Episode 62: Joe Matarese
The standup comedian (Chelsea Lately, Late Show with David Letterman, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Comedy Central Presents and Howard Stern) talks about his New Jersey Italian roots, his hair-trigger temper, questioning whether he loves his mother, and reconciling a long standing resentment with his father. He also talks about his recent plunge into the world of anti-depressants and the profound difference it’s making in his life as a father and husband. Joe also hosts the podcast Fixing Joe.
Paul: Welcome to episode 62 with my guest, Joe Matarese. I’m Paul Gilmartin. This is the Mental Illness Happy Hour, an hour of honesty about all the battles in our heads. From medically diagnosed conditions to everyday compulsive negative thinking, feelings of dissatisfaction, disconnection, inadequacy, and that vague sinking feeling that the world is passing us by. You give us an hour, we’ll give you a hot ladle of awkward and icky. This show is not meant to be a substitute for professional mental counseling. It’s not the doctor’s office. It’s more like a waiting room that hopefully doesn’t suck.
The website for the show is mentalpod.com. That’s also the twitter name you can follow me at. And there is all kinds of good stuff at the website. There’s a forum you can join, and talk with people about all kinds of stuff. There’s a newsletter you can sign up for. About once a week, I send out newsletters where, maybe it’ll be like a shame of the day, or a blog from me, or a blog from somebody else, or… all kinds of different stuff. So please sign up for that newsletter. And there’s all other kinds of things at the website that I’m spacing out about right now, so pardon me.
Thank you guys, so much, for responding when I asked for help transcribing episodes. I got so many people that have emailed and offered to help. And I want to specifically thank Jennifer, who is spearheading this thing, and she is actually finished the first transcription. She transcribed the first episode, with Janet Farney. So I’ll be figuring out a way to post those transcriptions sometimes soon.
I have a couple of emails that I’d like to kick off the show with. The first one is from Dina G. And she writes, “I was just listening to episode 60 with your guest Jamie Denbo. She was talking about her upbringing, specifically her Jewish one, and how pervasive the fear was when it came to religion. She even mentioned a book she read about the Hassidic Jews in Brooklyn, and how this was such a strong issue.
“I grew up in exactly that culture, a Hassidic Jewish girl in Brooklyn, yet my experience was not what she describes. The focus of my Jewish education was love-based. What Jamie described was her own experience, and probably the experience of many others, but it’s not the case across the board, which is what it was made to sound like on the podcast. It’s for this reason I feel the need to clarify this point.
“Please don’t take this as angry criticism. See it more as my need to make sure that you and your listeners are not completely misled. I listen to your show and enjoy it very much. Thank you, Dina G.”
Duly noted, Dina. Every person’s experience is totally different, and I think yours and Jamie’s are both valid. But thank you for letting us know your feelings on that.
This other letter really touched me, and it was from a woman named Cathy. And she has two boys aged 16 and 10, and she wrote, “Hey Paul, I just wanted to take a quick moment to thank you for sharing your realizations about your mother. I have two sons, and I only had sisters, so being in a house with boys is foreign to me. I have never felt like I acted sexually inappropriately with my boys, but your recent podcasts have made me a bit more aware of how I interact with them, just to be sure.”
Thank you, Cathy. That brings a fucking smile to my face, when I hear people accepting a new idea or perspective, and not being kind of clamped down in their worldview or thinking that they’re doing things perfectly, and there’s no need for adjusting anything. So that makes me very happy, when I read that.
And the last email I wanted to read is from a woman named Ashley, and she listened to the episode where I kind of lost my shit with, the episode where Dr. Zucker was the guest and I… don’t want to rehash all the details, but I had a little bit of a melt-down. I have been getting so many nice emails from people, very supportive. Two people who think that I’m making too big of a deal of it, but that’s their opinion. Although I feel there’s probably a lot more people out there that feel that way, too. But I always like to go back to the — when I start telling myself I’m making too big of a deal of it, I just remember when I cried in my wife’s arms, and she said, “I’ve been waiting 20 years for you to say this.” Thank god. Thank god for my wife.
But this woman was moved, this woman Ashley was moved to write me, because she thought I was feeling down. And she writes, “I was born with cerebral palsy. I have been through a lot in my life, but I wanted to tell you life throws all kinds of bullshit at you. It will do its best to break you down, and bury your spirit, and make you say, ‘you know what? I fucking give up. You fucking win. Congratulations.” But even when it seems like everything has gone to shit, and it couldn’t possibly get any fucking worse, and nobody has ever had it this bad, etc etc, there is a core of you that still keeps going on. In spite of you. In spite of anything. And that is the resilience of the human spirit.”
Wow. Thank you, Ashley. That was beautiful. Unfortunately, I don’t like people with cerebral palsy. Yeah, that’s right. I just said that. I don’t like the fact that your pain, and your struggle makes my shit look inconsequential. Yeah. Walking around, waving your fucking spirit. My direct TV hard-disk recorder has been jamming up lately. I missed last week’s Mad Men! How the fuck am I going to get sympathy for that? Fuck you, and the March of Dimes. [pause]
I hate that I don’t have the balls to go right into the theme music right now. That I have to let you know that she and I have been emailing each other back and forth, and she’s got a good sense of humor, so that you won’t be going, “Oh my god! He just insulted a girl with cerebral palsy!”
Go fuck yourselves!
Paul: I’m here with Joe Matarese. We’re going to try this a second time. For some reason my computer stopped recording… Uh, we were just saying that Joe and I had met before, and, uh, in Tampa, Florida, and I had no recollection of it, but he remembers it, because he probably didn’t smoke as much weed as I did in my lifetime.
Joe: Well, you know why I remember it, also, because you’ve been doing it just a few years longer than me –
Joe: – that you were like, you were coming in to headline, and I was probably a new comedian, so like –
Paul: Oh, yeah. That always makes an impression on you.
Joe: I was like, “who’s this guy? He’s good.”
Joe: Yeah. I remember that.
Paul: Oh. Go on! No, that’s – um
Joe: This guy’s intelligent!
Paul: [laughs] Stop.
Joe: I’m dumb.
Joe: I remember that. [laughs]
Paul: Uh… that reminds me of the bit – Joe is a comedian, for those of you that don’t know him. Been everywhere, all over the televisions, Letterman, his Comedy Central half-hour special, he’s on Chelsea Lately once a month… What am I missing? Late Show with Craig Ferguson. He has his own podcast called Fixing Joe where he kind of turns the tables on the whole self-help thing, and people come on and help him try to fix himself. How’s the podcast going?
Joe: It’s been going well. It’s funny that – I’ve been taking anti-depressants for about, I guess five and a half months.
Paul: Oh, really?
Joe: And it’s been harder to find problems.
Joe: I stopped going to therapy.
Joe: My wife, who’s a psychologist, even said, “I don’t think you need therapy any more.” Like, “Everything’s fine. Why don’t we save some money and you stop doing that?”
Paul: Right. How long had you been in therapy before?
Joe: About seven years.
Paul: Oh, ok. So you gave it a, you gave it a run!
Paul: Yeah, I was going to say, if you’d only been in therapy like, a year, I’d say, “Well, you know, 18 months is usually what people suggest.”
Joe: Well even, probably even more than seven years. But with this one guy, seven years.
Paul: Oh, ok.
Joe: There’s a guy in New York City – you might find this interesting – who sees only stand-up comedians. That’s his clientele.
Paul: You’ve got to send him a tape.
Joe: Everybody says that. And it’s funny because he will critique your stand-up, if you would like him to. Like, he’ll literally, like when I did Letterman?
Joe: I come in to do therapy the following week, and he’s like, “That’s old material.” That’s what he said to me. He goes, “I don’t believe that the insecure, you’re talking about you being dumb –“
Joe: “– and your wife’s smart, and we’ve worked past that!” [laughs]
Paul: Right. And how did you, how did you react?
Joe: I was like, “Wow.” I said, “You’re right.”
Joe: And that’s, uh, and then my half-hour special I think might have been slightly after that, and that’s when I realized, I think what more interesting about me is that I’m married to a psychologist and I’m a guy that suffers from anxiety.
Joe: That’s more interesting than a guy who’s with a woman who has a Ph.D. and he went to community college. Because, just cause I went to community college doesn’t mean that I’m dumb.
Paul: Right, yeah.
Paul: It means that you’re…
Joe: [laughs] I’m smart at the things that interest me, and –
Joe: – and school, there were few and far in between, you know –
Joe: – There weren’t a lot of things. And then, I dropped out of community college, started doing stand-up. And then I was like a work-horse.
Paul: Right. So, the meds are working for you now. Now, I get emails sometimes from listeners that feel like, um, like I’m too pro-medication, and I’m not at all. I think medication should be the last resort of the depressed person. I think they should try everything else first: changing your diet, going to therapy, trying meditation, exercise, spirituality. You know, I think all those things should be tried before doing medica– I tried all those things. And still felt a sense of doom in my bones.
Paul: And, so I had to, I have to be on meds, in my opinion. So I don’t, I’m glad that you, uh, to hear that somebody was willing to do it. Because a lot of people just rule it out. They’re like, “No. I’m never going to put that in my body.” Ok, well good. Then maybe your life is going to have a lower quality to it than it might have if you were willing to be more open-minded.
Joe: Yeah. I was that guy that fought it for a while –
Joe: – and I never knew why, um.
Paul: Did you think it made you less-than?
Joe: I think it was because I was a creative person, which you have on your podcast, and I was afraid that I would lose that creativity. Which, I did lose a little bit of it, but I’m starting to learn how to get it back again.
Joe: But what I, I tell people, I just realized now – I mean I’m 44 years old, I’m married, I have a kid, and I have a second kid on the way, my wife’s due in like four weeks – and I realize now at this point in my life, I’m ok with losing a little bit of my creativity if it means keeping my wife, keeping my kids having a good dad, you know?
Paul: Yeah… Can you be more specific about the creativity that you feel like you’re losing? Is it the anxiety used to fuel your creativity?
Joe: Yeah. Like, Yeah. When I would have something really bad happen is usually when I would start writing.
Paul: I can relate to that. Um, but I think what you said, I would agree with what you said that you’re experiencing now, that it’s just kind of shifting now and coming from a different place. That’s what I experienced, too. And my opinion is that it comes from the place of us that is closer to our truer self.
Paul: It may not be what the audience wants to necessarily hear at a midnight show on Friday, when they’re drunk.
Paul: Because it might be more subtle. It might have more of a vulnerability to it.
Paul: Which, as you and I know being road comics, vulnerability is really hard for working road comics. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Joe: Yeah, that’s a good point. Because I always felt that I was a very vulnerable comedian.
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: And, another thing that you could have mentioned, now that I think about it, that you went through all my credits: I’m getting known as this comedian that would snap.
Joe: With, at hecklers.
Joe: I put a clip up on YouTube about three years ago, it has over a million hits.
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: And I put a whole CD out, with just me arguing with hecklers at different clubs.
Paul: Really? [laughs]
Joe: Yeah. It’s called When a Comedian Attacks.
Joe: And I would attack, like, and comedians would love it, but it got to the point where I was losing work. A few times I got fired. That’s what actually sent me into therapy at the beginning.
Paul: Mm hmm. So it, you weren’t manufacturing this anger at the audience. It was just, you would, it was bottled up and you would choose to let it go.
Joe: Yeah. I think there was something going on. It came up in therapy, that my therapist said – It’s funny, because you, I know, from listening to your show, I know people always say things that they wish they didn’t say –
Joe: – and that they’re going to hurt somebody’s feelings –
Paul: I can edit anything out after we’re done, that you want.
Joe: Well I, from having my own podcast, like, I’ve already said these things.
Joe: And my parents have had to hear me say these things.
Paul: Yeah, yeah.
Joe: But, um, jeez, I get ADD a little bit. That’s another one of my issues, you’re, I just literally lose the train of thought in the middle of talking.
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: Especially when emotion starts to come in.
Joe: Um, oh! I know what it was. It’s, in therapy my therapist said to me, “Do you think your mother loves you?” And I was frozen. And I couldn’t believe that I was frozen at that question.
Joe: And I said, “I don’t know.”
Paul: Wow, that’s –
Joe: And then I started to get emotional and that.
Paul: That’s deep.
Joe: Yeah. I said, “I know she does, because she’s my mom, and I have kids, and I know that you love your kids.” I said, but um, I can’t say it with a, like I, she said, “I love you” to me, but to feel I love you is a different thing.
Paul: Yeah. Is it fair to say that you believe your mom is trying to love you, but you aren’t feeling as much love from her as you would like to feel?
Joe: Yeah, definitely.
Joe: You know, whenever I would come to her with something wrong, like, I do a joke in my act about how I told her I was taking antidepressants.
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: And she said, she literally said this: “Why don’t you just take a walk, and eat a sandwich?”
Paul: That is so fantastic. That is so fantastic. You are such a New Jersey dego, it’s not even funny. You’re from Jersey, right?
Joe: Oh, yeah yeah yeah.
Paul: Yeah. Oh my god, my wife is a, her, 100% Italian-American. And there are things that we’ll see, especially when we were watching The Sopranos, that would just make us laugh so hard, because it was her family exactly. And I know some people don’t like those stereotypes, but it, you know, somebody, you know, that the wife would say to the, her husband, “You want me to make you a plate?” You know.
Joe: [laughs] Yeah.
Paul: Because when I would go to her house for Christmas or Thanksgiving, “Make Paul a plate. Make him a plate.”
Joe: Well, that was the big thing. People would say to me, “You don’t have an anger problem. You’re just Italian.”
Joe: So, then I would get confused.
Joe: And then the anger, like I said, once I got fired from a gig a few times –
Joe: – and one, being at a club, and having an incident at a club, I was –
Paul: Can you talk about the incident? Is it worth mentioning?
Joe: Oh yeah, I mean, like, I had probably a few different…
Paul: Comedians snap a lot at audiences –
Paul: – so, I’m wondering what it was that you were doing that put you over the edge that you’re getting fired. Were you making the mistake of snapping early in your set, and then you couldn’t follow yourself?
Joe: Well, if the comedian before me got heckled?
Joe: It’s like when your friend got punched, when you were a kid. I remember those were the only times I got in fights growing up.
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: My friend would get in a fight, and then I would fight with him.
Joe: To whoever started a fight with him.
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: Now, if the comedian before me got heckled, I would go on stage – and in this clip that’s on YouTube, I just start. Immediately.
Joe: I don’t try my act and then get interrupted. I go, “All right, everybody. Let’s fucking go.” You know, like that’s the attitude I had, and I would just go with it.
Paul: Do you feel like now that you’ve started taking medication for your depression and anxiety, that impulse isn’t there?
Joe: It’s gone.
Joe: Like I literally had it, you know how sometimes comedians call you with a gig?
Joe: Like, the number one question is, or not question, the number one thing they’ll say is, “Dude, I’m going to give you this gig, but you can’t snap.”
Joe: “Do you snap anymore?” And I had one the other day, this comedian called me and he said, “Do you snap anymore?” You know, dude, I’ve been on this medication called Celexa –
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: – for about five months now, and I said, I’m not kidding, “You could throw shit at me, and I don’t get mad.” I’ll handle the situation in the proper way now. Like, if someone gets really out of line, I’ll talk to them, you know.
Paul: Right. Yeah, it’s –
Joe: I’ll yell at them when they needed to be really yelled at, and the whole audience is on my side.
Paul: Right. Yeah, and I think that’s an important distinction, is it doesn’t make you a pushover. It doesn’t make you numb. It just takes that edge away that makes you socially volatile.
Joe: Right. What makes you numb, I find, is if you’re on the wrong medication.
Paul: Yeah. Or over-medicated, which I’ve had before.
Joe: Ok, I haven’t had that. I’m on such a low dose of this stuff –
Joe: – I, at times, I went, “I feel pretty good. Maybe I should up it, because then I’ll feel amazing!”
Paul: Yeah. Are, do you have an addictive personality?
Joe: No, I don’t.
Paul: No? Ok. Because that’s pretty, you know, that’s for an addict, that’s like, you know, if one is good, eight must be better.
Joe: [laughs] No. I’m lucky that I don’t have that.
Joe: My parents aren’t drinkers. No one in my family is, um… But there’s definitely anxiety there. Another thing Italians do, is they over-clean. We have a neighbour, who I guarantee this guy’s anxious, because he – you don’t get snow here, but have you ever witnessed somebody who shovels during the snowfall?
Paul: That is, that is a wound tight mother fucker, right there. That is, yeah. I had a friend in college whose parents, um, people were hanging out at his parents house watching TV, and he heard his parents pull up, and he told everybody, “Get off the couch. We have to be on the floor watching TV. We’re not allowed to sit on the couch.”
Joe: Yeah. That –
Paul: That’s prison.
Joe: That’s my mom.
Joe: Yeah, like she’ll bring her own cereal over when she comes to visit. And I’m like, I want to say to her, I’m like, but how do you say that in a nice way? “That’s hurtful that you think your, is your Raisin Bran different than mine?” And then she just cleans the whole time she’s there. And then she’ll, if she brings you a gift, it’s something that she thought you needed, but it’s really something –
Paul: She wants –
Joe: – she wishes was there when she was visiting.
Paul: Oh, wow. No wonder, no wonder that feeling that you’re not sure, you know, if… obviously, you know, it sounds like she’s really fucking anxious, and really has trust issues.
Joe: This is how great, when I started going to therapy, have you ever done this with therapy? You start giving others therapy.
Joe: So, I would start talking to my dad, and I go, “I think you should go to therapy.” Because he would, um, because one thing that happened early on in therapy is my therapist said, “Has your dad ever said he loves you?” And I said, “Wow. No.” And he goes, “Well, you have homework for the week. Get him to say that he loves you.”
And I was like, “How am I going to do that?” He goes, “You don’t have to yell at him. Tell him that it hurts you that you don’t know that, and you want to hear it from him. It would make you feel better. If you present it in the right way, you’ll have a good moment.” He was amazing at that, this therapist.
And I presented it to my father. My dad and I instantly got closer over this whole conversation.
Joe: Yeah. And then, well my dad’s an emotional guy, like me.
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: But not emotional towards me. And I think I have a little bit of that, too. Like, I’m emotional, but when I wasn’t on the medication, I wouldn’t show my emotions to my wife, or even my kids sometimes, I would get so in my head. So, um, now when I had this conversation with my father, all of a sudden, I was giving him therapy.
Paul: [laughs] Right,
Joe: Through my therapist. I would literally present my dad’s problem.
Paul: How did he handle that? How did he, was he insulted by it?
Joe: No, it was really interesting. Like, I started hearing – have you ever had a moment where your father or your mother turns into your friend. They don’t, they’re, all of a sudden they’re –
Joe: – It was a little weird, at first.
Joe: Because he started bitching about my mother.
Joe: And saying, you know, they’ve had difficulties at times, and “her anxiety drives me crazy.” Because, you know, my dad is more of the happy-go-lucky guy that I think I am now that I’m medicated. And, even now that I’m on medication and my mom said those comments, everyone once in a while she’ll come in and go, “I think I should try that.”
Joe: And I think she’s kidding when she says it. But I think my father would just be in heaven if she did.
Paul: Yeah. Why not? Or try something.
Joe: These people that are –
Paul: Meditating. How old are your parents?
Joe: In their late 60s.
Joe: They, some people when they’re at that age think, “This is who I am, and I just have to be this way.” Which is ridiculous.
Paul: That is one of the hardest things to hear people say, that… especially when you get a sense that a break-through wouldn’t be that hard for them. When you hear somebody – like, for me, when I see people that are, um, alcoholics or drug addicts that have never gotten help for it. And you see in them a really great person that’s just kind of, um, being dwarfed by the disease, the fear, um, and the inability to stop self-medicating. It’s so hard because you can’t, you can’t make them see that. And it’s so frustrating, and to think that it’s your duty to make them see it is its own addiction, and its own sickness…
Joe: One of my good friends who I toured with for many years, and I just started working with him again, is Artie Lang.
Paul: Yeah. I was just listening to some of the episodes that you did with him. It was really nice.
Joe: Oh, thanks.
Joe: But, you know, that’s something that’s coming through now that he’s sober.
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: Like, there’s been a couple times in the, I don’t know if he’s been sober for about a year… Like, I had told him, when he first got sober he like called me, and had a long conversation and I said, “If you ever just need to have a cup of coffee, let me know.”
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: “I’ll come, and we’ll hang out.” So we were doing something, we were doing a couple spots in New York City, doing comedy, and it was like one in the morning, and it’s funny, because I have a wife and kids –
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: – which is, that’s like 4AM to me, one in the morning?
Joe: But when you’re with Artie, just like all the rules go out the window.
Joe: He goes, “I’d really love that cup of coffee right now. Do you want to go to a diner or something?” I’m like, it’s 1AM, “Yeah.”
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: I’m there ‘til 6AM. And he’s being so emotionally available. It was amazing. I’m like, this guy is such a great guy. Like, no one knows this part of Artie, because he’s trying to be funny, and trying to entertain all the time. And it’s a shame. I said, I’ve been thinking lately, because I just worked with him at Caroline’s last weekend, and when you bring people in the green room, he’s just going story after story –
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: – and there was a moment like that, where I met Andrew Dice Clay in L.A., and ‘ in the parking lot. And these think they have to tell stories after story, and entertain, and keep everybody laughing. And I’m like, it’s just as entertaining for you to just be –
Joe: – yourself.
Joe: You don’t need to be – I’m a comedian, I don’t need you to tell me stories. And lots of times, they’re stories that I’ve heard already.
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: But I don’t have the heart to tell them, “I heard this one.” [laughs]
Paul: Yeah. That is, to me the thing that bonds me closer to a friend than anything… you know, making a friend laugh is certainly a great way to bond, but um, being vulnerable around a friend, telling a friend that you’re scared, or that you’re hurting, or that you’re frustrated, or you’re jealous.
Paul: You know, that’s probably the most common emotion I think we have as comedians, because we’re constantly comparing ourselves to each other. But we never talk about it. Almost never talk about it.
Joe: Artie does in texts. It’s funny.
Joe: They come through in texts. But like, in person it has to be just me and him. If there’s anyone else around –
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: – he’s going to try to entertain the fuck out of them. It’s unbelievable.
Joe: And he, the stories are so great that you never want to stop –
Joe: – because they are hilarious, but there’s something that you want to go, “Well, this is why you’re single, one. And you’re having trouble in relationships.” I’m like, a girl likes that maybe a little, like I remember my wife was so honest with me early on. She was like, “Um, do you know on our first date, you didn’t shut up, and you talked about yourself the whole time.” I’m like, “I did?”
Joe: She’s like, “Yeah.” I’m like, these comedians and entertainers think that they need to please everybody, and you can just listen to somebody and ask them what they feel, and you’ll be fine.
Paul: And I think that it comes from having a fear of just relaxing into the present moment and accepting that it, you’re enough, you have enough, and you’re doing enough. I think that core message inside us that, either we don’t matter, or we’re not enough, that’s what makes telling stories so tempting. Because that takes us out of the present moment. We’re in the past. You know?
Paul: Or, to, when we’re by ourselves, to obsess about the future. Because then we don’t have to look at what we’re feeling right now in the present moment. The present moment, Eckhart Tolle writes so beautifully about the present moment, and he gives practical advice on how to, how to stay present. And it’s easier said than done. It’s really hard. But it’s so beautiful when you do get to experience that. And all of a sudden your hearing gets better, and you’ll notice stuff, and your sense of smell, and… it’s incredible. But let’s get back to, uh, to you talking about your family situation.
So, you had a little break-through with your dad. And did he, that first day, that you mentioned it, like, what specifically did you say to him?
Joe: Well, there was two things. One was that I needed to get him to say that he loved me. And also, the therapist had –
Paul: Did you do it in the form of the game Password?
Paul: “The opposite of hate!”
Joe: Well, my therapist, I remember we also talked about a situation that happened where my dad – my dad, like I said, was the happy-go-lucky guy. But he would snap out of nowhere like me.
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: So that’s what would really throw crowds, is I’d be up there doing jokes, I looked so happy. Then someone would go, “You’re not funny.” And then, like, my friends would go, “You Jekylled.” They would call it Jekyll, like a whole ‘nother face would come.
Joe: And I would just go on a person way too long, where I couldn’t get back onto my act.
Joe: Now, I had a situation with my dad in high school, where he tried to ground me. And he said, “You’re not allowed out.” And I cursed at him. I used to curse at my parents, I remember tenth grade was the year where, Jesus, it felt like every other day we were just brawling.
Joe: My mom would be negative. She would say something like, if I said, “I think I want to try to be in the play” or try to do comedy, she would say something that I took as negative. I would usually take my plate of food and just go to the basement, and eat alone.
Joe: And that’s where comedy came from, and I would start, um, I had like a microphone down there. And I remember just, like, talking on it, or I had turntables and would play music, and I would pretend I was a DJ. And I would listen to comedy albums, and then I would try to repeat their material, or whatever it was. But one time, I was singing down there after a dinner that my mom annoyed me. I remember just, like singing really loud, like Van Halen or something. And her saying, “Shut up down there. You’re not good.”
Joe: And I did a joke about this in my act, and my mom got so hurt by it. And the joke was, “How do you know I’m not good? I’m performing for a ten-speed and a ping-pong table.” Like, give me a chance here, you know?
Joe: But um, and she read that and said, “I never said that.” And I was like, “You did. You did.”
Joe: You know, I’d lie on stage and say it’s comedy. It was singing, but it had the same impact. Your kid was expressing himself and you said, “Stop.”
Joe: Now, I might be going all over the place now.
Paul: No, no no no, you’re not.
Joe: But the situation was, is I remember a fight at dinner, my dad saying, “You’re grounded.” And I cursed at them: “Fuck you, I’m going out.” Ran out the front door. My dad followed me out there. And he snapped, like I snapped. And jumped on me. And his weight broke my leg.
Joe: And he had never apologized for it.
Joe: Never apologized. And I’m 44 years old. So, [laughs]. All right, you say something. You have that look on your face.
Paul: No. I’m just uh, fascinated by that.
Joe: Yeah, he snapped, and I remember vividly my mother going, “What did you do to –“ like, she blamed me.
Joe: There was no like, her yelling at my dad. Like, they were both against me. That’s what it felt like. Which, it so explains why I’m a comedian and I seek approval from strangers.
Joe: I mean, jeez, it’s like dead on.
Joe: And the only thing my father and I used to really connect on, growing up, was comedy. I would be down in our basement – once again, all Italians have the basement, the finished basement.
Paul: Got to have the paneling.
Joe: Has the paneling.
Joe: And –
Paul: Maybe a pinball machine?
Joe: I wish. We had the ping-pong table. [laughs]
Paul: Yeah, yeah.
Joe: So, I was –
Paul: No bumper pool?
Joe: No [laughs]
Joe: I wanted that, too.
Joe: But, I would watch these comedians on Evening at the Improvs Comedy Hour. And I would record them all on VHS, and it was big for me to be like, “Dad! You’ve got to see this guy!” I would yell, “Dad! Come down here!” and he’d some down, and we’d watch these comedians, and we would laugh. We used to, we had Dennis Miller’s, like, first album, like memorized.
Paul: The White Album. Great album.
Joe: Yeah. We used to just quote it. And, uh, yeah. So he breaks me leg, and I, and he never apologized. And that came out in that same session in therapy. “You need to get your dad to apologize for breaking your leg, and get him to say that he loves you.”
Paul: Yeah. And so, what specifically did you say when you approached your dad, and how nervous were you?
Joe: Well, what’s great about therapy, I always tell people also that have never done it, and are afraid of it, and my favourite thing was you could use therapy to get you into the conversation.
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: You say, um, “You know, Dad, I’ve been going to therapy for a few years now, because I’ve been snapping on stage. There’s in this anger in me –“
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: “– and I don’t know where it’s coming from. And I think I might know where some of it is coming from.”
Joe: I said to him, “My therapist thinks that that incident where, you know, you broke my leg when we were younger could connect with this anger that just launches out of my body. You never apologized for that.” And he’s like, [laughs] “I didn’t?” And my dad got, he, all of a sudden, like you said, being present. He got very present, right there –
Joe: – and he was like, “I’m sorry.” And then, once again, I told you that other side, where your dad becomes your guy friend, not your dad?
Joe: He goes –
Paul: What did you, do you remember the emotion that you felt when he said, “I’m sorry”?
Joe: I felt good.
Joe: It felt close.
Paul: Did you feel like a little, a little lighter?
Joe: Some of that anger went away that I had had,
Paul: Yeah. I love that feeling.
Joe: Yeah. It’s a good feeling.
Paul: Such a good feeling. And you don’t know that weight is there, sometimes, until it leaves you. And then you’re like, “Wow. I’ve been lugging that fucking thing around…”
Joe: I saw Billy Crystal’s one-man show on Broadway.
Joe: It was fantastic. He won the Tony for it.
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: And he describes his father dying as he was carrying this weight on a chain around. And he acts it out throughout the show, and then it, finally he deals with it and it goes away. Because he, it felt like he was carrying this ball and chain.
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: And it’s very similar to that feeling, and all of a sudden, you’re like you said, the weight is off.
Paul: Right. And so then, you were starting to say…
Joe: Oh, I was starting to say, uh, so my dad says, “I’m sorry.” And he goes, um, this is where he became like my friend.
Joe: He started opening up to me about my mother. He’s like, “Your mom, that was a tough time back then.”
Joe: And it brought me right back. I can – like, my parents don’t fight now. They’re like, if you saw them you would think they’re the greatest people ever. They’re not negative. They’re very happy-go-lucky. But back then, holy shit.
Paul: What changed?
Joe: I guess raising, you realize once you have kids, it’s just hard, man. You go through waves. Like, my marriage is unbelievably great right now, with the medication, but before that, I mean I thought we were definitely going to get divorced. I mean, it was bad.
Paul: And did you, because one of the things I experienced before I started taking meds, and getting therapy and stuff was I was convinced it was other people. Other people were to blame. And so I walked around full of resentment, and especially took it out on my wife, in terms of blame. Not always necessarily verbally, saying it to her, but feeling it. And they can sense that you’re not, that something is between you and them. Was that the case with you and your wife? Was it verbal, did you blame her, or was it all just kind of self-hatred?
Joe: I was blaming her.
Joe: And it didn’t help that my therapist used to always say, “She doesn’t accept you. You need to get her to accept you.” That used to come up all the time, and my wife would get so mad.
Paul: Accept what part of you?
Joe: Like, well my wife, when I would act overly anxious in my marriage, one common thing is I’d bitch about our neighbour’s house. You know, just constantly bitching about it. “I want to move. This house sucks. I want to get the hell out of here. I hate this neighbourhood. The school system’s not good. Our kids can’t go through this school system.” And I would bitch.
Paul: Where was it? Because I want to destroy those realtors.
Joe: [laughs] Post Chester, New York.
Joe: It’s bad. Our house is for sale right now.
Um, I’m losing my train of thought a little bit again.
Paul: Your wife doesn’t accept you.
Joe: Oh. So he says, you know, “Your wife doesn’t accept you.” And… see, I’m still losing my train of thought. Aw, man. It’s because I flew six hours and got off the plane and came to your house.
Paul: Yeah. I appreciate you, uh –
Joe: And drank four, uh, four Jack and waters on the plane.
Paul: Did you really? Well, you’re holding it together pretty well, for having had four Jacks.
Joe: Yeah, I feel fine. Something about a six hour flight, I figured out, four drinks –
Joe: – is the perfect amount that you’re sober when you get off, and you can get in a rental car and drive.
Joe: Um… shit, it sucks, I want to remember this, because it was good.
Paul: Well, while you think of that, I couldn’t help but thinking how therapists would be the greatest heckler ever. Because they could just go right to the core of what they know would cut you.
Paul: They could just heckle with: “You’re not enough.”
Joe: That’s what it felt like –
Joe: – when these people, all, to me –
Paul: Because that’s ultimately what we hear.
Joe: “You’re not funny” is the one that always –
Joe: – got me to lose my mind.
Paul: You know, which –
Joe: I would always call the, it was always a woman, and she would always get called a “cunt” at some point.
Joe: It was like –
Paul: And there’s no going back after you drop the c-word in a set –
Paul: – at a woman. Especially if the audience isn’t on your side. There are few things in entertainment that are as uncomfortable as alienating the crowd in the first ten minutes of your 45 minute set, and then having to finish to that silence up there.
Joe: Well, that’s what brought me into therapy.
Joe: It was the time it happened, it happened at the Comedy Cellar in New York City, which is like the club that everybody wants to be in the most.
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: It took me ten years, I finally got in. I was working there about six years. Some kid heckled me. I got really nasty at him. And then I realized as I got nasty at him, three quarters of the audience are his friends.
Paul: [laughs] Oh.
Joe: So, I’m two minutes unto my set, I have 18 minutes left.
Joe: And I can’t do any jokes, and they hate me. And it was just like –
Paul: So then you’ve got to talk to him, right?
Joe: I just started, I called him out like it was high school and I wanted to fight him. I go, “Look, we’re fighting. I’m going to fucking kill you after this.” Like, it got so crazy. And it’s so weird that that just doesn’t exist in me anymore.
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: It’s like I can’t even, it doesn’t happen anymore.
Paul: Yeah, I like to think that it’s laying dormant in you.
Paul: And if we don’t do those things we need to do to keep that dormant, it will come up, you know.
Joe: Yeah. I don’t want it to come back, but –
Paul: That’s so awesome, that you’ve found a way to manage your mental illness, you know.
Paul: It sounds dramatic, but that’s really what it is. You’re managing your mental illness. And so many people go through life, because they don’t want to do the things that are required to manage our mental illness. They wish it was different. Well, wishing isn’t going to change it.
Joe: Mine was always hard because, like, you have, it sounds like that you have the depressed side of it. I just had the straight anxiety side of it.
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: I never felt really down, where I couldn’t leave. Like, I always would work out and be physically fit. I wouldn’t sleep all day, like my friends that were depressed, that I knew. So, it made me never try anything. I didn’t realize that if you take an antidepressant it’s going to wipe some of the anxiety out for you.
Paul: Yeah. I did have anxiety before I ever went on meds for the first time, this would have been in the late 90s. I had tremendous anxiety. I wouldn’t necessarily have panic attacks, but my back was always going out. I just always felt like I needed to stretch. My muscles were just tense. It was just, constantly tense. And just could not be in the present moment, because I was just absolutely convinced I had to come up with some clever plan for the future. Otherwise, I was fucked.
And, I didn’t realize that that’s a manifestation of mental illness. I thought that just, I’m just a planner, you know.
Joe: Yeah. I had a, I have people, I don’t know if you ever go through this, that look you up because you have the same last name as them.
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: I get these Matarese people that will come to shows, because they have the same last name.
Joe: This guy David Matarese came. Told me, from talking after the show, we ended up really liking each other. I was like, I could be friends with this guy. I don’t even care that he has the same last name.
Joe: And he’s telling me that he’s taking Lexapro. And he’s telling me about these injuries that he always thought he had –
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: – with the neck, and the back. And I was like, “I’ve got all of that.” And he’s like, “Dude, I take five, I’m on such a low dosage.” He’s like, “Give it a try.” And then, you know, my mother-in-law is on the same medication I’m on.
Paul: I am, as well.
Joe: You’re on Celexa?
Joe: Oh, ok. I love it.
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: I haven’t had one weird side effect except for like a bad taste in your mouth, and you feel a little nauseous. But then I just eat, and it goes away.
Paul: Yeah. Did it taste like semen?
Joe: [laughs] No.
Paul: Because that might not be the medication. That might be a result of your therapist doing hypnosis.
Joe: Uh, I may have gained about eight pounds, and I don’t know if that’s the medication –
Paul: Yeah. Yeah.
Joe: – but I notice that I love eating more.
Paul: Yeah. I have tried a bunch of different medications, and some of them, you kind of become sedentary, and gain a little bit of weight.
But, what were we talking about right before that? Oh! So this Matarese was talking about his, how he used to have these muscle problems –
Paul: And, so he…
Joe: It’s weird how just, all you need to do is meet that one person that makes it sound like it’s ok.
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: You know, I mean, I think that’s why your podcast is so good, because that’s what it’s trying to do. Let you know, it’s ok, you’re not going to die. Try the medication for a month. If you don’t like it –
Joe: – stop.
Paul: Go back. You can always –
Joe: It drives my crazy. Like, I have, one of my friends I’m not going to say his name, he lives back east, and he just has all the symptoms of this.
Joe: His dad was an alcoholic. His brothers have drinking problems. He doesn’t have the drinking side of it, but he just, like worries. Like, if he’s on a show, and someone does a joke that’s similar to his beforehand, that’s all it takes to throw him into a frenzy.
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: And I told him – since I’ve been taking this medication, I’ve been getting emails, since my last four episodes on Chelsea Lately, I get emails going, “You seem so much more relaxed lately. The last four have been really good. I guess it’s because you’ve been on for a while, and it’s starting to build up.” I’m like, well, that has a little bit to do with it, but now, I take chances.
Joe: And I’m not, that voice in my head’s not going, “You better kill. If you don’t have a great set, they’re never going to bring you back.” Like, that used to be in my head.
Paul: Because you, is it fair to say because you were coming from a place of fear before? Which certainly has its own creativity, but I think the scope of it, of that creativity is very limited when it comes from fear. I think when we’re able to find who our natural selves are, the scope of our creativity becomes wide open. We can choose to come from fear, still, but we can also come from a place of compassion, or a place of, you know, whatever.
Joe: Right. But I think in, definitely in those talk shows situations with a live audience, I was noticing that the people that were excelling in these conversation were the ones that were just throwing shit out there that just came up in their head.
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: They’re not afraid to say what just came into their thought.
Paul: And so you felt like, before that, you always had to have something prepared.
Joe: Well, you do prepare. They give you –
Paul: Oh, I know. I know, but you felt like that was the only place you could come from, was the prepared –
Paul: – You didn’t want to try to improvise because you were afraid it wouldn’t go well.
Joe: I was afraid Chelsea would just jump down my throat –
Joe: – say, “Oh, that sucked.” Because you know, she does do that a little bit.
Joe: But I was noticing, every time I did it now, that it was like my best moment on the episode.
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: So, I’m like, “holy shit!” –
Paul: Yeah, because I think audiences can absolutely tell when something’s in the moment. You know, the way we perform it. You know what’s frustrating as a comedian sometimes is when you’ll ad lib something, and then you can never do it as well as that one time you do it. Isn’t that, that’s…
Joe: I’ve tried for years to like, tape sets. And I go, “Oh, that was so great” and I redo it and it doesn’t work. And then I would intellectualize, and go, “Of course it’s not going to work. It was an honest moment, and you just need to make up something new the next time. Just stop trying to repeat.” But so many comedians think that when they ad lib something and it was clever, that they can redo it.
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: And it seems to never work.
Paul: Hmm. You were saying, I think on your podcast, that you have OCD as well. Is that kind of under control with the medication?
Joe: I think it’s still there a little bit. I don’t know how bad it is.
Paul: How does your, when your OCD is bad, give me an example of what it’s like, and how it kind of manifests.
Joe: There’s a lot of straightening.
Joe: Before I can leave the house.
Joe: Like, even this morning when I was getting on the plane, especially on a day where I’m flying –
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: – I think if I don’t do something the right way, that my plane is going to crash. Which is ridiculous.
Joe: It’s, when you just said that, I vividly remember straightening a tea kettle –
Paul: Mm hmm. Yeah.
Joe: [laughs] – on the burner, when I left.
Paul: Before I took medication, when I would – we have one those big, um, you know the five gallon water thing?
Paul: And to, so to refill it you turn the thing upside-down. And ours is Arrowhead water. And before I took medication, I would always have to rotate the bottle so the arrowhead faced straight forward. And then I noticed a couple years into taking medication that I didn’t do that anymore. That I didn’t care which direction the label was facing. And that just kind of struck me as odd.
Joe: Well, that’s what makes me think I might have to take a little bit more milligrams on my dosages.
Joe: I’m like, because there’s still stuff lingering a little bit. What’s scary – I have a four year old son – is I start to notice him doing OCD-like things. And I’m like, is that just because he’s four, or does he have a little bit what I have.
Paul: Right. That’s an interesting question. Is that a genetic thing, or is it a, is he absorbing it from seeing his parents do it?
Joe: I don’t, we don’t do what he’s doing. He like, will wash his hands –
Paul: Oh, really?
Joe: And we’ll be like, “You just washed your hands.”
Paul: Wow. The only kid around that wants to wash his hands more than they need to be. [laughs]
Joe: Yeah, that’s not good. Yeah, it scares me.
Paul: It’s crazy! He wants to change his own diaper!
Paul: Uh, well, I’m so glad that you have found a way to, you know, to be comfortable in your own skin. Because that’s no way to go through life, being uncomfortable in your own skin. I go through the surveys that we have on the web site for this show, and it just breaks my heart sometimes when I read the things that people are in the middle of. And a lot of times I’ll look, and they’ve checked the box that said, “I would never consider taking medication.” And while that may not be what would solve it for them, closing off that option just always kind of bums me out a little bit.
A lot of it is momentum, I find. If I can just get the ball rolling on something, it’s much easier to get it, keep it rolling than it is to get it started. You know, like starting a, doing a podcast every week is not hard at all. But for three years, I sat and thought about what would I do if I was going to do a podcast. And nothing made any sense to me until I kind of thought why don’t I talk about… this?
Joe: How did it evolve?
Paul: How did this show evolve?
Paul: Um, it, I just, I think I’ve talked about this on the show before, so if I’m repeating myself I apologize. I had gone off my meds, and was feeling that doom come back. I wanted to – I hate being on meds. You know, I don’t trust pharmaceutical companies. And I’m terrified that ten years from now, I’m going to have some horrible something –
Paul: – as a side effect from these, that some greedy corporate guy smothered, and didn’t let get out. So, every couple of years I will try to go off my meds, and say, “Well, maybe now I’m ok.”
Joe: Everybody does that. I don’t think I’ll do that.
Joe: I’m afraid to even skip day.
Paul: So, I went back into that gloom. You know, that feeling of hopelessness, that feeling of doom, that I’ve blown it, and the world is passing me by. And I remembered, “Oh yeah, this is what I felt like before I started taking medication. So this must be my depression. This is not reality.” And so I thought, “Wow. There are so many people that have never had that experience, and have never had anybody tell them that. I wonder if there’s a way that I could do a show about that, and other experiences, but do it in a way that isn’t preachy.” Because I’m not an expert, and I think people are kind of tired of the Dr. Phil, somebody talking down to them. They need somebody that’s one of them.
Paul: Somebody that –because nobody can get through to a depressed person like a fellow depressed person that speaks that language. I’m comforted by darkness. There’s nothing that makes me feel more a part of the world than when I watch something, a documentary on TV, that has some darkness to it. Because then I know, “Oh, other people are experiencing that.” Nothing annoys me more than an upbeat musical, where people are singing for no reason. That used to make me furious. Because I’d be like, “Nobody feels like that!”
Joe: That’s how I feel with sitcoms on television.
Joe: And I remember, I did some thing at the Montreal comedy festival called “Just for Pitching”, maybe like six years ago.
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: Where you would like, pitch a show idea in front of an audience. And they’d have network executives judging. And they would try to say something negative in a funny way, because there’s an audience. And, um, I was pitching the show, I’ve always been interested in the psychology and behind comedians, you know. And I had, at the time I had messed around with this idea where I had comedians come on stage, they would perform, and then a psychiatrist or a psychologist would be on stage. And he would take notes during their set and then psychoanalyze them on stage in front of the crowd. And then the audience could also ask questions. We shot this little mini pilot with Artie Lang and Jim Norton –
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: – like, the two perfect guys for it.
Joe: And it went over amazingly. Like, we just, it was great. And then I pitched it, and someone said, “Well, you’ve got to decide, is this funny, or is it not funny. It can’t be both.” And I –
Joe: And I said, “Bullshit.” And I got like a slow rooting clap from the crowd. I said, “That’s why your sitcoms stink on TV anymore. There’s never a real moment in the whole episode.”
Joe: It’s just laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh, and then the music comes on. I go, I miss when there’d be a real thing that would be touching for a second.
Paul: That’s why The Sopranos was so great.
Paul: It could be hilarious one minute, and then dark as fuck the next minute.
Paul: Yeah, life isn’t just light or dark. It’s both. So –
Joe: But I think art always needs to be as close to life as possible, you know.
Paul: Yeah. I was reading a book, they were interviewing world’s best cinematographers. And they were talking about how they approach their art. And I think it was Gordon Willis, the guy that shot The Godfather, which is, kind of goes down in history as one of the most, cinematically one of the most beautiful movies ever shot. And really, for its time, very, very risky in that he under-lit everything, which can be a disaster if you don’t have enough light.
Paul: You know, generally I think cinematographers are going to err on the side of having too much light. But he kind of gambled, and went with this really dark, uh, thing, that then became the rage for a while. But one of the things that Gordon Willis said was, “Every frame that I shoot, I want to have part of it under-exposed, part of it over-exposed, and then part of it in the middle.” And I thought, that’s kind of like what life is.
Paul: It’s all made up of those moments. And maybe that’s why you react viscerally when you see something, like you know, when you see Marlon Brando in his office in the The Godfather. And it’s in shadow, and there’s just, I don’t know, there’s something about it that just, uh – other than the performances being great – there’s just something that I–
Joe: Grabs you. Yeah.
Paul: – in your stomach, you just kind of feel that.
Joe: Sometimes you can, like, just the way they’ll drop a quote on the screen at the top of a movie –
Joe: – can bring you in. And it’s not what the quote says. There’s just something about –
Paul: The timing of it, the rhythm.
Paul: The font.
Joe: Yeah. It’s amazing.
Paul: I like a good font. I enjoy a nice font.
Joe: [laughs] I do remember what the, your wife not accepting you, now. Because I wanted to ask –
Paul: Oh, ok!
Joe: – you about it. Because, you know, you’re on the meds now, and I don’t know how you stayed married when you weren’t on the meds. Because what would happen, what my doctor would say is, “You wife doesn’t accept you.” And I wasn’t on the meds, and I was anxious.
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: All of a sudden my wife thought that we weren’t connecting because she was this intellect. You know, she has a Ph.D. And then all of a sudden she’d want me to read, she’d leave out newspapers, she’d want me to read more things. And she thought that’s what was wrong –
Joe: – with our relationship. But it was, like –
Paul: That had to piss you off.
Joe: It did. It used to get, like we used to have such big fights.
Joe: And sometimes I would literally try to read more, which was ridiculous. Because it just, I have like a learning disability, which I learned in therapy, also, that I never knew I even had. But I realized it. And then I take the meds, and she couldn’t care less. I could just know nothing, and our relationship’s going great. Just because I feel like hugging her when I see her, all the time now.
Joe: And I appreciate what I have, and I don’t think that if I don’t make it as a comedian, that my life blows.
Joe: I used to feel that.
Paul: Yeah. That, um… there are certain things that the intellectual world just, there’s no pathway into them from the intellectual world. And I think that’s why that thing with your, no amount of reading you would have done would have clicked a light-bulb. Because I was in that same place. I read book after book after book trying to fix myself. You know, before I ever got medication. And there’s just certain things that only, just, it’s a physical thing!
Joe: Yeah. It’s like the therapy. Seven years, and it almost, it was the same thing every time. I’d come in, and we’d have the same conversation. And I’d try what he would say, and then I, you know. It would work for a day, and then my wife and I would start fighting. And finally, I was like… it’s like life. I’m, she pressed me against the wall: “Listen, –“
Joe: “– try this, or we’re just, we’re doomed here. You’ve got to try this. Just try it.”
Paul: Yeah. That’s one of the things that I think is really good for a wife or partner, is to stick up for themselves. And say, “Hey, look, I know you’re sick, but you’ve got to do something. You’ve got to try something. While I empathize with you, the fact that you’re struggling, you’ve got to, you have a responsibility to do something about it, to start trying some options here.”
Joe: Well, I was so good at selling my anxiety –
Joe: – that I would, certain psychiatrists I could talk them out of it.
Joe: Of prescribing medication. You know, like two or three different ones.
Paul: Talk about that. What…
Joe: I remember, whenever I went in-network, they were the worst psychiatrists ever. Whenever my insurance covered them, they were horrendous. And then you go out of network, and someone would be better, but they would cost so much money. Like, I remember one was like $350 a session, and then she’d want to see me every four weeks. I was just like, I can’t even afford, I can’t afford this. Even though in my med, and my wife’s insurance doesn’t cover it, what, like, what am I going to do here?
Joe: And she would prescribe so many things. She was, she had me on like, she wanted me to take like nine different things. I was like, this is just scaring me. I just got rid of, stopped going to her.
Joe: Then I went to this other guy. And I’m telling him how my neighbour’s house is driving me crazy, and I want to move, and we’re in a bad school district. And I can’t, we can’t, I don’t know why we’re in such an expensive house. We can’t afford it. And I would like, convince him. And by the end of the session, he’d be like, “Well, yeah, you should be anxious. That’s things that should be – I don’t think you need medication.”
Paul: “Yeah, no that’s a shit neighbourhood!”
Joe: Yeah, that’s what he’d say.
Paul: “You’re good to go!”
Joe: Yeah. He would literally let me get, my wife would be like, “What the hell? Is this guy out of his mind?”
Joe: But then, because my wife is connected with the whole psychology world, she had a psychiatrist friend of hers that she worked with, that she was presenting a grant with. And she said, “What do you think he should try?” And he mentioned Celexa, and my wife’s mother was on Celexa, and he goes, “You don’t need to go to a psychiatrist. Just go to your regular doctor, tell him you want to try it. Try ten milligrams.” And then I just did.
Joe: The first week was the hardest, just because it felt a little strange.
Paul: Mm hmm.
Joe: But then, and even now – like, I was literally testing it. Did you ever do this? I was like, ok, they say it’s going to make me lose my feelings. Let me go see the movie 50/50.
Joe: So I want and saw 50/50, and I’m like, I didn’t cry. What the hell?
Joe: Is it the medication?
Joe: What’s wrong? Or does this movie suck?
Paul: I miss being able to, that is, I miss being able to cry more. That, to me, is probably – and a slightly decreased libido. Those are the two biggest side effects that I have, that I miss. And I miss crying while I have an erection.
Paul: Those, there’s nothing as satisfying as that.
I want to thank you for coming by and opening up. And there’s just nothing like starting off your, a new friendship, with a really deep, honest, vulnerable conversation, you know?
Joe: That’s true.
Paul: I know that when we bump into each other in the future now, there’s like a foundation already laid that will make me comfortable around you. And hopefully you’ll feel comfortable around me.
Joe: Yeah, totally.
Joe: Have you on my podcast.
Paul: Yeah. Unless we’re roasting each other, in which case, look out, because I’m taking you down.
Joe: [laughs] You’ll kill me.
Paul: Yeah. Thanks, Joe.
Paul: Many thanks to Joe Matarese. And I also want to thank – we’re not done yet! Sit the fuck back down. There’s more show. We’ve got a listener survey that I find fascinating, and we’ve got another email. But I want to thank some people associated with the show. I want to thank Stig Greve for doing the web stuff. I want to thank John, Michael, Manny, and Dan for help keeping the spam out of the forum. And, um, what else did – Oh! I wanted to remind you that, uh, go sign up for the newsletter. And remind you that there’s a couple of different ways you can support the podcast, if you feel so inclined.
You can go to the, uh, you can support it financially by going to the web site, mentalpod.com. You can make a donation there via PayPal. You can do a recurring monthly donation, which is greatly appreciated. And you can also shop through our Amazon search link on the home page. That way Amazon gives us a couple nickels, and it doesn’t cost you anything. And you can buy a t-shirt, another way to support the show. And you could support us non-financially by going to iTunes and giving us a good rating. That boosts the ranking, and brings more people to the show.
So, with that being said, I want to read this survey. This is from the basic survey, and it was filled out by a woman named Alison, who is in her 40s. She was raised in a pretty dysfunctional environment. She’s been through therapy, been through more than 20 sessions. She has never taken meds, but she is thinking about trying them. She does share her feelings on a regular basis, but she doesn’t know if it helps. She writes, “I speak freely about many of my problems to my husband, and a couple of close friends, but they are unaware of my deepest secrets.” Which we are getting to.
Most common negative thoughts: “That I am worthless and unlovable. That I will be abandoned by those I love, or never be understood by them. I am often filled with regret over things I’ve done in my life, and this regret is at times almost paralyzing.” I have to say, if regret is good, it’s going to be paralyzing. And boy, do I know that feeling.
Describe any behaviours you wish you didn’t engage in, but do anyway, she writes, “I’ve been a shoplifter for almost 12 years, and have been arrested twice and charged with misdemeanour theft. I know that a third arrest, if it ever came, would have dire legal and social consequences, and I am terrified that I will not be able to control my impulses. Although I stopped shoplifting after my second arrest, I often slip by forgetting small things in the bottom of my grocery basket. This troubles and frightens me, but I often feel unable to control my desire to do this.”
Do you believe some person, place, or thing is keeping you from being happy? She writes, “Although I adore my children and love my husband, I think these relationships put enormous pressure on me. I don’t know if the intimacy and responsibility of my family life is hard because I feel somehow undeserving of the love they provide, or if I’m resentful about having to answer to other people. Having children in particular has resulted in a troubling loss of identity for me, and even 12 years later, I am struggling to get that back.”
Her predominant emotion is shame. Her two most common thoughts are “I’m not enough” and “I don’t have enough.” And her primary activities are helping people and being kind, and overeating.
Does anything cause you to feel ashamed? She writes, “I am deeply ashamed of my shoplifting. And am terrified that my friends and acquaintances will somehow find out. Though it makes little sense, I am in almost every other way a very moral and sensible person, and I am always thinking of ways to improve the lives of the people around me. The shoplifting, and the dishonesty that comes with it, is still baffling to me. And unlike alcohol and drug abuse, eating disorders, or even gambling addiction, there is very little awareness of shoplifting addiction, and subsequently, very few places for to turn. I am also ashamed of my body, and wish desperately to feel comfortable in my own skin.”
Does anything cause you to feel angry? She writes, “I am so angry that I have squandered a promising on a bizarre addiction. I’m angry at my parents for doing an inadequate job, and I’m angry that I have lived so much of my life in secret.”
If there’s anything that you would say to god, what are some of the things you would say? She writes, “Forgive me.” That just breaks my heart.
Any comments to make the podcast better? She writes, “I would love for you to do a podcast on shoplifting addiction, and give a voice to those of us who struggle with it.”
You know, my heart goes out to you, Alison. And please, if there are people out there that can identify with Alison, please send me an email, or… you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. But Alison, your situation is so much more common than you think that it is. You are not a bad person. You are a sick person. Bad people don’t feel shame when they do something that they know is morally wrong. Sick people do things that they know are morally wrong, but they’re, they have a compulsion to do. And there is help. There is definitely help out there for you, so I encourage you to get it. Because your husband and your friends don’t know how to treat an addiction like that. And I definitely want to do a show on that, so anybody out there that can relate to what Alison, please send me your emails at email@example.com and tell me your stories. And, you know, from what you’ve described about your not having a good relationship with your parents, and feeling the pressures of all of this stuff, it’s, be gentle with yourself. Be gentle with yourself, but do seek help.
I want to close with an email from Ashley, my friend that I read the email from in the beginning. My friend with cerebral palsy. And depression, as if life hasn’t thrown enough shit at her. But, um, she writes, “Depression and family history, and all of those other factors are such complicated things. And so often it feels like when you are in the midst of it, nobody could possibly understand what a weird, insular little world you find yourself in. But sometimes listening to your guests, I definitely get these Aha! Moments where I say to myself, ‘Wow! He or she really gets it! What did they learn from it?’ Honestly, as someone who wants to be a psychological professional, and/or disabled rights activist, I have learned more from my depression than I could ever put into words. More than my cerebral palsy, which is saying a whole hell of a lot, without going into the gory surgical details. Depression humbles you. It spins you upside-down. It makes you feel utterly powerless, alone, and like a terminal fuck-up. But then, when you are on the other side of it, you have such a sense of compassion for others, and worldliness, and an astuteness about the ways of the world that could only come through experiencing such a trial. It is a gift. I truly believe that. I have vacillated in my convictions with organized religion, but regardless of that, it is a lens to the world that only some get to share. And if you can make it out, if you can survive, and weather the storm, and see it for what it is, simultaneously acknowledge and combat it, you can access a strength I never realized possible. I want to say to the teenage, insecure, untreated me and others like her, ‘Fuck what other people think. They can judge you, and find you wanting. They can call you cruel names behind your back, and defame your character. They can deride you for going to therapy. Whatever they want to do. But if you come out of that trial, that fire, that pit of despair, and see a woman or a man that you can respect, then you have made it. Get yourself the help that you need to live your best life. No matter what your depression tells you in the thick of it, you deserve it. And when the darkness has passed, you will feel a joy and gratitude for life that no one who has not had to go through such an experience could appreciate. Be thankful for that gift.’
With much love, hugs, laughter, and gratitude, and some SSRIs, Love Ashley.
God bless you, Ashley. God bless you. Anybody out there, if that letter didn’t give you some hope and some clarity, I don’t know what I could say that would remind you that you’re not alone. But I’ll say it again: You’re not alone.
Thanks for listening.