CHELSEA — Two years ago, the Upright Citizens Brigade’s artistic director sent an email to UCB performer Timmy Wood, who with his wife had volunteered to coordinate a Secret Santa gift exchange for the hundreds of people involved with the sketch-comedy group.
The director, Shannon O’Neill, worried some performers might come to the party and leave without a gift if their Secret Santas didn’t show up, she recalled.
“I am… going to buy a bunch of extra little gifts in case this happens,” Wood wrote her back. “I don’t want anyone going home empty-handed like a sad Charlie Brown that night.”
That was the kind of person Wood was, said friends and colleagues of the performer, who passed away unexpectedly Saturday at the age of 32, friends said. The cause of his death was not immediately known, but friends said a preliminary autopsy pointed to the possibility of an undiagnosed heart condition.
“He had this way of just wanting to include everybody in everything,” his writing partner AJ Patton said Wednesday. “He would take a normal thing, something that would be mundane, or something you’d done a million times before, and find a way to put this amazing twist on it that made it new and exciting.”
The UCB community will host show in Wood’s honor — ”Timmy Wood Want It That Way!” — at UCB Chelsea, at 307 W. 26th St., on Thursday.
“[Timmy] had energy like no one else,” his friend Todd Bieber recalled. “There was really no one else like him on the stage — his arms were flailing, he was acrobatic in so many strange, absurd, hilarious ways.
“Off the stage, he was one of the kindest, nicest people and just lit up a room when he walked in.”
Friends described Woods as a “husband, a brother, a friend, a wildman, a Texan, a movie lover [and] a life lover” on a GoFundMe page set up in his honor.
Proceeds from the online fundraiser will go to his wife, Julie Gomez, as well as help launch the “Timmy Wood Comedy Memorial Fund” to provide micro-grants to aspiring comedians struggling to find time for creative projects in between work hours, Bieber said. It had already raised nearly $38,000 as of Wednesday afternoon.
A Williamsburg resident, Wood worked as a barista for years while trying to get his comedy career off the ground, Bieber recalled.
After taking his first UCB class in February 2010, he soon became a face everyone recognized.
UCB performer Frank Garcia-Hejl bonded with Wood over their shared home of Texas the first time they met, when Wood was still a student and Garcia-Hejl was a performer.
“Students tend to be nervous or shy when talking to performers or teachers, but I remember sitting in the lobby of our old training center and seeing this young, handsome man with a giant smile on his face walking towards me,” Garcia-Hejl wrote in an email.
“He was always a friendly face you were happy to see…. The moment you saw him, you felt better,” he added.
Between September 2014 and May 2015, Wood and Patton performed in a sketch show called “Hype Squad” at UCB Chelsea, directed by Wood’s wife.
“I think we just got each other’s sense of humor, in a really awesome way, and just really respected one another,” said Patton, who had been working with Wood on a pilot based on the sketch show.
They took the show to Los Angeles and South Carolina, and spent hours rehearsing before performances.
“It’s one of the things I’m most proud of,” Patton said. “There’s no way it would have happened without Timmy Wood.”
Wood had recently accepted a job writing at Poncho — a “funny weather app,” as O’Neill described it.
“Last time I talked to him, he was pitching me tons of weather jokes…. He was excited about it, and it was great,” Bieber said.
Wood performed with a UCB team called “This Old House” starting in April 2015, before joining a new team called “The Nightmare” last month, O’Neill said.
Wednesday evening would have been his second show with the team, she added.
“He was eternally positive, and I know you hear that about a lot of people, but he definitely was eternally positive,” Bieber said.
The comedian had made appearances on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" and Funny or Die, Bieber said.
“It’s such a tragedy because he was not a household name…. But he was on the verge of being someone that everyone would know,” he added.
As a performer and as a person, Wood made an indelible impression, O’Neill added.
“Timmy was so open and wonderful with everybody,” she said. “[H]e’ll be someone that is talked about for the rest of UCB’s history.”