John Bowman was respected for his versatility as a writer on shows ranging from edgy sketch comedies to “Murphy Brown,” “The Hughleys” and “Cedric the Entertainer Presents,” and for his work with the Writers Guild of America.
Bowman was a WGA West board member, and he served as head of the WGA’s negotiating committee during the 2007-2008 writers strike. He was a key player in reaching the settlement that ended the 100-day work stoppage.
“John Bowman’s strong and thoughtful leadership of the 2007 WGA Negotiating Committee made him a vocal champion for the membership throughout the talks and the strike that we eventually won,” said Meredith Stiehm, president of the Writers Guild of America West. “He remained committed to serving the membership as a Board member, Funds trustee and 2011 Negotiating Committee co-chair. The Guild is stronger today because of John’s dedication and devotion to his fellow writers.”
Stiehm’s immediate predecessor at WGA West, David Goodman, recalled Bowman’s grace amid the pressure of the strike.
“As chair of that committee he took on a burden for all of us, he never seemed to tire, and I watched in awe as he would calm anxious members with his seemingly effortless, eloquent oratory and biting wit,” Goodman said. “We owe him a huge debt of gratitude for lending his talents and commitment to his Union.”
In his role as co-creator and showrunner of “Martin,” which starred comedian Martin Lawrence and ran from 1992 to 1997 on Fox, Bowman was a strong and collaborative partner, Lawrence recalled.
“John understood my vision. There wasn’t anything too big or too small that could phase him, which made working together a great experience,” Lawrence said.
“Martin” co-star Tisha Campbell remembered Bowman as “one of the sweetest and kindest producers” she has encountered.
“I remember the first time I ad-libbed on the show and I ran to John saying, ‘I have a pitch.’ He was so encouraging,” Campbell said. “He pushed me to be fearless when it came to comedy. I’m so forever grateful.”
Bowman in Milwaukee, Wis., in 1957, Bowman headed to Harvard after high school, where he became an editor of the Harvard Lampoon.
In 1988, Bowman was hired on as a staff writer for “Saturday Night Live” along with his wife, Shannon Gaughan, who he met at Harvard. Bowman had a short tenure at “SNL” but he made a lasting impression.
“Everybody loves to laugh, but they don’t always love the people who make them laugh,” said Jim Downey, the longest-serving writer on “SNL.” “Except for John. Everybody did love John, the best funny person ever.”
Fellow showrunner John Ridley praised Bowman’s track record of helping to nurture writers from underrepresented background in Hollywood.
“In the writers’ room, John was a mentor to so many young writers of color, many of us who had our first professional gigs with him,” said Ridley. “Outside the room, he was tireless in his efforts at achieving equitable working conditions for all writers. What John gave to the writing community will endure for decades to come.”
After stepping back from comedy writing, Bowman joined the adjunct faculty at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles. He taught script form and sketch comedy writing.
Bowman’s survivors include his wife of 39 years and five children: Johnny Bowman Jr., Courtney Gaughan Brady, Nicholas Vincent, Alec Stewart and Jesse Hunter. He is also survived by two brothers, William Bowman and James Bowman, and a sister, Susan Bowman.
A private mass will be held next week at Santa Monica Catholic Church. A memorial is planned for the spring.
Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.