The life of a comedian is not always a laughing matter. Comedians often wrestle with inner demons and may turn to drugs or alcohol for relief. Professional comedians have a lonely, stressful job, as they stand in front of a live audience with only a microphone. Added to the mix is a work environment filled with alcohol, and often drugs, where their audience is typically enjoying one or both. As a result, addiction and depression are all too common in the world of comedy.
The link between addiction and depression has been well documented. Deborah Serani, a clinical psychologist who treats performers with depression and other mental health problems, says, “Comedy can often be a defensive posture against depression.” As the author of the book, “Living with Depression,” Serani talks about a “mask of depression” that many comedians wear in an effort to hide the darkness they feel. Comedians are often highly intelligent and adept at hiding inner conflict with humor.
John Lehr – Cold. Sober. Comedy.
Comedian John Lehr, one of the original cavemen in the Geico ads, has now been sober for 23 years. Earlier this year, he talked to Victoria Kim of The Fix about his journey.
Originally from Chicago, Lehr moved to Los Angeles to pursue his career in comedy. The young comedian had begun taking drugs in high school and fell into depression with the move to California.
Lehr hit rock bottom in 1996 when, while driving on acid, he was stopped by police and jailed overnight. In serious trouble, Lehr’s lawyer advised him to get into an addiction treatment program. Fortunately, Lehr followed that advice and has been sober ever since. Still a performer, Lehr now draws much of his comedic material from sobriety, delivering laughs alongside inspiration.
Using the headline, “Cold. Sober. Comedy,” Lehr is a popular performer and emcee at fundraisers, recovery events, sober communities and non-profit group events. He openly shares stories of his addiction, personal struggles and recovery journey. At these events, Lehr often performs his signature monologue, “Wait, I Have to Give a Crap About Other People?”
A feature in Forbes Magazine by Robin Seaton Jefferson quotes Lehr as saying, “Quitting drugs and alcohol—as hard as it is—is the easy part. What’s really hard is living without the drugs and the alcohol. I didn’t know how to be sober.”
Using his live show, ‘’Three Harsh Tokes,” Lehr offers up what he’s learned during his struggle with addiction and recovery. He says, “Number one: I’m not God. I may not know who or what God is, but I know it’s not me. Number two: I’m never going to fully recover, but as long as I’m seeking God or a higher power in others’ views, I’m okay. I don’t have to find it. I just have to seek it. And number three: I can’t fix myself.”
Mark Lundholm – Zero to Hero
Growing up in a severely dysfunctional home, Mark Lundholm used humor to escape a childhood surrounded by parents and stepparents abusing alcohol and prescription drugs. Abby Welsh Alusheff of the Livingston Daily quotes Lundholm recalling his childhood. “If you were funny, it didn’t hurt as much on the outside [and] you could actually get some attention that wasn’t negative, sexual or predatory.”
By the time he entered college, Lundholm had his own addiction issues, as he struggled with alcohol, marijuana, and, eventually, drugs like ecstasy, cocaine and methamphetamine. By age 29, suffering from addiction and mental health challenges, Lundholm had been incarcerated and was now homeless. Suicide felt like the only option. He said of that time, “I knew I wanted to die, but I didn’t want to look bad doing it,” so he checked into a hotel room for privacy. When the gun he planned to use jammed, Lundholm managed to get himself to a detox facility and has now been clean since that desperate day in 1988.
Once he got clean, Lundholm shared his comedic skills with people in treatment centers, jails, hospitals and other institutions. Using comedy to help others struggling with addiction, he now runs “Zero to Hero,” an 8-hour humor-based process group, in facilities across the U.S. and overseas. Lundholm has found that humor allows him to connect with others because “it removes shame, it lessens the threat of a topic should you choose to discuss it, and it invites trust.”
Alonzo Bodden – Last Comic Standing
In April 2018, John Lavitt of The Fix talked with Alonzo Bodden about comedy and recovery.
Bodden discovered his love of comedy while teaching airplane mechanics at Lockheed and McDonnell Douglas. He had so much fun making the group laugh, that when he was laid off, he enrolled in a comedy class. His training and natural skill paid off, as he won season 3 of NBC’s Last Comic Standing.
It was far from a straight path that led Bodden to his successful career as a stand-up comedian. Wanting to be “cool,” he started using drugs at age 13, soon regularly using cocaine. By the mid-1980s, Bodden had progressed to crack and had spiraled into a cycle of job lay-offs, rehab stints and relapses. When he was finally arrested, a light clicked on. He describes sitting in the back of the police car and remembering the word “powerlessness” from prior 12-step work. This time when he went to rehab, it worked, and he has been sober ever since.
Bodden has now been in recovery about 30 years and has spent the past 25 years as a comic. As much as Bodden enjoys his career and thrives on the laughter of his audiences, he remains a realist, saying, “Although my life may seem great, meetings remind me that I’m still an addict and an alcoholic. It only stays great by maintaining my sobriety.”
Start your own recovery journey
The comprehensive alcohol and drug dependency programs at Turning Point of Tampa combine intense therapy and compassionate care with the 12-Step model for addiction treatment. Over the last three decades, we have helped thousands of clients change the course of their lives by developing the coping skills needed to maintain their sobriety.
Turning Point of Tampa’s goal is to always provide a safe environment and a solid foundation in 12-Step recovery, in tandem with quality individual therapy and groups. We have been offering Licensed Residential Treatment for Substance Abuse, Eating Disorders and Dual Diagnosis in Tampa since 1987.