Episode 10: Chris Fairbanks
Stand-up Comedian, Skateboarder and co-host of Fuel T.V.’s The Daily Habit, Chris Fairbanks talks with Paul about his mother’s battle with alcoholism, Alzheimer’s and Dementia and its effect on him growing up and today. They talk about the link between pain and creativity, peer acceptance, dark voices in their heads and they both share chilling stories about dead people.
Paul: I’m here with Chris Fairbanks. We’re at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival and you just came in, you just, you were just saying you were doing a gig in Seattle that you thought was related to this festival—
Chris: I got the impression, because it was the same comics, some of them—
Paul: Completely unrelated.
Chris: The organizer of this festival turns out has no knowledge of this.
Paul: And in a nutshell, that’s the comedy, the business side of comedy. It’s kind of vague, you, a lot of times you don’t even find what the real gig is until you get there. You find out, ‘oh I’m performing on the roof of a barn’.
Chris: Oh those rooftop barn shows. The barn burners I like to call them. Yeah, no I, I think it was me misreading an email. I don’t think they ever claimed, ‘hey we’re Bridgetown’. And they were super nice guys, and the show was off the, off the hook, off the chains. It wasn’t quite as urban as off the hook, but it was off the chains. It was really fun.
Paul: I watched some of your stand-up last night on the, the series of pipes and tubes they call the internet—
Chris: The world wide interweb.
Paul: Yes, the world wide interweb. I love your style. It’s, it’s, somebody, I saw some of the reviews on Amazon, you’ve got some great reviews on your CD, and one person said, ‘there’s a jazz like quality to your comedy’, and I agree. It’s kind of flowing, and it’s kind of, you know, flights of fancy and tangents that are really kind of non-linear, and kind of risky.
Chris: Well, that, I started doing stand-up that way because I kind of had no choice, and that’s naturally how I talk and—
Paul: Was Jake Johannsen somebody who you looked to and said, ‘there’s a guy that’s doing what I would like to do’, and I’m not saying that you’re copying Jake by any means, but I see a similar thread running through it.
Chris: Yeah, that’s, I heard that a lot. And I heard Bob Newhart a lot, and I heard Ellen Degeneres a lot, and none of them were influences until I heard that, and then I listened to their stand-up after I started and was like, ‘oh I guess we do have sensibilities’—
Paul: So you’ve had, you’ve had your own voice then, out of the gate then, that’s great.
Chris: Yeah, I just, I was making mistakes, and then getting laughs off of riffing off of those mistakes, and then so, I thought ‘well I can recreate that’, maybe I’ll do that on purpose next time. So I’m lying when I do stand-up and say Champbell’s Cunky Soup. I’m lying and pretending that, so if you see me more than once, it becomes very disappointing how much I’m lying—
Paul: Well I’m glad that you’re honest and you’re being honest about your lying, so in a way you’ve swept up your mess, but, I don’t consider that dishonest because, if somebody is playing the trumpet, and they’re improvising one night, and they come up with a great melody, why the should the world not benefit from hearing that again? So take up the trumpet is what I’m saying—
Chris: Exactly. I recreate my trumpet flubs. But every comic does that. If you have lines that you give to certain hecklers that seem like they’re improvised, but maybe that person said that 38 times that year.
Paul: I worked with Garry Shandling when I was a young comedian and he comes out the first night, I’m the feature act and he’s the headliner and he does 45 minutes of brand new material, and I’m just bowled over, I’m like ‘holy shit, what am I’, and the next night he does the same act. And I’m like, ‘oh my god,’ he’s just giving the impression, he was so good at presenting his comedy in a conversational style, I realized I had just thought this was off the top of his head—
Chris: And that’s what I try to do, to make people think things. Because they do organically happen. I do like to improvise and riff, but you have to have planned things that you know will work hidden in there and it gives me the freedom to be ridiculous—
Paul: Yeah, and I don’t think there’s anything disingenuous about giving the comedy audience a sense that they are watching somebody do something that’s not pat. People don’t want to hear something tired and sound like it’s been recited and it’s somebody’s reciting and—
Chris: I think you’re right. I don’t know, I don’t think I’m lying, I’ve just had people come up and go, ‘oh I thought last night when I saw the show that was a mistake’—
Paul: Oh the comedy police haven’t given you any shit because there’s occasionally the comedy police in LA—
Chris: Yeah, the LA cops that sometimes wait after shows and cite you—
Paul: No, but there are certain comedians that will kind of off handedly grumble about stuff, I’m not going to name and names, but that, I used to let those people let me think that ‘oh that’s not valid if somebody’, no, fuck them.
Chris: I always, I started with a lot of wordplay. I had a lot of, not puns, but just wordplay. And a lot of comics that I respected, like when I moved to LA were like, ‘don’t do those, that’s a pun’. Like it’s the cornerstone to all good advertising, puns, so why can’t I tell them on stage? But yeah, I started to steer away from that. I’ve kept a few of them.
Paul: Well I was looking at your website, which is really just a splash page and trying—
Chris: That leads you to Facebook, yes, that’s a lazy person’s website—
Paul: Where you have even less information about yourself on Facebook, so I was trying to get some type of bio, since we have tons of mutual friends, but I don’t know much about you. I apologize for that. I’ve heard you name a ton of times. I see that you perform at Death Ray and the UCB and all the fun places, but if you would, tell me and the listeners what we might know you in, see you in. You’re a skateboarder and you’ve done some stuff on Fuel TV, which I love Fuel.
Chris: Yeah, that’s become a regular gig now—
Paul: What is the name of the gig?
Chris: It’s called The Daily Habit, and it’s—
Paul: I’ve watched it sometimes.
Chris: It’s I think, because Fox owns Fuel, it’s guys now that the show has been relaunched and is now on the Fox slot, and it’s now costing money to make, they want to like broaden the audience, which is, I don’t, that’s what’s happening, and I don’t know how I feel about it, but I also—
Paul: You’re all going to wear Polo shirts and khakis while you skate—
Chris: Yeah, make a few golf references here and there. But we are, we are talking more about UFC and other more man-centric college type stuff, rather than specifically action sports which is what they call surfing, skating, snowboarding. And those motorbikes. But it’s become a comedy show, like it’s a Chelsea Lately panel discussion show for young dudes, which is cool because then I, I have a writing job now and am one of the regular co-anchors—
Paul: That’s so awesome.
Chris: And then we have comics on, and athletes. It’s not always just comics. Like Chelsea we watch videos, viral videos, we get all ToshO-y and comment on those and we do sketches and segments, press junkets, all that stuff.
Paul: And can people see your stand-up on Comedy Central as well?
Chris: Um, you can see my old Premium Blend on there. I actually, Fuel did a half hour special that I shot down at M Bar, and it was beautiful. They had the cameras swooping cranes, yeah, it’s very technical. You know the swooping crane. I think that’s a karate move and not a.... They had a jib on a track thing, and it looked amazing, and I like M Bar and I wanted to shoot it there. And they aired it a few times and I think they’re done airing it. I think it did okay.
Paul: M Bar is a bar in Los Angeles that kind of, has a lot of alternative comedy performances.
Chris: Yeah, a lot of the shows that ended up at UCB started, that’s where Death Ray was.
Paul: Yeah, I remember. It’s really fun how the alternative scene has given venues for people that want to do material that, who don’t want to pander to tourists. That, The Improv kind of became that way for me where it was just, you couldn’t put certain nuances, it would be lost on people there. Whereas UCB and M Bar, they were aficionados of comedy, so you could be much more nuanced there and you are, I think one of the comedians who has benefited from that. You don’t seem like you have had to pander to make a living, or you refuse to pander to make a living.
Chris: Well no, you haven’t seen me on the road, I hack it up. I get, no, after being accepted into that alternative scene, and I found it important to go on the road—
Paul: Find what America thinks—
Chris: Yeah, you have to do both I think.
Paul: Can you talk about that dichotomy?
Chris: It’s, I don’t have to change that much I find. But in the beginning yeah, I was more physical. I would have to be less specific with, or explain certain things more. Because in this country, you go to different parts of it, and sometimes an entire part of the country just doesn’t seem to know what I’m saying, or care, or want to. This is a part of the country that does, the Pacific Northwest are like minded. Maybe it’s because I’m sort of from this area.
Paul: You’re originally from Missoula.
Chris: Missoula, but it’s right next to Idaho. It’s very very, it’s not much space.
Paul: It’s Militia adjacent.
Chris: It’s just next to Militia.
Paul: So when I sent you an email asking if you would be interested in coming on the podcast, if the theme is something you could relate to, which is the double edged sword of creativity and mental illness, what was your thought?
Chris: Well I saw, I saw the email, and when I first scanned it I thought, ‘oh, a podcast, I’ll do that’. Then I read it again and saw it was about mental illness, and I’m going through that right now with my mom, so I thought I have to do this. Because she was diagnosed with Alzheimers which is hard to diagnose—
Paul: How old is your mom?
Chris: She’s young, she’ 64. Which is young. She’s in a facility with people that are 15 years older than her, but probably mentally worse off than most of them. And physically—
Paul: She’s physically worse off than most of them?
Chris: I think so, they were like watching after her. Plus she’s very, she’s in good shape physically and much more mobile than them, so she was trying to get out of there all the time. And they were really worried, because she would just walk out the front door, ‘I’m going to go for a walk’. I mean, she was running a handful of years ago, running regularly. But—
Paul: When did you guys first know something was the matter?
Chris: It’s been gradual. I mean now that it’s full on happening, I realize there’s been warnings my whole life—
Paul: When were the first warnings? How many years ago?
Chris: She just, it’s her defense mechanism I think, when things get challenging, or when something is scary, she just gets confused. She would act—
Paul: So there’s an emotional component to this, I had no idea. I thought it was just purely genetic.
Chris: It’s, and she talked about being fearful that she’d get Alzheimers. She would take St. John’s root or whatever things that don’t work, vitamins.
Paul: Does it run in her family?
Chris: Yeah it is. Both my grandmothers had it, and so she’s always been paranoid about it. When she really started like repeating things over and over, like asking the same question, I still didn’t think—
Paul: And how old was she when she was doing this?
Chris: Right, early, like this has all happened pretty quick.
Paul: In the last five years?
Chris: Yeah, for sure. So she lived on her own, and then they took away her license because she went to the DMV, and that woman was like, okay, and stamped something on, someone at the DMV decided she could no longer drive. So then she was no longer mobile and then she was wandering around a lot and getting on busses and not knowing where she was going to end up. Then she started being on busses and thinking she had hurt people, then she started not being able to find her apartment, so—
Paul: So is it Alzheimers and dementia?
Chris: It’s hard, I think that whole spectrum of, they use spectrum when they’re talking about Asperger’s and autism, and I think also other problems. I generally just always call that dementia, and then Alzheimers they get more specific, but I don’t think they really know how to fully diagnose it. Or that’s what I’m getting the impression of. What has happened since she’s moved into this, it was this home where you had someone watch after you, assisted living basically. And the government just took her out of there because she was setting off fire alarms and walking around in her bra with a hammer because she forgot she was hanging a picture, and then scaring people because she’s holding a hammer. And then once she started talking to people who aren’t there, that’s when she started talking to people in chairs and having conversations with them, then, and my sister was out of town.
Paul: How many kids?
Chris: Just me and my sister. My sister has a family and lives in Spokane and moved my mom there.
Paul: Is there a dad in the picture?
Chris: We have a dad, and he’s 100 percent there, but he’s been married a couple of times, had some happily married times. Of course he’s concerned about the whole situation—
Paul: Is he involved in the situation at all?
Chris: Only with being support to me and my sister, but he would get involved if we—
Paul: What kind of relationship did your mom and your dad have prior to your mom coming to the home?
Chris: They got divorced when I was like 14—
Paul: And was it amicable?
Chris: Um, yeah. I mean, they didn’t talk a lot of shit about each other, but it, no, it was a standard divorce with joint custody and we ended up living with my mom and my sister went to college. So I lived with her, and I’m realizing now in retrospect that yeah, she was a little, had things going on. It didn’t seem like I was living with a parent at that time—
Paul: There was something childlike about her?
Paul: You felt you had to be a little bit like the adult?
Chris: Yeah at times. And she was a pretty bad alcoholic and then turned that around, went to AA, got sober and became a vegetarian and was doing well, and then this whole thing—
Paul: So we can agree that AA causes dementia?
Chris: Yeah, it’s a direct link and I’m saying that. I’m going on record, AA while stopping drinking, will cause dementia. Go ahead and write that down. I’m no doctor, but I’m fairly certain that is what happens.
Paul: You know one of the nice things about interviewing so many comedians as guests is I know, I don’t, this is the first time you and I have met, and here I am making a joke about your mother with this painful thing and yet I know it’s okay to make that joke because I know that’s how you and I and our peers cope.
Chris: Man, my dad was in the hospital once, he was bleeding. He had these ulcers, but he was bleeding to death essentially, and he’s fine now, but it was really scary. And man were we funny in that room. Me and my dad just riffing. I thought he was dying and we were doing our A material.
Paul: Really? Your dad’s a funny guy?
Chris: Oh he’s very funny—
Paul: So you’re close to your dad?
Chris: Yeah yeah, very close.
Paul: As close as you could be with your mom? How long was she sober before she started getting sick?
Chris: Ten years.
Paul: So you had a nice ten year stretch when she was present in your family, in your life and—
Chris: Yeah, I wouldn’t use the word present. That would be loose use of the word.
Paul: Okay, can you describe what it was like?
Chris: Yeah, well now—
Paul: What got better about her being sober in terms of being a mother?
Chris: Yes, she was not going out at night and there was not, she was just around more. And of course—
Paul: But still kind of trapped in her own head?
Chris: Yes, yeah. It’s just she wasn’t drunk, which was good. But now—
Paul: But now maybe a little dry? A little bit of a dry drunk?
Chris: But I wish they would let her drink now. I’m like, go ahead and drink. Because she’s really scared, I mean they, so the state took her out of this place and put her in a psych ward of a mental institution, took away her belongings, got rid of her cat. She’s wearing grey sweatpants in some cement room with a hose in it. I don’t know, and that’s where she’s been for a week. And apparently she’s staying there. The government put her there.
Paul: And how do you feel about that?
Chris: Um, it’s scarey. And she’s incontinent now. And I think shes shutting down and I don’t, it’s hard to know if it’s the condition, her brain not letting her go to the bathroom and things like that, or if it’s, personally I think it’s one of these mechanisms. I mean the Alzheimer’s is there, but it’s now triggering this giving up, and it’s because she’s in these surroundings now that are far from familiar—
Paul: There’s nothing to care about.
Chris: No, if I went and visited my mom and was talking to her, she would act normal. Like the people in the white lab coats are deciding if she’s off her rocker. If they saw me around her, me and my sister and my mom talking, other than her repeating things over and over, she would act normal. But she does not, she really turns on the crazy at the worst possible times. Like when she’s—
Paul: Give us some examples.
Chris: There’s times when she’s under review by people that are deciding if she can stay in this specific assisted living place or if she needs to go to a place that’s more like a locked hospital, and someone saw her, and that’s when she just started talking to chairs, and she had never done that before. And so that person is like, ‘oh you’re, a paranoid schizophrenic’—
Paul: Was she manipulating them or was the stress of it bring out some kind of breakdown in her?
Chris: Yeah more of the latter, the stress is—
Paul: Because it wasn’t in her interest to be thought of as crazy—
Chris: Oh certainly not. It’s not in her best interest to be in the scariest place she’s ever lived, so that’s, yeah, it’s more her not knowing how to deal with stress. And like I said before, there’s been a level of that always with her, and my grandfather and her siblings, one of whom, my brother has been in mental institutions, her brother, my uncle.
Paul: So there’s a history in the family—
Chris: Yeah, and man, it’s probably coursing through my blood right now.
Paul: Well then let’s talk about you for a little bit. Do you—well you know what, let’s go take the survey if you don’t mind, walking through some of this. You’re how old?
Chris: I’m 36.
Paul: Okay, and what best describes your drug intake, drug alcohol intake? You know, not counting antidepressants.
Chris: I would say, I wish I could smoke weed. If weed didn’t, if I could deal with paranoia and getting high and just, but no, everyone in the room is a cop who seems to be hitting on me—
Paul: Yeah, note to you, don’t do meth.
Chris: I’ve never done meth and I have never tried meth—
Paul: But you are fashionably thin.
Chris: I, thank you, thank you. It’s just for the sake of fashion.
Paul: And your teeth are secure.
Chris: They are secure even though I occasionally chew tobacco. I brush a lot. I drink, I think I drink, as a comic it’s funny, it’s almost like an occupational hazard. Because I didn’t really drink much until college but that was a normal of all my friends. But then with stand-up, especially where I started in Texas, there’s just everyone is smoking and drinking every night during shows. It’s like, oh this is part of the job. And I’d like to know if I would drink at all if stand-up had not been part of my life. I’ve always been kind of health conscious, because of my mom, ironically.
Paul: Are you drinking presently, a fair amount?
Chris: It’s funny to talk about this now, as hungover as I am right now, but we are at a comedy festival. And every night, this festival specifically, it’s geared around like, ‘hey the after party is from one to five, everyone’s there’. I see people that I know don’t drink that much, walking around like 50’s cartoon hobos.
Paul: You know what my opinion is on that? Is I think that festival’s bring out our greatest insecurities if we’re not vigilant to watch them, because when I get around, and tell me if you’re like me, but when I get around a group of comedians, especially if they’re in my opinion, more successful or better than me, I feel a certain sense of loneliness, not-enough-ness, a low level panic, that I’ve fucked up, I’ve made too many mistakes in my life, and here now I’m looking at it.
Paul: Do you think maybe that drives some of the extra self medication that’s going on with the people getting loaded, or they just want to have a good time?
Chris: A little, I think for me it’s more I’m just, I just want to have a good time.
Paul: You’re not a competitive person.
Chris: Not so much, and the longer I do this, and it’s been twelve years now, the more I’m like done being intimidated by other comics.
Paul: That’s great. Because it absolutely destroys people.
Chris: Yeah, that’s something, I usually have the approval of other comics. That’s one thing I’ve always been able to do that’s helped a lot. I can make other comics laugh. And then later I learned how to make audiences laugh—
Paul: So you are okay with it okay because you passed judgement, not because you were like, I got judged and I had to be okay with being judged.
Chris: Yeah. I was never felt judged in my life—
Paul: If you had been judged by the other comedians, how do you think you would have handled it? Would it have shut you down, or would you have reached a place where you were okay with where you were, would you have changed your act, what do you...?
Chris: Yeah, that’s a good question. I don’t know.
Paul: Probably a pointless question, you know.
Paul: You know, what would have happened?
Chris: If, if you felt this way, how would you then react? Yeah, I think I’ve gotten angry when I meet comics and I can tell they think they are better than me, and that’s when I, and I say things that are on my mind. And I haven’t gotten in fights with comics, but there are comics, when I moved to LA and saw people acting cocky or, confident even, I don’t even like confidence really. I find confidence real real close to cockiness. If you can tell me how they’re different, that’d be great. So I was offended by that, and there are certain comics I met when I first moved to town, and I would tell them I don’t like the way you’re acting around me right now.
Chris: Yeah, I would voice that, not so much any more, because they would become awkward altercations and I’d wake up the next day like ‘ohhh, why did I say that to B.J. Novak’ or whoever. You know what I mean, like there’s certain, like that guy specifically I remember having awkward, like I don’t like that you’re so unshakably confident guy. Comedy isn’t about being cool. When is—
Paul: But confidence is okay. I think it’s almost necessary in some ways in comedy—
Chris: It is, I think I was taught growing up, by my dad, and I think it’s one of the only things that I don’t necessarily agree with, is to be careful about being confident or being full of yourself. You don’t want to get a big head and have people thinking you’re—
Paul: Were you raised religiously or catholic, because that’s such a catholic—
Chris: No, I think atheistly. My mom found god in the program, so then, you know, I’d go to church sometimes. Actually what, in high school I was part of a youth group and we’d go on trips, but that was just for the social reasons. I liked hanging out with—
Paul: That was for all the youth group pussy.
Chris: Yeah! God, that sweet sweet Christian poonany around every corner. Sure, during the day we’d be at a soup kitchen, but at night—
Paul: You’d be in her soup kitchen.
Chris: Dipping my ladle in the top bunk of an awkward camp somewhere. Yeah, no, it was to meet nice girls, but then I got into college and I felt like, wait, and I’ve never read the bible so I don’t know about this stuff, so I should quit pretending.
Paul: Well I’m glad that you broke that up because one of the questions on this survey is—
Chris: Oh yeah, I haven’t been doing the survey—
Paul: Oh no, I haven’t been doing the survey. What best describes your spiritual life? Non-existent, a little, average, a lot, full.
Chris: Uh, a little. I, and I’m not, I wouldn’t say that I’m atheist. I guess that people throw around the word agnostic, I guess that’s what I am, but I do talk to somebody occasionally, and you have to when you’re dealing with something like this. But who am I, ‘oh please, Larry up in the sky’, like I don’t even know who I’m, but I know there’s something out there, so I’m talking to somebody, but I wouldn’t say it’s Jesus or God or whatever. But there’s got to be something, because there’s ghosts and things. If there’s ghosts, then yeah. I got to—
Paul: That’s funny. I believe in god or at least something out there, but I don’t believe in ghosts.
Chris: I didn’t either until I, I was painting windows for Christmas one year, actually ironically in Austin and there’s this building that everyone says this building is haunted. And I was in there alone and painting these windows in this ballroom, and I could hear people partying and laughing and cheers-ing glasses, and I just was like, well they’re obviously having fun in the next room, and then this guy came downstairs and unlocked the door, and was like ‘okay, I’m here now, so you can leave, the door isn’t locked anymore’. And I’m like, ‘no there’s people in the next room’. And he said, ‘no, like the party noises? Yeah, those are ghosts’. And I’m like, and then I realized I couldn’t hear it anymore, it was just gone. And then I’m like, but still, I don’t believe in such things. And then I’d be painting, and you hear about this all the time, but like a cold blow on my neck, or something peripherally zipping back, and then a pint glass fell over, and then I had to leave. I was like, oh this is scarey. And like I felt, and that’s the only ghost thing that I’ve ever experienced—
Paul: And the movie Ghost.
Chris: And the timeless, it’s really a good movie, I watched that recently. I really liked the movie Ghost. That is the perhaps the gayest part of me, is how much I cry at ghost.
Paul: The Goodbye Girl is that movie for me.
Chris: Does that have the spirituality though that we’re looking for that can only be provided for in Ghost and episodes of Highway to Heaven. Which, I used to watch with my dad! We would watch Highway to Heaven and cry, my dad was—
Paul: Was that Michael Landon?
Chris: Yeah, and they’d go to, they’d just do nice things for people and my dad and I both appreciated that. Their boss was god, and it was such a cheesy show, but we watched every episode, my dad my atheist father. So there’s something there, there’s some kind of spirituality in me.
Paul: What best describes the environment you were raised in? Safe and stable, a little dysfunctional, pretty dysfunctional, totally chaotic.
Chris: Pretty dysfunctional. Not totally chaotic—
Paul: That’s the majority of people that take this survey, that’s what they answer—
Chris: Really? I’m pretty sure about that.
Paul: Have you ever been through therapy, more than 20 sessions?
Chris: No, not more than 20. Five I think when I was a kid, I went to see Dr. Richard Kumm. And I was twelve, and I said, ‘your name is Richard, Dick, Kumm’, K-U-M-M is how he spelled it. So I saw Dick Kumm, I seriously it sounds like I just made a really dumb joke, but his name was Dick Kumm. He said, ‘call me Dick’. And I’m like, that’s hilarious, and I’m twelve, so it’s really funny. I was angry when my parents divorced and so I saw this guy, and I talked about my mom, and things that were going on with her and I think he then got one of his friends that he works with to focus on my mom, and I think my mom ended up taking the therapy and I was out. I told on my mom, and then—
Paul: The state stepped in?
Chris: No, no no. Just this guy said, ‘oh, maybe this doctor should see you’—
Paul: Well it’s great that she was open to that.
Chris: Oh sure, yeah. I mean she, especially then, me and my sister would always ask her to go to AA or to stop drinking, and of course you can’t tell someone to stop doing that, they have to end up doing it on their own, and she did eventually, and that was still the one thing that me and my sister are very proud of her for doing that.
Paul: Did you act out as a kid?
Chris: Not really, no. Like fighting and staying out late smoking cigs—
Paul: How did you deal with your, did you escape into something?
Chris: I escaped into, I skateboarded a lot. I met some older kids—
Paul: You consider yourself a good skateboarder?
Chris: Yeah, yeah, I did get good at it. I can still do most of the tricks. I don’t leap off of things anymore, I’ve been injured.
Paul: You must have numerous broken bones—
Chris: I one time broke my foot and my ankle simultaneously. That was the worst thing ever. And then I had to drive from Great Falls back to Missoula Montana with a broken foot and ankle in a stick shift. I didn’t know they were broken, and I wasn’t like being tough.
Paul: Were you mostly a street skater or did you do any vert stuff?
Chris: Yeah, uh no, but now I’m trying to get into, in your 30’s you have to take it to the, transition more, because the impact of leaping on flat ground I can’t do that anymore.
Paul: So are you going to skate parks now?
Chris: I am going to a lot of skate parks—
Paul: Where do you skate in LA?
Chris: I go to Stoner Park—
Paul: Is that really what it’s called?
Chris: It’s the name, it’s on Stoner Ave, which coincidentally I live on a Stoner Ave in Mar Vista, a different one.
Chris: Yeah, I guess I’ll just go ahead and give my address in this podcast. Yeah I go to Stoner Park and then in Venice they put one on the sand, this amazing park on the sand.
Paul: So you had something to pour yourself into as a kid, and were you obsessive with the skating?
Chris: Not obsessive, because I think I would have gotten better. I didn’t obsess with it, I had friends that did, and then they got some pictures in a magazine and some free clothes, and then they broke their feet or got into drugs or something. But I never did, I didn’t have sex til I was 21, I didn’t drink all that much in high school. So if anything I was afraid to do things like that, or that’s what I’m thinking of when you say acting out. Smoking weed and all that, I was scared of all that because I saw my mom doing it and, but then later on in college I obsessively or excessively, I think I obsessed about it.
Paul: What trick did you think you’d never be able to pull off that you then pulled off?
Chris: Oh, while skateboarding? Well that’s a tough, just anything big off of stairs. I was always scared of jumping off things—
Paul: Those are the ugliest wrecks too.
Chris: That’s a mental thing, but then it’s like, if I can do this on the ground—
Paul: Then why can’t I do it in the air?
Chris: Because you’re catching it in the air, like you’re doing a kickflip on the group, you’re catching it, you could do it off of something. The physics are there, but then it took a lot for me, usually it would be me skating with people that were better than me, and I’m like, okay, they’ll push me to get better—
Paul: It’s interesting that you bring that up, because it seems like almost everything, almost the through line of this podcast that I do, is to encourage people to get help. To get outside of yourself, to connect to humanity because that’s really, because what we fear or loathe the most so often, yet it’s where the solution lies. Because there’s so few things that we can solve on our own, and yet it’s so hard when we get stuck to have to explain this shit to somebody else. To have to listen. To have to wonder or not is that the right answer. You know, it’s so much easier, especially for comedians and creative people, to just live in our heads. Can you talk about the relationship between anxiety, anger and creativity?
Chris: Yeah. Definitely—
Paul: You feel like there’s a link there for you—
Chris: Yeah, I feel like there is for most comedians. There’s anger or fear, or traumatic childhood things that made you get funny as a defense mechanism. It’s not like, oh I made, there are some comics I know that were the class clown and my parent’s loved me, and they sent me to comedy school, and now I’m a writer on a show, and I send them money, and we spend holidays together.
Paul: And I don’t think those people ever make me laugh to the point where my stomach hurts—
Chris: I’m not describing funny people, I’m describing some comedians. There is no one funny that didn’t have a shitty life.
Paul: Yeah, I’ve yet to find somebody. And I’m not going to name names, but there is a comedian that is probably the most successful clean comedian that I’ve heard of, and somebody knows him and is like, ‘oh no, he’s got a huge dark streak’. And then I was like, wow—
Chris: Yeah, there’s been some surprises. Maybe I’m thinking of the same person, there are certain comics that just—
Paul: Which made me feel good on a certain level, which is so selfish and awful—
Chris: Oh good, he’s messed up too.
Paul: Yes! He’s in the fucked-up tree-fort with the rest of us. So what do you think drives your comedy? I mean have you, it sounds cheesy, but have you, can you think of an instance where you turned lemons into lemonade through art?
Chris: Well, I just know that when I’m not doing stand-up, I just realize there are never points when I’m doing 100 percent happy that I can think of offhand that aren’t on stage. Like when I’m on stage, and a show is going well, that’s the best feeling, and so now that I have this job on this show, I’m not doing stand-up as much, and when I do I’m kind of rusty, and I don’t like that. Part of me just wants to commit to just doing stand-up more, but to what end? To be on the road forever? But maybe that’s what I like to do. I really like doing stand-up, it makes me happy.
Paul: The art of stand-up is such a beautiful, pure, stripped down thing, but the business of stand-up is so vague, confusing, hypocritical, unfair, inconvenient and expensive.
Chris: It really is. I’m paying for my hotel room this week.
Paul: Are you really?
Chris: Yeah, but I want to be here, and I want to do these shows, so I’m like, yeah I’ll buy my room, don’t worry about it. And then my manager reminded me that that’s what I said I’d do. And I’m like, really? That doesn’t make sense. Why would I spend 500 dollars—
Paul: But he should have to pay for ten percent of your hotel if he takes it when you’re getting money, shouldn’t that kick in when you’re paying money?
Chris: If all my shows go well, maybe I’ll ask. But if they don’t go well, that’s how hard on myself I am. As punishment—
Paul: Let’s use that as a segway for the next question on the survey, describe some of the most common negative thoughts you have.
Chris: Yeah, like, oh I worry about dying all the time, like cancer. I worry that I’m going to get Alzheimers, which, that’s legitimate. I—
Paul: How specific do they get, does it get to like, where you picture the physical pain, or where you’re not going to be able to do the things you do, your freedom is going to be rejected? What, get specific if you can.
Chris: Yeah, of why I’m afraid of?
Paul: Yeah, because like I have a fear of war and chaos, and I think that’s why I get so upset sometimes at the right-wing hawks. Is I think, you know, if they get their way, there’s going to revolution in the streets, and it’s going to be right versus left, and I’m going to be assassinated in my backyard.
Chris: That is probably all more realistic than my fear of thinking that I have throat cancer when I have a sore throat, but—
Paul: Oh I think of that too.
Chris: But I should be worried about you getting killed in your backyard, or the stuff you said before that. The blackhawk helicopter stuff. Yeah, that scares me. Are these, what are we—
Paul: Negative thoughts, fears, stuff that fucks with you.
Chris: Yeah, a lot of the, my negative thoughts are selfish ones. Like I think, like I’ll be walking, and then for no reason at all, I’ll get graphic visions of me, well what if I got hit by a car, and imagine what that would feel like, and then I can’t get that out of my head, and I obsess about it—
Paul: For how long?
Chris: Um, not that long, but it’s enough that it’s like, really? A couple times in a minute. This is messed up. And then I was hearing not voices, but something would happen when, usually when it was really quiet, when you’re in school taking a test, and you can hear the scratching of everyone else’s pencils, and that would all of a sudden have an emotion attached to it, and sound like voices. The ‘schu schu schu’ would sound like someone going ‘heyschusshsu’. And so I would have to plug my ears, or ask to leave the room and walk around and sit and go away and get out of my head. I thought I was being possessed or something. And that happened seriously, off and on, less and less frequently it would happen and be in my head, and I’d be like, ‘come on’. And then it would just go away, and I’d be like, ‘okay, that’s gone’. But I always my whole life, have been like, this is going to develop into something, some sort of United States of Tara thing. Yeah, ‘I’m Larry now!’. I don’t know why I keep saying the name Larry, that’s my god and also one of my personalities. But that, it into college. Just for a second, and then it would go away. And I haven’t had that for six, seven years now.
Paul: That, I think that’s fairly common too with younger people, we think who we are, is what we think. We don’t realize we have no control over thought impulses, so those don’t come from us, they come from someplace else, through us, and we just are really witnesses to them. But I used to think, oh my god, if I think this dark thought, that means I’m a bad person. You know, when I was in therapy for the first time, this therapist, was like, ‘no, your actions are an indication of what type of person you are’—
Chris: Well sometimes they’re directly linked. There’s times, you know, when I mentioned before, I have, for the sake of just freaking myself out, have a vision of something bad happening, and there were times, and there was a time when I was skateboarding, and I was, we were going off these stairs, just over and over, and I remember right before I did it, I was like, I wonder what it would be like if I just landed wrong, and hurt my ankle, and I did hurt my ankle. It was almost like, it was a fear of it, it wasn’t like ‘I’m going to break my ankle, I’m crazy!’. But I was like, I put it in my head, and made it happen. And that, and I never do that anymore. I remember doing that and it was the most frustrating thing ever. Like I, I thought this was going to happen right before.
Paul: I in second grade, there was a girl that sat in front of me, and she would, she had long hair, and she would lean her head back, and it would get on my pencil, and it annoyed me—
Chris: I thought you were going to say you dipped in in ink. I was like, ‘you went to school in the 1800’s?’.
Paul: But I, so I complained to the teacher. And the teacher, you know, rightly told me to quit being a baby, and so I harbored this resentment against this girl, and I remember looking at her in line for the bus, and she had like this marshmallow kind of winter hat on, and I remember looking at it and thinking, ‘I wish you were dead’, and she died in a car accident the next week. And for the longest time, I thought I had killed her.
Chris: That’s awful.
Paul: And if I heard her name, I would, a shiver would go through me, probably until I was about twelve years old. From like second grade to eighth grade—
Chris: Oh my god, that sucks.
Paul: No, it’s okay. My dad was an alcoholic and my mother was smothering, so it all worked out.
Chris: Okay, good good. That’s a nice balance. That’s a good fit.
Paul: No but, I’m not blaming anyone, but that is, this is the double edged sword of the creative mind, that is so fascinating to me, in some ways, it gives us this beautiful creative life. There is nothing I love more than having friends that are creative. Our conversations are so interesting, they make me laugh, there are so much more interesting than being around non-artists, yet we have this baggage that we carry around and we have to decide, are we just going to ignore it, or are we going to do something about it, because a lot of times, it doesn’t get better the older we get. If you’re an alcoholic like I am, alcoholism is a progressive disease and if you don’t do something about it, it will destroy your fucking life. And I think it’s the same way with neurosis and we have to find a way to not stifle our creativity, but to still live with—
Chris: So I have to worry about both of those things, my drinking and my bad thoughts. I thought the bad thoughts were getting better, sometimes I cleanse and I don’t drink and it’s easy, but I feel that I’m getting happier and I don’t have the same dark moments in my head that I used to even ten years ago.
Paul: Do you feel guilt about what your mom is going through?—
Chris: No, I feel guilt in the fact that I don’t feel guilty or sad—
Paul: Oh, you shouldn’t, you shouldn’t.
Chris: I mean, there are books, I haven’t read it yet, but there’s a book called Taking Care of Your Parents when they didn’t Take Care of You. And I haven’t read it yet, but I feel like I don’t need to. But I should, I do need to. It’s, and it’s, this has been a gradual thing. I would be really sad if this had, if she had cancer or something. That would be sudden, and tragic, but this has been going on, and it’s been such a gradual thing with her personality segwaying into this, and her having dementia and I didn’t quite believe that when it was being talked about, but now I believe it very much, it’s happening. Right now. Like I almost didn’t come here, because my sister, when she wasn’t eating or going to the bathroom, said ‘I think you need to come here, it’s time to say bye’. Because my sister thought it was the brain telling her, and once the brain decides it’s time you can’t shit, you’re pretty, that’s around the corner. I’m going to go there next week I think, and just see what’s happening. But yeah, I don’t feel guilty, I do, I feel weird that I don’t, I’ve gotten sad. But I feel sad for not feeling bad about it, and my sister is, and how weird this is that it’s happening, but it’s not, I’ve had enough experience with grandmothers having it. That’s the other thing, when you say ‘yeah my mom has Alzheimer’s’, ‘I know what you’re going through, my grandmother had it’. I’m like, ‘nah, fuck your grandma’. That’s normal for grandmas to have it, my mom is young. That’s why this is weird but, anyway, what was I saying—
Paul: Is there anybody you’re talking to about how you feel?
Chris: Not really, sometimes I just bring it up, and force it on someone, and that’s probably not the way to do it. I have one friend who used to be a girlfriend, that I’m talking with. Her dad died of early onset in less than a year, and prior to that he was doing, he was a military guy doing push-ups every morning. And then, she was with him in his last moments of hospice, like feeding him, and he died with her. Like she saw this happen, and I talked to her and was like, ‘what’s this mean, my mom’s been moved to this place and she can’t go to the bathroom?’. And she’s like ‘that’s a reaction to where she is, that’s not her brain. Call me back if you have more questions’. And she’s not a trained person, but that is one of the only people that I’ve been talking to—
Paul: I kind of had this theory that dimensions to our lives, there’s the physical dimension, the mental dimension, and the spiritual dimension. And I kind of believe that if the spiritual dimension isn’t leading, that the other two aren’t fully where they should be, because when I, all I gave a shit about was myself, is when I got the most depressed, and my body began to shut down. I got really constipated, and I lost a ton of weight, and my color in my face would go away—
Chris: And you became fashionably skinny—
Paul: I became fashionably skinny—
Chris: There’s always a silver lining.
Paul: Well you know what’s funny, is when I was fantasizing about suicide the most, literally every hour, thinking about it, I was 37, and my wife threw a birthday party for me, and everybody was telling me how good I looked, because I was so thin, and I just wanted to say, ‘you have no idea how badly I want to kill myself right now’. But I couldn’t, but then after I found some recovery from drugs and alcohol and learned what a lot of my shortcomings were, I put weight back on, I became happier, my antidepressants started working—
Chris: A little more back fat—
Paul: Hah, a little more back fat, you know—
Chris: I’m just kidding, you clearly aren’t, you’re about to go to the gymnasium after this—
Paul: But I firmly believe that if the spirit isn’t leading, if it’s just an afterthought, and I don’t mean going to church or necessarily, having a purpose other than ourselves, I think we just begin to waste away. So that makes perfect sense to me then that your mom gets put in this thing, this cement cell, and then her body starts to shut down.
Chris: I mean once your brain is giving up, it’s like your body follows quickly I think, so I need to, time it. Get time off....
Paul: Well I’m so sorry that you’re having to go through this, but it’s good that you or your sister aren’t having to go through this alone and you have each other.
Chris: That’s something I need to be, I need to be talking to her, like everyday—
Paul: What do you think is keeping you from doing that?
Chris: Um, the unpleasantness of thinking about this all the time. She’ll call or send texts that are detailed about her freaking out, and saying ‘why have you put me in this place’, and I’m about to go on stage in five minutes, and it’s hard to, and on the show that I work on, I’m on that panel and I have to be funny on that. And this is every day, becoming every day that I have to, and when I get bummed out, I don’t want to be funny. So I try to, I try to avoid being bummed out, but, that’s at the cost of not addressing this. I’m thinking about it, but I need to be, so I think that means I need to take some time off of work, even though it’s a bad time for me to leave work, people are getting fired, the show is moving around. Ah, no one’s been fired, but I, it is just bad timing, but I have to go there, because, I avoid talking to her because I don’t want to get bummed out and that’s awful.
Paul: I think it’s pretty human though. You know, who wants to walk towards the sadness?
Chris: Yeah, but if I was doing art for a living, and I used to do magazine illustration and draw and paint for a living, and I would talk to her all the time, like I don’t need to be in a great mood to do that. It’s like, how many messes can I deal with. Relationships, it’s hard to have girlfriends with all the traveling, and you can’t deal with family issues when they pop up, because you’ve got to act like a clown at eight PM, and at ten thirty I think tonight.
Paul: And at midnight on Saturday—
Chris: Twice tonight, yeah. At least they won’t make me act like a clown on Sunday.
Paul: I have to say, there is nothing more freeing than being on stage with a good crowd and your life is functioning fairly decently, and there is nothing worse than having to go on stage when you’re really sad or not feeling well, or the crowd doesn’t like you. It can be the best job in the world, or the worst job in the world. Really on back to back nights.
Chris: Sometimes though when my back’s against the wall like that emotionally, I have the best set ever.
Paul: You do? Talk about that a bit.
Chris: I, before the show in Seattle, I started thinking about the stuff, I read a text from my sister. And I realized, oh, I’m crying and so I had to leave, I went out in the alley, and I like cried in the street like a weirdo, like pretty intense—
Paul: Let’s stop for a second though. Cried in the street like a weirdo.
Chris: No I just mean like the noises I was making, were unorthodox, like ‘ahhh wahhh ooh’.
Paul: Oh, alright.
Chris: No, like that’s a weird cry. Not, no you’re not a weirdo if you cry young boys and—
Paul: Are you sure you weren’t riding a bull?
Chris: Yeah, they cry really weird. I act out bullriding while crying. And it’s real weird, but I punch my own face. And then I went back in and went right on stage, and was like, hopefully no one sees, it was really, I felt almost like I was rejuvenated and I had a really fun set. That’s going to be my new tactic. If I’m bummed out or don’t feel like doing comedy, just cry like a weird bullrider, then go on stage.
Paul: Maybe what you should do is try to book a comedy tour close to children’s cancer hospitals, and then you can just—
Chris: Just peek in the window, waving at kids—
Paul: ‘You’re next comedian’, ‘oh sorry pumpkin, I’ve got to let go of your hand, they’re bringing me up’. That’s so awful. Somebody listening to this probably has a kid that has cancer and says ‘I’m never going to listen to that fucking show ever again’.
Chris: Oh no, he’s just going to start doing comedy, you know.
Paul: Well Chris, I just want to thank you so much for letting me, letting me and the listeners into your life, and sharing your, sharing your pain with us. I know that’s not an easy thing to do.
Chris: Yeah, I’m glad I did it, I should do it more often. I should get your phone number from you when we’re done. Not to call you personally, and unload on you, but I should probably get that—
Paul: No, it always, talking to other people about their, when I talk to somebody about my feelings it helps me, and when somebody talks to me about their feelings it helps me, so either way it’s good. So if you’re out there and you’re feeling like you’re stuck, talk to somebody, get help, ask some questions, because you’re not going to figure it out on your own, and if you think that nobody out there feels the way that you do, you’re probably wrong, because I would bet that there is somebody that’s been through something that you’re going through, and knows how you feel. You are not alone. Thanks for listening.
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