth from Cleveland, I would hear someone’s voice and I would immediately calm down.”
Bailey made an unexpected public appearance at the monthly Comtra comedy show in late February. By mid-March, not even a month after leaving ICU and learning to walk again, he unveiled a brand new 20-minute set at a fundraiser hosted by artist Baron Batch to help pay for his medical bills.
“It was all new material,” remembers Bracey. “It wasn’t like he was out there hitting open mics [honing his set]. He just went in there raw and it was amazing to watch. I thought he would just get up there and say a couple words. Bill Crawford [the headliner] turned to me and said, ‘How am I going to follow this?’”
“The accident has sparked some jokes, but that’s because my comedy is based off things that I’ve experienced or conversations I’ve had,” says Bailey. “My strength is that my life is funny enough, so my comedy hasn’t changed because of my accident; the accident just becomes part of my comedy.”
Besides getting back on stage, Bailey is already considering his next move. He and his family might move to the New York City area. That could benefit his career to be in a larger market, but the main reason is so his children can be closer to Khamil’s family, since neither she or he have much immediate family in the area.
Comedy might be Bailey’s passion, but the accident reinvigorated his understanding of what’s truly important in life.
“People always tell me I have such a natural, conversational style on stage, and that’s because that’s who I am. I’m not a character, I’m Ed Bailey. That’s who I am. I’m pretty humble. I’m a cool dude. I’m not gonna put a lot of pressure on you to be any type of way, or change you. I’m just me. I’m out here just livin’. We all out here livin’, just trying to enjoy ourselves.”