Episode 111: Karen Kilgariff Live in Portland
The actress (Mr. Show), comedian (Behind You), and writer (The Ellen DeGeneres Show) shares about struggling to fit in, body shame, her alcoholism, her mother’s Alzheimers, learning to accept her body and become vulnerable and her experiences in therapy. Recorded 4/20/13 at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival.
Paul: Welcome to Episode 111 with my guest Karen Kilgariff, recorded live at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival in Portland. I'm Paul Gilmartin, this is the Mental Illness Happy Hour, 90 minutes of honesty about all the battles in our head, from medically diagnosed conditions and past traumas to everyday compulsive negative thinking. This show is not meant to be a substitute for professional mental counseling. It's not a doctor's office; it's more like a waiting room that doesn't suck. The website for this show is mentalpod.com. Please go there, join the forum, take the surveys, uhhh, maybe even go there and fuck yourself. I don't know if anybody's tried that yet, but I encourage you to go. I don't know why the hostility at you, right out of the gate, but let's embrace it. It's all a part of being human. Wow. (laughs)
I had an awesome time at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival in Portland. Many thanks to everybody who put it on, especially the listeners that came on and supported not only the live Mental Illness Happy Hour show, which you are about to hear, but the listener group recording we did at Lewis and Clark College. Many thanks to Maddie, who is a college student there who helped set it up. And all of you. Chel, thank you Chel for driving me around. And Sal, for giving me rights. And everybody was just—it was so much, so much fucking fun. It's really, really awesome. I'm beginning to babble now, so I'm just going to dive into the uhh—what is this, a show, we call it? A show?
I'm gonna kick it off with: this is from the Struggle in a Sentence Survey. This was filled out by Claudia. She's between 16 and 19. About her anxiety, she says: “Feels like I am about to jump off a really high ledge for the first time.” Izzy, who is between 16 and 19, about his depression, he says, “When I wake up, my first thought is 'How long until I can go to sleep?'” Oh my god, I related to that so much when I read that. Oh I want to give you a big hug, Izzy. I know that feeling, buddy. I've been going through that lately.
Sadie D, who is in her twenties, about her anxieties says “It is like being cut open and on display for those around me. Throwing up. What I imagine being splattered on the highway would feel like. Vulnerable.” About being a sex crime victim, she says, “Like I will never shame him enough or be powerful enough to show him I was right.” Thank you for that.
This is from the Shame and Secrets Survey, filled out by a guy who calls himself Jason W. He is in his twenties, was raised in an environment that was pretty dysfunctional. Never been the victim of sexual abuse. Deepest, darkest thoughts: “I am making up the entire world around me, including all friends and family. The worst part is, I know this and keep making myself unhappy despite this.” What are your deepest, darkest secrets? “I was actively bulimic around age 15, and while I haven't consistently thrown up since then, I still have had numerous occasions where I went on bulimic runs lasting from one night to a few days. No one in the world knows this but me.” I'm always so touched when somebody shares something for the first time with us on the podcast. Sexual fantasies most powerful to you? “I have a complete and utter fetish involving long womens' hair. I almost 100% masturbate to images, videos, or thoughts revolving around long hair. I prefer it to be dark, straight and silky; but if it's long, any type will turn me on. I have had—I have sexual thoughts about brushing it, stroking it, and literally wrapping my penis with it and fucking it. On top of this, I have sexual fantasies revovling around me being in complete control of the situation. Finally, I have fantasies of romantic love where we are two souls who are completely vulnerable and open with one another, and the sex reflects that.” I think that's beautiful. And I hope that you can find someone who can share that turn-on with you. Would you ever consider telling a partner or a close friend about your fantasies? He writes, “Yes, but the beauty is that most women can't tell I have a hair fetish. Most enjoy having their hair stroked and played with, so I can usually get away without saying anything. But I actually want to take it to the next level with a partner who accepts and enjoys this.” Makes sense to me. Did these secrets and thoughts generate any particular feelings toward yourself? He writes, “It arouses me even more to know I have a strong fetish. It makes me feel unique and special. The eating disorder makes me feel weak and powerless, and my drug addiction makes me feel both weak and simultaneously dangerous and interesting.” Thank you for that, Jason.
This is an email I got from Lily, a listener. She writes, “Listened to the latest Mental Illness Happy Hour today and heard the guy from the survey say he'll never meet a woman, as he is fat and has a small cock. Well I just wanted to say that my boyfriend also has a tummy and I love it. He's sexy, and it means I'm less hung up on my own body flaws, as neither of us have model physiques. It makes us both niggle if our tummies slap against each other in a moment of passion. He's also not well-hung. It's brilliant, as I have a petite poof, so it fills me perfectly without being intimidating. It feels great and it's far easier to give a smaller guy great head. My boyfriend is smart, funny, sexy, and understands what mental illness is about, which is a massive bonus to me. 'Fat' and 'small cock' are just labels that the listener is using to beat himself up. I bet he's lovely, too. I'm a lucky girl, and I hope the listener meets someone that appreciates him.” Thank you, Lily. That was beautiful. I and my tiny cock, and my belly, thank you. Um, my underwear lately has—for the first time—the band around it is almost constantly folded in half. Which, I don't think you need to be a detective to know that that's your gut folding it over. And I'm just going to pretend that nothing is happening, that I'm not gaining weight. This—I'm going to take us into the interview with this last one. This is filled out by a woman who calls herself Sunny Day, and this is from the Happy Moments Survey. She writes, “I was 19, and at a Duran Duran concert. They were the band I was in love with in Junior High. I was singing along in a rare moment of not being excruciatingly self-conscious and uncomfortable around others. As I was going nuts, something happened in my brain. I mean, physically. It was like I could feel in color for the first time. I swear, I must have had a surge of dopamine or serotonin or whatever it is. But I felt unmuted for the first time in my life. It was a glimpse into how life could be.” Thank you for that, Sunny Day.
I had a similar moment when I was in my thirties at a dance club. I was doing standup on the road somewhere and I went with the staff out drinking, this is when I was still drinking. We went to some nightclub. And I was out on the dance floor with staff members, dancing to Hanson's Mmmbop and I had a moment of pure bliss and I didn't judge it and it was fucking awesome. And now the rest of you are free to judge it.
(cheers from audience)
Paul: Hey! Oh my god. I'm so glad you guys are here. I've been kind of agonizing over what to talk about when I come out here, because I was like. I don't wanna just start the show. I feel like I wanna... Because normally I'm just in your headphones and here I am in person. And I feel like I want to... There's so many things that I want to say to you guys, but I don't even really know where to begin. I woke up this morning and I had that feeling like, remember when you would sleep through your alarm clock and you were late for school or you're late for work? And all of the sudden you feel a jolt of electricity go through your body? And I was like, 'Oh my god I'm doing a live show at 2:00!' And then I was like, 'Nobody that is coming to see the show wants me to feel that way.' But that's what's so fucked up about the human brain, is that it is like the worst friend that we could possibly have. Last night I did a standup show and some of the folks that are here, we hung out for a little bit afterwards. And we were gonna go do stuff, and it's funny 'cause I think there were four or five of us and we're all so similar. I went up and I changed out of my little costume that I do my standup in. And I came down. We were gonna go see some stuff. And everybody suddenly just looked really tired, and we all looked at each other and went, 'We should all just pretty much go home, right?' And it was kind of sad and it was kind of awesome at the same time. And I got up to my bed and that's where I wanted to be, was my bed. And I was sitting, thinking, 'Why—' And I started feeling lonely! And I was like, 'I want to be alone and yet when I'm alone, I begin to feel lonely.' How fucking stupid am I? But the thing that I think that I love about wanting to retreat into my hotel room and the bed is, I feel like I make fewer mistakes when I'm in bed. (laughter) There's something about it that just feels so safe and I think one of the reasons I've been having anxiety about doing this show live is, I don't get to edit it. I don't get to redo anything. And I'm afraid that I'm gonna make mistakes. And I know that you guys are thinking that that's silly, but it helps take the power out of it by me just saying that up front. By the way, I have been waging a war with my butt hole since I've— (Laughter.) My first 24 hours here, here is what I ate: gyros, espresso, Fritos, and a Snickers bar. I think my butt hole might think that it owes me money. There's something else that I want— Do you guys have any questions before I kick into the next part of the show? (Pause). Ok.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: How much editing do you usually have to do for an episode?
Paul: Not that much. Sometimes I'll say something that is funny among comics, but I worry about the listener who is maybe struggling with something, and feeling alone, and kind of outside the fringes of society. And I worry that it's really gonna bum that person out. And it's not funny enough of a thing to leave in there, so I'll edit that out. Sometimes a guest will talk about maybe a sibling or something, and I just kind of get the feeling that maybe a couple years from now, they're gonna wish that they hadn't said that about that person who didn't have a chance to defend themselves. I think parents are kind of fair game. Because I feel like when you have kids, you know, you decided to bring that kid into the world but you didn't decide to be a brother or sister with that person. So sometimes I'll edit that stuff out, but a lot of times the episode just kind of goes up with almost no editing. And sometimes I'll have to do it for time. Any other questions, before I... Ok. What I thought would be kind of a fun way to kick the show off is if you guys could share some of your fears with me. So if you wouldn't mind, anybody that wants to share a fear, if you could just come around here and line up and just share one of your fears with us. Is that terrifying? (Laughter.) Is that one of your... Well, I'll start off with a couple of my fears. I'm afraid that I'm not going to see the light and the show is going to run over, and I'm not gonna get the things that I wish that I was going to get to, and I will be filled with regret for the next 24 hours. And I'll eat even more Cheetos and caramels and shit myself. (Laughter.) I am afraid that you guys had expectations of me about how this is going to go, and I'm not going to fulfill them. And I will have disappointed you. (Audio Interruption.) What the fuck is going on here? (Laughter.) Are we gonna disco dance? Somebody's waving at me in the back. Are we good?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yeah.
Paul: Ok. Would anybody like to come up and share? Would it be more comfortable to you if you raised your hand and I came out into the audience and you shared it? Let's do that. Ok, you've got your hand raised. Just tell me what your name and what your fear is. And where you're from.
MELINDA: Hi, I'm Melinda. I'm from Portland. I worry about tripping and falling and breaking my teeth.
Paul: Somebody shared yesterday, and I totally relate to that one—oh it was Sal—who has a fear, every time she gets a drink at a drinking fountain, she looks around because she's convinced somebody is going to ram her head into it and she's gonna lose here teeth. (Laughter.) Yeah. Which kinda makes me want to do it to her. (Laughter.)
SARAH: I'm Sarah from Portland. And I'm afraid of eating, like, tuna fish, because it reminds me of old people and death. (Laughs.)
Paul: I kinda get that at a certain level. I kinda get that. Do you ask a server if the fish is fresh before you eat it? (Pause.) How about you?
KATIE: I'm Katie from Seattle. And I'm going to try to start a family this summer but I'm afraid that I'm going to spend so much money because we're using artificial insemination. That I'm going to use so much money, trying over and over and over again and I won't be able to. And I won't have any money left to adopt, because that's like, thousands, tens of thousands of dollars.
Paul: That's why I recommend just abducting. (Laughter.)
ANDREA: Hi, I'm Andrea. I live in Portland. I have a horrible fear of cotton balls. I can't touch them, I can't look at them. It's actually a known fear! I googled it and people have it.
Paul: Really? Whose testicles were touched? (Laughter.) Thank you, by the way, some of these folks right here came... We did a listener group recording at Lewis and Clark College and I want to thank those people that are... Chel, over there in the back. And uh, Sal, and Andrea, and Nicole, and I think there's a couple more of you here. But it was such a beautiful experience because they brought surveys. And they talked about what those surveys triggered in them. It was so nice because so often I instigate it by reading the survey and thinking what's interesting to me but it was really cool getting to see what was interesting to you guys, and what it brought up in your lives. So I just wanna acknowledge you.
Kennedy: Hi, I'm Kennedy from Portland. I have a fear that if I die in a car accident, I won't be wearing clean underwear and that people will judge me for that.
Paul: It's probably true. (laughter) That's probably true. I gotta say, if I'm an ER guy and I cut somebody's shit open, and there's just a whole lot of ugliness right there, I'm gonna crack a joke.
Blake: Blake from Seattle. I fear I'm always like, one day away from that giant cold sore popping up on my face and ohh...just the shame that comes with that is just, something else.
Paul: Do you get cold sores a lot?
Blake: It's like every couple of months but I always panic that it's one day away...
Paul: Yeah. Who else? Anybody else have a...?
Troy: My name is Troy. I'm from Portland. And I'm afraid of birds including real ones and animatronic ones. So specifically the Tiki Tiki Room at Disneyland just terrifies me.
Paul: I fucking love that. (Laughter) I just love that. I love how irrational our fears are. Not that...yeah, that's irrational. I'm not gonna beat around the bush. That's fucking weird. But I totally get that. The Joker on Batman used to scare the fuck out of me. I don't... Was anybody else terrified by Cesar Romero? (Laughter)
Lisa: I'm Lisa, I'm from Seattle, and I moved back in with my parents and I'm afraid that I'm going to live out Grey Gardens with my mom eventually. (Laughter). It's happening.
Paul: The Bouviers, right? Isn't that what Grey Gardens was? Ok, thank you.
James: I'm James from Portland, and the only thing that freaks me out is antique children's furniture. (Laughter).
Paul: Is it because it's so tiny?
James: It's that, and when I look at, like, a children's antique rocker it just seems like it might start moving at any second.
Paul: Thank you for that.
Roy: I'm Roy, I'm from Portland. I think I'm afraid of infinity, but the vastness of space and being dead both terrify me. I think forever terrifies me.
Paul: You're too smart for this show. (Laughter). Thank you guys so much for that. And I think, go give yourselves a round of applause! Your support—I know I say this a lot—but I want to say it because you're here in person...but your support of the show...you know, people stop me and thank me a and say, you know, 'The show means a lot to me, thank you for doing it.' I truly get as much out of doing it and getting the feedback from you guys as you do. So thank you so much. And with that, I want to bring out our guest. You know her from Mr. Show. And she was the head writer for the Ellen Show. And she's got an album out now called Behind You, which is hilarious. And unfortunately her guitar didn't make it tonight. She was gonna sing a song for us. But I don't think her guitar is gonna arrive in time. Please welcome Karen Kilgariff.
(applause and cheers).
Karen: Hello. Thank you, thank you very much. Can I say one think super quick?
Karen: The guy that is afraid of cold sores, I've gotten them since I was 12. Don't eat nuts or chocolate, and get a prescription of Valtrex, and your life will be changed forever.
Blake: Thank you.
Paul: Thank you for that.
Karen: You're welcome. Cold sores are the fucking worst thing of all time.
Paul: Because they also come with...not only do they hurt, but there's the shame.
Karen: There's some—oh my god—I was once told in a carpool when I was like 12 years old, this girl goes, “What's that thing on your lip?!” And I was like, “A cold sore.” And she said, “It makes your face look dirty!” I was like, “Thank you.” Perfect.
Paul: And that's when you should have said, “I should stop blowing your dad.” (Laughter.) And right now someone in the audience is triggered. (Laughter.)
Karen: Sorry. Aw, dad blowing. (Laughter).
Karen: It is all gonna come up today.
Paul: Yeah. (Laughs)
Karen: It's all coming up. (Laughs).
Paul: So I... One of the things I asked Karen to do before she came here was to pick out some surveys that brought something up in her or she found interesting or triggered something that maybe she wanted to talk about. So you wanna find one of those on your phone?
Karen: I do. I shouldn't have brought that coffee.
Paul: That's alright.
Karen: I hold cups of coffee like bottles, like I'm a baby. I just always have to have it in my hand.
Paul: There is something very soothing about having something to do with your hands when you're in a situation that you feel, like...I don't know, like you might be judged or people are looking at you. I totally--
Karen: Yeah, like 200 people are looking at you and you're talking to a microphone.
Paul: You're being very generous by saying 200 people. (Laughter).
Karen: It feels... The energy's 200, easily.
Paul: (at the same time) Yeah, Yeah.
Karen: If not 220.
Paul: It's funny, I was afraid that it was going to sell out and then I was afraid it wasn't going to sell out. (Laughter). That, in a nutshell, is my brain.
Karen: It's other peoples' disappointment, it's your disappointment. It's then, the whole festival is mad at you. Either way—
Paul: —Somebody's gonna be disappointed or I'm gonna be disappointed.
Karen: Yeah. That's life.
Paul: Either way, fuck my mom. (Laughter).
Karen: Right. It's so nice to have that base to come back to every time. Isn't it?
Paul: What've you got? Which survey is this from?
Karen: Oh, of course I went straight to body issues. Because 'Hello, um—
Paul: —So this is from the Body Shame Survey.
Karen: This is Body Shame. And I related to every single one of them, and it's like a bunch of people going, “I hate this, I hate this. This.” Just like, listing every possible... It's like Gray's Anatomy. “My fibula is too long.” Or whatever. Everything. Every single thing...which, I relate to that. But this one person just put it together so perfectly, which is, “I hate every single piece of my body. It is bad. I hate it. I'm told all the time by the voices, I'm ugly. I deserve nothing.” Hello, friend. Hello, best friend.
Paul: When did your hatred of your body start?
Karen: When that girl told me the thing about the cold sore! No, uh... Sorry, I shouldn't be joking about this.
Paul: No. There is nothing that is off-limits.
Paul: Seriously, I don't ever want a guest or an audience member to feel like, you know, there's something that we can't joke about, uh—
Karen: —Well, because...yeah. Because it's not precious. I think regarding it as precious is causing... It causes problems.
Paul: I completely agree.
Karen: The whole, your problem...it's like “Get away, get away! We can't talk about it!” It's like, no. Put it down and realize that everybody, a lot of people, have similar issues. And... My cousin, who was a heroin addict once told me when I was walking ahead of her. And I think I was like, 12... I didn't even think about my body until adolescence hit. And then it was almost like overnight. My butt exploded backwards out of my body. And suddenly I just had a booty. And... but... you know, I was also 12. And my heroin addict cousin was walking behind me one day and she said, “You got a black girl's butt!” And there were no black people in my town. I had no idea what that even meant. I was just kind of like, “Oh.. Okay.” And it became this thing, because then where I started going like, 'Oh yeah, my butt is different than other girls in my class. It's bigger. You know, pants are tighter. And that kind of started that, 'Oh I'm different. Everybody else is doing fine with their bodies, here in seventh grade.' Of course, of course I thought that. Everyone else was having a great time in seventh grade. (Laughter). And me, all by myself...
Karen: With my cold sores, I'm suffering. Me and my butt and my cold sores are the worst. And then it just.. And then, I kind of like got over that hump. Also, that was the year that they started the President's Fitness Test. So in my grammar school, you had to go out with boys and girls onto the playground and get tested for your—fucking Ronald Reagan!! —for your physical fitness. And I was the first one for the first event, or whatever it is. And it was the arm hang. It was, like, the 15 second arm hang. And I literally got up, and lasted three seconds and dropped. And my whole class booed me.
Paul and audience: Ohhhh!
Karen: Because it was set up like we were gonna win the Olympics or something.
Paul, at the same time: Right.
Karen: Like if everybody got good scores, like, then your school could go to the Fitness Finals! I don't know what it was, but it was... I was the face of how our school was not going to make it in the President's Fitness Test. It just was always that kind of thing. I also had a very skinny friend. My friend... Very tall, lanky. And we were both running somewhere once, and then she told me that because I was heavy I didn't have good momentum. (Laughs). Now I hate when I hear that word. Even out of context, completely. Like oh, momentum. Which, I don't even... I don't think that's true.
Paul: You know, when you were talking about your body shame—
Karen: —Give me that!
Paul: That, when that came to you, you know... There's a demarcation in a girl's adolescence when she gets her period but there should be like a demarcation in our emotional adolescence where she begins tying a sweater around her waist.
Karen: (Laughs). The butt flag, is what we like to call that. Yeah.
Paul: Whenever I see a woman with the sweater tied around the waist, I automatically think that she's struggling with how she feels about her body. Am I wrong in feeling that? Because it always looks so defensive.
Karen: It's... well... I would say it's absolutely... I like to think of it as the invisibility cape. Where you're just kind of like, 'Don't look over here! It's fine. Nothing back there. Don't worry about it.' 'Cause that's really what you're trying to do. It's like wearing a shift or something. It's like, 'Let's make this one long invisible area.' And you don't have focus on it.
Paul: Is there another survey or is that the only one that you pulled out?
Karen: That one, I feel like that kind of hit a ton of things. Because it goes like that. Which for the people at home, I'm scratching the air like a cat. What I mean is, it just obliterates everything. And the thing that really hits home was, 'The voices tell me. The voices tell me I don't deserve anything.' Which is, to me...it took me so long to understand that all of these theories and ideas that I had about myself were the voices in my head. They don't know things. They're scared, and they're damaged, and they have all these theories that they think are gonna protect me in the world, but actually they cause so much more pain and damage. And that they're just these voices. They're not...it's not logic, which is what I always thought it was, or reason. I'm just trying to evaluate the world and do the thing that's gonna help me the most. It's fear, mostly. And old shit.
Paul: That's such an eloquent way of putting it. And it's so true. It's the very thing that we think is disciplining and protecting us is actually making us feel alone, separate, different, and less than.
Paul: But it's union, so what are you going to do?
Karen: (Laughs). Right. You can't bust that.
Paul: You can't fight it.
Karen: Not in America.
Paul: So, let's talk about maybe some seminal moments from your life. Where would be a good place to start with your story? You're of Irish descent?
Karen: I'm of Irish—both sides—descent.
Paul: Oh well, let's talk about the drinking. Who's the drunk?
Karen: Ok. Me. I'm number one.
Karen: Yeah, I had all the drinks.
Paul: And how long has it been since you drank?
Karen: I stopped drinking full-time in 1997. I didn't go to a program. I—
Paul: —Did you do flex time for a little while?
Karen: I did, and then I did the points plus system. And... no, the reason I stopped drinking was because I started having seizures. So I went full rock and roll with it—
Paul: —Seizures from not drinking or from drinking too much? Because when I know you withdrawal from alcohol people have serious seizures.
Karen: Yes, that's true. And they don't know, I still have seizures to this day. I'm still on medication for it. The doctor, when I went to County Hospital—
Paul: —Always a good time!
Karen: Such a nice place to be with everyone else that's sick. But the doctor that was seeing me there actually said, “You don't have epilepsy. These seizures are from alcohol withdrawal.” And I said, “But I've never stopped drinking.”
Paul: Ha! (Laughter).
Karen: I thought that was a good thing to say to another person. And he also asked me, “How many drinks do you have a day and I was like, “I don't know, like, 8 or 12!” And his eyes, like.. when you're a comic, that's like super normal. You go out every night, you do sets, and you get super shitfaced. Like that's what we did. So I was like, “What? Is that low? Am I not cool? Should I be Kurt Cobain-ing this a little bit more?” It didn't seem weird to me at all.
Paul: Your idea of a drinking problem when you're a comic is that you have to pay for your drinks.
Karen: That's right. That is a serious problem. I'm going to talk to the manager about that. Yeah.
Paul: So when did you start drinking?
Karen: When I was like 14, I would say. I always wanted to drink, really badly. I mean, my family...they're all big drinkers but I would not call anybody in my family alcoholics because everybody always got their work done, no one ever... I can't remember any kind of humiliating experience, no one ever left me at school. It wasn't like that. It was like, they were '50s cocktailers, and that's what all their friends were like, too.
Paul: They were heavy drinkers.
Karen: They were heavy drinkers. But they were... I mean I feel like the definition of an alcoholic is a person that's putting everything aside for their drinking. And that was never the case. It was just kind of like... It almost felt cultural or like, 'This is what we do.' But I took it and then just ran with it as far as I could, basically.
Paul: Give me some of the highlights or lowlights of your drinking career.
Karen: Oh, well. There was this one party. (Laughs). The first bad one, where I knew, like, I'm just out of control and this is how it is. I went to a party in the summer between sophomore and junior year. We got invited to a junior party.
Paul: This was high school?
Karen: Yeah, it was high school, yeah. And this party started at like 3:00 in the afternoon. Which, always a red flag if anyone's in high school. Watch those afternoon parties. Because pacing, you're not good at pacing when you're in your early teens. Or at least I wasn't, at all. And we used to call it Kookoo Juice, which was just Hi-C and like every liquor your parents have. (Laughter).
Paul: We called it plant food.
Karen: Plant food?
Paul: Yes. Because we would hide it in the plants behind the house. And it was lemonade, and then everything that they had, because you didn't want every single bottle to look like it had too much taken out of it.
Karen: Yeah, right. You had to kind of go... It was like a quilt of liquor inside that beautiful pastiche of every possible thing you could drink. Peach schnapps and Kahlua! And...ughhh. So, I got insanely drunk as fast as I possibly could. Which was always how I did it. At one point, it was fun, fun, fun until, at one point... I kind of came to and I was lifting my head off my cousin Mike's white sweater. It was the eighties. And there was two black eye marks. It looked like there was a set of eyes looking back at me. I had been crying on my cousin's shoulder in the middle of this party, and like, came to out of the crying like, “What's going on?” and he was like, “Oh my god!” You know, something very dark and bad was happening, and I was just kind of not there. And at another point... I mean this, truly, in my head is like, a sideshow. 'Cause it was not continual time. It was this moment and this moment and this moment. And another one, which... I literally cringe at these moments, to this day. And this was in 1984. But I still... This one gets me all the time, where I was laying in the tub in the bathroom and I wouldn't get out. And then this boy that was in—he was like the star athlete of our school—came into the bathroom and was pleading with me. He was like, “Come on, get out of the bathtub. Come on Karen, get up.” And I was like, “Just pee! Just pee in front of me!” And it was kind of like one of those things where it was... the floating above your body looking down at that picture. I mean, this might not sound so horrible. I wasn't stabbing babies or anything like that but it was like that thing—
Paul: —You weren't bathing, you were just drunk and clothed—
Karen: —I didn't draw a bath. No, no, no. I was clothed, but laying in the bathtub. Like, 'This is what I'm going to do now!' But it was like five o'clock in the afternoon. You know what I mean? Everyone else was chatting and flirting, and I was flat in the bathtub, trying to get this boy to pee in front of me. Oh, that was a bad one. And then at the end of this party, which was like at ten o'clock at night, I had gone up to a boy who was a senior who I had a huge crush on, loved, and I said, “Can I talk to you fuh se-ond?”
Paul: You said what?
Karen: (slurs) “Can I talk to you fuh se-ond?” And he said, “Sure.” We walked down the sidewalk a little bit and there were two really popular girls in my class, Mitch Lumis and Jackie Tom, who were great girls, really beautiful girls. And then I walked him down the sidewalk and then I turned around and said, “I love you more that Jackie Tom or Mitch Lumis ever could!” And then started crying again. And then he hugged me, and then literally, this was awesome because it was like in a movie: a station wagon screeched up to the sidewalk where we were standing. My friend Christine threw the door open and looked and him and goes, “Sorry!” And grabbed me by the sweater and pulled me in and we drove away. Thank God! Where was she five minutes before? But then, so the whole ride with me and Christine, I was like, “I just told John Davis I loved him!” And like laughing, but then I'd cry. It was all the weird alcoholic bipolar craziness. But then we got dropped off at my parents' house. And the plan was, we were going to go to my friend Christine's mom's house because she wasn't going to be there. So we could go there and be drunk. My parents, on the other hand, were having a dinner party. But Christine and I were too drunk to know that this was not where we should be. And so we get dropped off. It took us, like, 15 minutes to get to the front door. It was like a bad sketch. We were falling into the bushes and laughing and talking. And finally, I got to the front door and realized, 'Oh, we're at our house.' Like my house. So I looked at her and I go, “Straight to my room!” And we throw the front door open. And we had one of those ranch style houses where the front door opens into the living room and then the hallway to the bedrooms was over here. And so basically we opened the front door to my parents having a dinner party and run up the hallway as if they're just gonna be like, “Oh, I don't know what they're doing.” And we go into my room and shut the door. And I just lay on the bed because I'm beyond shitfaced. And my sister comes—my older sister, two years older—comes and, who didn't go to this party... too cool to go to that party, throws the door open, is standing there and looking at both of us. And she goes, “You guys are so fucked.” And then she leaves. And then my mom comes in. And she's trying to have a straight face. But we're like, we're just a bowl of kookoojuice in my room, basically, in the human form. And I'm just laying on the bed laughing and my friend Christine is standing kind of in front of me. And my closet, you know, I had the 80s bedroom with the closet doors that pull out like that. And she's standing there and she's like (slurring), “Hi Mrs. Kilgariff. We went to a party, just had a couple of beers. It wasn't a big deal.” And then she sticks her arm out to put it against the wall, like to be casual. But of course it's my closet door so she just falls into the closet. And later on my mom told me, “It was so hard not to laugh at you guys. You were so hilarious.” Until the barfing started. And then we were both in the bathroom barfing for an hour. It was really bad. My father, at one point I made eye contact with my father in the hallway and he was—I'd never seen him that mad—he was livid. He was so angry. That was kind of just how I always did it. I blew it as badly as I possibly could then. And then the next day, we had to go out and weed the garden. That was our punishment.
Paul: I did too, the first time I got drunk!
Karen: They made you weed?
Paul: In the hot sun, I had to pull weeds.
Karen: Yes, because they knew that would be the worst punishment possible is to go work manual labor. And then my mom... I was so scared. I was still drunk the next day. I was that drunk originally. And then that night I was just waiting for what my punishment was. Like, “You're never leaving the house again!” or whatever. My mom said, “Oh, no. There's no punishment. You just have to go to school tomorrow.” And that was the worst punishment, because I made a complete..I went to a school—
Paul: --So she knew that you had made an ass of yourself?
Karen: Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah. We were legless. She knew there was no way we pulled that party off. We were superstars and then waited to be uncool when we got to my house. And I told her, I'm sure I told her... at one point I told her that I told John Davis that I loved him. And I went to a tiny Catholic school, so there was only 350 kids in my school. So everybody knew. The hotline got lit up that night. And I was that girl for two more years.
Paul: That's the tough thing about small towns, or high schools, or any clique is... yeah, its—
Karen: —It 's indelible.
Paul: That's one of the nice things about L.A., is that your fuckups can sometimes go unnoticed.
Karen: Yeah, and there's always people that fuck up so much bigger. Than you. Yeah.
Paul: Yeah, that's true. So what was your relationship like with your family growing up? Was it... Was there warmth in your house? Was it kind of—
Karen: —Yeah, I was very lucky. It was a really nice family. My mother had two alcoholics for her parents, so she did everything she could to give us the opposite of her childhood. Because her childhood was, like, nightmarishly bad. My father—so it was like I came from both kinds of Irish. If you're Irish you know, there's good Irish and bad Irish. So there's like the fun, cool Irish with the red cheeks and the “Come on to our house!” And then there's the bad Irish who are weirdly like, super closed-down and super judgmental and Bible-y and scary. And their houses always smell weird. So my mom had bad Irish family and my dad had the good Irish family. So we were mostly... My mom was an only child so we were pretty much all Dad-family based, and that's kind of how we did everything. So we ate dinner together every night and talked, you know. And that's kinda how I learned to tell stories and be conversationally funny because that's how my parents were.
Paul: So there was a feeling of safety, like you could talk about what was going on inside you with your family?
Karen: Oh, no. No. We were still Irish. (laughter). We just had fun jokes and told stories. There was no—
Paul: —So humor was the lubricant, then?
Karen: Yes, exactly. I mean, I could tell my mom... My mom was a psychiatric nurse. She wanted me to tell her everything but I learned very quickly from my sister, it's not a good idea. When we were little I spilled the beans all the time when I was little. But it's that weird thing after adolescence when you kind of start to... your parents... it seems like they don't get it. They don't really know what's going on, like...they have no idea what's going on so I cant...they won't understand. And then I also had a very early... the rebellion, where I was always telling my mom, “I'm gonna leave this town when I'm 18!” Like, I had that big thing going. And I tried to be goth, which was very sad in my town. (Laughs). I dyed my hair and I thought that was... Like, “I'm gonna smoke cloves! I'm so punk rock—
Paul: —What town were you raised in again?
Karen: What town?
Karen: Paloma, California.
Paul: What was your feeling... how did you get an outlet for what it was that you were feeling? Because it sounds like it was something that was almost, like, genetic in you. You know, the feeling of being an outsider, of not being... Sometimes it seems like kids get it who are raised by parents when they are really invalidated, but it sounds like your parent wasn't invalidating....maybe a little emotionally closed. So where do you think the self-loathing came from?
Karen: I think it was... Because I was always the funny girl... I always wanted attention, of course, very badly. I think my parents were really good at the basics of parenting, but they didn't...like... I mean kids these days, I actually felt genuine, true, rage-filled jealousy of some kids, when I see certain kids being raised. Where I'm just... You know... kids, their parents are like, “Well what would YOU like to do?” And like that question was never asked in our house, you know what I mean? It was like, “Hey can somebody drive me to the roller rink?” “What are you talking about? Go outside!” It seemed to be an impossible... My parents acted like driving around town was like we were asking them for a thousand dollars. (Laughter.) Like, it was ridiculous. Um, so there was a little bit of that, where it was always kind of like, go make your own fun or go do your own thing. But then also—
Paul: —How many kids in your family?
Karen: Just me and my sister.
Karen: But, I also always had that...uh...I was always trying to be funny and always talking and stuff, so I got that kind of like, “You're weird” thing from a very early age. Which was just kind of that kid socializing stuff, like “You're weird! You're being weird!” And, so I just always thought, “Yeah. Ok. I'm weird. Fine.” But I couldn't...I knew I couldn't control myself. I couldn't control my mouth, ever. And so in high school I think that was my outlet. I... the drinking, I was trying to... I always wanted to be drinking. But I was always talking and I was always gossiping and I was a terrible, terrible gossip. And I was always trying to be funny. When I was about a sophomore, and maybe it was because of that party... then I started eating. And eating... I gained, like 40 pounds between junior and senior year. 'Cause I was just... I wasn't popular. Like, I think we all had that, kind of John Hughes, in the eighties, like “Ok now I'm gonna be Molly Ringwald.” Some Judd—I was gonna say Judd Hirsch! (Laughter). What's the... Which?
Audience member: Nelson!
Paul: Judd Nelson.
Karen: Judd Nelson. Judge Reinhold? (Laughter). Um, you're kind of waiting for that moment in high school and it never happened for me. And then I was positive, like okay I am really weird. There's... I'm gross. And so then I was kind of like, “Fuck it. I'm gonna eat Doritos then.” And it was so easy to do that. It was so easy to not try. And to justify it in my mind, as like, 'Well they don't get me,' or 'They're superficial!' What I love is that, I think a lot of people that were, if you were not being courted actively, then the accusation to the other sex is often like, 'They're so superficial!' Where it's like... I was in love with the guy that was, like, the quarterback of the football team. Like, I certainly wasn't trying to be interesting or play my range.
Paul: Yeah, they're shallow because they're not validating my fantasy. (Laughter).
Karen: Exactly. Where are the roses?
Karen: That was me all through high school. So then I just... I think it was that. I just took in in this, “Well then I'm a freak!” And kind of went, “I'll dye my hair and I'll like The Cure.”
Paul: And that's such alcoholic thinking too, because it's such, it's so binary. It's like, there's no, 'Maybe it's awesome to be one of many...' It's 'I'm a piece of shit' or 'I better be fucking prom queen.'
Karen: Exactly. Yes, there was no... I mean, that realization, in therapy, when I was like 36... Where my therapist would be like, “Well things are actually much more complex than that.” And I would be like, “Ooooh, yeah.” It isn't just all or nothing. It isn't, I win or I'm the biggest loser of all time. Which is like, such a... It's not as glamorous when you have that realization. Where's the thrill?
Paul: Yeah, the ego isn't too good with nuance. So any other seminal moments from your childhood or your adolescence that kind of stick out?
Karen: Do they have to be hideously painful?
Paul: No! No, it could be something that's positive or transformative.
Karen: Well that's boring, though, right?
Paul: No. (Laughter). No it's not.
Karen: Um, I'll tell you this. When I went to college... this was kind of... I went to college in Sacramento, which was a terrible choice, but... this was another thing where it... I don't want to sound accusatory because I really had it good in terms of family, but my parents did a lot of this kind of stuff, but maybe this was like an 80s thing or maybe they, just...this was their choice. But they did a lot of like, 'We're gonna go on a cruise!' Like now that you guys are 17, we're gonna go party. We're gonna go have our fun. And oftentimes my sister and I would just kind of like, be home. And that's when the big parties started. We had a party so big at our house once we had to call the cops on it so that people would leave our house. (Laughter). 'Cause it was so... We were like, 'Holy shit! This has gone... this is crazy.'
Paul: (at the same time) This has gotten out of control. Was there a pizza spinning on a turntable like in the John Hughes movie? (Laughter).
Karen: There was a boy stuck under a glass coffee table. We didn't even have a glass coffee table. (Laughter).
Paul: An Asian kid in a tree?
Karen: Yes. (Laughter). Our movie-- Our life-- The movie about-- Oh forget it. (Laughter).
Paul: I think all those 80s movies could be summed up with the movie poster of like, Andrew McCarthy without a shirt, wearing a tie, in a tree, shrugging.
Karen: Yeah. (Laughter). What happened? Yeah exactly, that was kind of always the goal. But the flip side of that which they don't ever talk about in the John Hughes movies was like, I decided, I picked my own college by myself because my friend in high school said, “Come on, let's be roommates!” And I was like, “Ok.” You shouldn't pick a college that way. There should be more guidance.
Paul: I did the exact same thing.
Karen: It's so weird. And these days, like, my friend Adrian...I remember them talking about, “Well we're gonna go with Connor...” (their son who was going to college that next year) “We're driving down to Santa Barbara then we're driving down to...” And I was like, 'Fuck you guys! Fuck Connor!” He's got all this support and adults are going to help him make a choice. It's bullshit! (Laughter). I literally, I remember filling out the application like, “It seems like somebody else should be here with me. Oh well. Oh well, I guess I'll drink a Budweiser.” (Laughter). Uh so, that decision...it was a bad decision because Sacramento wasn't like, it wasn't for me. I knew it, like, as we drove up, I was like, “Ugh, this is gonna be...” But so I went to college there for a year and a half and then got kicked out for having bad grades because I never went to class because of course I had no experience in being in the world, so—
Paul: You were busy having seizures.
Karen: No, not yet.
Paul: Not yet?
Karen: That's the next chapter.
Karen: This was pre-seizures, still drinking and going, “Oh I can do whatever I want every day. Well then why would I go to school?” Like, I hadn't thought any of that through... Like it's actually gonna be on me to do the thing that people are paying for and that I agreed to do by signing up to go here. So I just, like, fucked off every day and slept in and did... I loved it, it was so exciting.
Paul: Now what would you think when the thought would occur to you that my parents are going to see the results of this? They will see my grades. What would you think? Would that thought not pop into your head? Or would you just brush it away and say, 'I'll deal with it when that comes up.'
Karen: Yeah, I brushed it. It was total denial all the time. It was kind of like, “It's fine, it's fine.” That voice, the it's fine voice, has done me the most disservice in my life. “It'll be fine, it's fine.” Because then it's just like anything I wanna do is justified. And I remember when my final report card came that was going to say, “Congratulations for your .10 grade point average, you're kicked out of Sacrament State.” I just kept checking the mailbox every day because it was summer, thinking I was gonna get it before my dad. But of course he's watching me go to the mailbox every day. I had never had a big interest in mail before that. It wasn't like I was I was always like, “What? Look at these coupons they sent us!” It was like, never a thing. So suddenly I'm always there so of course he's onto me. And he's like, “Did your report card come?” “Haha, nope! It's so weird. There must be a problem in the office.”
Paul: There's such an endearing quality to your fuckups. (Laughter). You know? It's—
Karen: —'Cause they're so dumb. There just so... But... So that was very... 'Cause I knew. It's like what you were saying. I knew I was fucking up, I watched myself doing it, I watched myself making these terrible choices, I did it anyway. I kept doing it. I got kicked out of college. And I mean, I had it good. My parents were paying for my education, they're paying for everything. They opened up a little bank account so I could go get my monthly stipend. I mean, that's like the American Dream. And I was like, fuck it! I'm gonna drink Keystone Light. (Laughter). That was my choice. And so then—
Paul: —That alone should have been your bottom. (Laughter).
Karen: I mean...
Paul: That's just a horrible choice. (Laughter).
Karen: It's disgusting. But the cans were lined or something. There was something about it, there was a great selling point.
Paul: Some advertising gimmick?
Karen: It was the Queen of Beers, I think. (Laughter). Anyway, again... when they finally found out my parents just said, “Well we love you, but you're cut off.” So suddenly, I was in Sacramento with no money and no job and no school to go to and no means of support and now I was truly on my own. And that was a humongous, that was a big milestone moment. I can still remember the feeling of sitting on the back steps of a house, I had just signed a lease agreement with three of my friends. I was supposed to come up with like 300, 400 bucks a month. And sitting back there and staring at the sky like, “Oh my God! What am I going to do?” But then, that's when I started doing standup. Because I figured, I really wanted to do it secretly, but I was like, I'm sure I wont. It was kind of the thought in my head. At that point I was like, well I might as well. Because I don't have anything to lose. I don't have anything at all, so I might as well do it. And then because that was the first thought I had, literally a month later... Did you ever know Arthur Montmorency?
Paul: Mm mm.
Karen: Well he started in Sacramento. He moved down to LA and he worked on That 70s Show for the first couple of seasons. Really cool guy, but very dark, very bitter. Classic standup comic. And I met him randomly in a bar one night. A month after that happened, a month after I was cut off and thought, 'I'm the biggest loser in my entire extended family,' my friend and I were at this bar and I was talking to him and we were talking and talking and talking. And finally he was like, “Are you a standup comic?” And I go, “No.” And he goes, “Well you should be.” And he invited me to come to his weekly show. And it felt very fateful. Some random guy was kind of like, “You! Do this.”
Paul: He sees me. He sees inside me.
Karen: Yeah. He sees the secret dream I always had.
Paul: What did that feel like?
Karen: It felt...it was fucking incredible. Especially because after all that fucking up, I felt like, 'Well this is just who I am. I am only a fuckup and I only make bad decisions and I'll never get anything I want because this is what I do.' It's that thing. The voices would tell me I don't deserve anything. I don't deserve to get what I want. And how smart can I be, if I can't even do these basic things? And in retrospect, I never wanted to go to college. I just did it. I mean that's what you were supposed to do. And I remember thinking that when I was 17, where everyone was like, “I'm gonna go to Berkely...” “I'm gonna go to Davis...” or whatever and I would just think, “I just want to get an apartment and like, smoke cigarettes by myself.” (Laughter). Like, that's what it... That's what I wanted to do after high school. I wanted to not go to school anymore, really badly. But I just did what I was supposed to do. So it was actually kind of amazing because I think... I think things kind of will out in a way, through bad stuff, I mean, through fuckups. You have to kind of smash through your life to get to something else. Like, that idea that you're supposed to somehow make great decisions and glide through and be like, 'A, B, C...everything's lining up for me!” It just does not work that way. And it shouldn't work that way.
Paul: Yeah, and sometimes I think the thing that unlocks the door to where you're meant to be is the failure—investing a bunch of emotional energy in something—that kind of, egotistically, you want or you think you should want to do and then having that kind of fall apart. And then this other thing kind of weirdly comes in.
Karen: (at the same time) Yeah. Because, yeah. I think... I didn't want to be weird. I didn't want to be the weird person. I definitely wanted to be a standup but I also wanted to do the thing my parents wanted me to do and I wanted to be like all my other friends that were going to college and stuff. But if I was actually being true to myself, which wasn't going to come for another 25 years, but if I were...then I would have kind of peeled off and been like, 'I'm gonna go to San Francisco and get a job and see what I want to do.' But that...even the idea of being that independent wasn't even a consideration at that point.
Paul: So, what's the next moment in your arc personally or emotionally?
Karen: Well once I started standup things went very well for me very quickly. Which was good and bad because I think it really was what I was supposed to do. I mean, I believe that about myself. And I would do comedy contests and do well in them and I had a lot of support. Like I met a lot of San Francisco comics who'd come up to Sacramento for contests or whatever. And so I met Greg Beherendt and Karen Anderson, and I met Patten Oswald and Blank Patch and all these people and kind of found my niche or whatever. And then I got an agent. Margaret Cho was a good friend of mine and she had an agent. She had me send my tape to her. So I got an agent from living in San Francisco which was kind of unheard of at the time. Like you'd have to be down there moving and shaking. So I got an agent and she was like, “You just have to come down here and start auditioning.” And so I moved to LA at the same time that almost all of us moved to LA and then started auditioning. And this was this long ago. I ended up getting a holding deal at NBC for $100,000.
Paul: Oh my god.
Karen: This is how they used to make t.v. They would get talent and they would give you a big chunk of money to not take other jobs, which sounds so, like, old studio system, because these days they're like, you're lucky if you can audition for something. The amazing talent... Everybody is scrambling because they just don't do it that way anymore. So I had these huge, great, amazing opportunitities and chances. But I was still a huge drunk. Drinking was really my passion and my priority. And then when I moved to LA I realized I was way too fat. I was way, way, way too fat to be in the city limits. (Laughter). And so...I was taking up way too much room. And so, I got, uh...
Paul: How'd you get through the roadblock?
Karen: I don't know! They must have seen me!
Paul: (at the same time) You sucked your belly in.
Karen: Yes, exactly.
Paul: And wore a sweater around your waist. (Laughter).
Karen: I tied that invisibility sweater on. Because in San Francisco I was fine to myself. I never really thought about it. But in LA, of course, it's the land of the anorexic actress that doesn't take dressing on her salad, which was very foreign to me. And so after like six months there it was so uncomfortable. It was like having to walk around naked every day. That's how deeply uncomfortable with myself I was there. So I started taking diet pills. And this was back before Phen-Phen. So it was just the upper diet pill. I went to a doctor in Burbank and started taking them and I lost 30 pounds in a month and a half, or something.
Paul: What's his name? (Laughter).
Karen: (Laughs). He is no longer a doctor. Now he works in Guatemala. (Laughter). Um, it was the shadiest doctor's appointment I've ever had. It was hilarious. One of the nurses... You know that part in Raiders of the Lost Ark and they open up the Ark of the Covenant and two soldiers look in and they start...all of their skin starts to peel off their body. That's what the receptionist looked like, but with a long red wig on. She was like a walking skeleton. Horrifying. Like when I walked in, I was like, “Oh this is bad.” And then the nurse that weighed you and told you what your goal should be didn't have one of her bottom teeth...was missing. So it was like skeleton and the Ozarks...what is this place? And then I walked in to actually get my checkup to have the doctor give you the prescription and it was literally...it was like the man was in the shadows the entire time. He was like, “Oh nice to meet you” and like lightly touched my wrist. “Ok, here's your prescription.” And then basically I'm on pharmaceutical speed. So my heart raced constantly. I mean that is the amazing part about speed, I guess. It's like you're constantly jogging but doing nothing. I'd just be sitting around like (heavy breathing) Turn the channel (heavy breathing) I don't wanna watch this show (heavy breathing)... I was a lunatic. I was a lunatic.
Paul: And drinking, which is such a scary combination!
Karen: Well I'm positive that's why I started having seizures. I'm positive those diet pills had everything to do with it. But yeah. So we'd go do sets and I would do my comedy, “IwouldtalkreallyfastlikethisandthenIwouldtalkuntilIranoutofbreathandthenI--” (gasps for air) “--and then I would do something else.” It was really not funny at all. Not good comedy. Then afterwards we'd go to a bar and I would drink 11 beers and it would just start to cut the tension for me, so yeah—
Paul: 11 beers will cut a lot of things. (Laughter).
Karen: You'd think. So you know, that went on and on. In the midst of that, in my holding deal, now I'm doing that. The great irony in trying to take diet pills to lose weight to be on TV to compete... I'd get a part... I'm so crazed and drunk on these diet pills that one day I just skipped rehearsal. I just, in my mind was like, I need to go for a walk and then just didn't show up at the Drew Carey Show. So of course I got fired. So it was like that kind of shit going on. There was nobody there to be like, “Hey listen, decision maker, umm...we need to look at these priorities really quickly. So you know I got fired from that. I was just a mess, basically. And I was a terrible auditioner. I was a terrible auditioner anyway but then I was on speed. I had this strange biker anger when I was in auditioning. So I was supposed to be reading for the best friend and I'd be like, “YEAH WELL I GUESS I'LL SEE YOU LATER!” And they'd be like, “Could you do it, like, uh...a little less angry?” I don't know what you're talking about! (Laughter). And then...
Paul: Goddamnit, I wish there was footage of that!
Karen: I know!
Karen: I know. It was... And the funniest part about all of it was I was the thinnest I had ever been in my life. I had lost all this weight. And I was still considered “fat.” Like I was still considered a chunky girl or an overweight girl or whatever, in terms of auditioning. And that was a big, kind of... I don't wanna say “aha” moment. Do you use Oprah phrases on your show? (Laughter). That was a huge “aha” moment for me because I just realized there was no winning in that. There was... you just can't be thin enough in Hollywood. And my body type—I have like my thigh muscles scraped off of my bones, I will never look like any of those people. It's just not how I'm built. Then I had the seizures, then I stopped drinking. And then I started doing comedy about the fact that I am not built to look like that. I think that's when I really found my voice in standup, is when I first started doing all that and my comedy started to get really good because it started to get real and kinda true.
::commercial break for sponsor, www.hover.com::
Paul: How did Mr. Show come about?
Karen: Well those guys, David and Bob were... Laura Milligan, my friend Laura Milligan who is from San Francisco, started doing a night of comedy in LA called Tantra. And it—looking back now—was the most incredible array of talent. So like, Tenacious D did one of their first sets ever at that show and Bob and David were workshopping sketches for Mr. Show. And Mary Lynn Rice did one of her first sets in standup at that show. There's all kinds of... Will Ferrell used to do this hilarious bit with two other guys. They call themselves a Canadian performing arts troupe called Sympatico. And they would come out wearing speed skater unitards with hoods, and they would just pass a ball really fast between the three of them to weird music and then yell, “Sympatico!” It was the greatest thing I've ever seen. It was so fucking hilarious. And Molly Shannon did sketches there, it was the coolest thing. So anyway, there was like a group of people, it was actually kind of a big group of people that all hung out that came out of that circle. And we also drank together every night and went to dinner constantly. We were like this weird, big codependent group of people that hung out all the time.
Paul: Like a funny Manson family.
Karen: Yes, exactly. But we killed with comedy. Thank you.
Paul: Let me see how we're doing on time. Uh, do you wanna talk about your mom?
Karen: Sure, yeah yeah. And I say no and drop the mic and walk off stage. How dare you?! My mom who was the matriarch of the family, very intelligent woman, a working mother all my life, very feminist, very pro-woman. I think she's the reason I can do a lot of the things I can do these days because she was this amazing example. She used to do stuff... You know in the 80s when there would be the terrible economic stuff going on on tv my dad would go, “Girls you better marry a lawyer!” and then my mom would go, “Bullshit! You better BE a lawyer!” Like a little sitcom. My grandmother growing up had Alzheimer's. And she died of it. And she lived with us for a little while which was terrible, and the nightmare of Alzheimer’s if anyone knows. And I'm sure a lot of people have gone through it. Having like an elderly grandparent who loses their mind at the dinner table with you. It's really painful. And so my mom... Alzheimer's goes down, is inherited or passed down through the mother. My mom has the gene. And so my mom got it, early onset. She was 63. So she went from being this incredibly powerful self-possessed... You know she was the advice nurse at Kaiser for like 15 years, when you called up because you were scared of the rash on your arm, you called up my mom and she was the one like, “Honey don't worry about it. Put some cortisone on it. You're fine.” She was that person. She got early onset Alzheimer's and she basically lost her shit. The past ten years have been horrible for that because if you've ever gone through having a relative with alzheimer's, it's kind of like they slowly get replace with someone else right in front of you. And it goes...it's very slow and it's very subtle but it's horrifying. I compare it to.. it's like the slowest real-time horror movie. Being in one. So it's like a guy is coming at you with a knife and it's like “Holy fucking shit he's gonna kill me with a knife!” And he's just walker super slow and you're like, “Ok that guy. He's coming. He's gonna kill me. And then he's still coming.” And then after a while it's like “All right, enough. Bring the knife. I'm ready.” You know. Stab me. Because it's so fucking painful. It's so weird. You get mad at them but they don't know what they're doing. Our family got completely broken down. In the middle of it my dad had melanoma and he had to go through radiation for cancer which was super crazy. My sister and I just had this thing because we were so Irish in the way we were raised. It's not like we would get together and hug and cry and talk about it. We'd just kinda like really roll our eyes at each other.
Karen: That was the way we dealt with it. It was, “Can you fucking believe this?” That's all we really ever said. And that's why I got into therapy because I, at the same time, was head writing on the Ellen DeGeneres talk show which had just launched and I had never had a job like that. It was my first job managing adults and all the adults were writers who were friends of mine—comics. And that was difficult and so stressful, and having that stuff going on at home, that I was so miserable and I was such a miserable person. I was a tough person to be around at that time. I just was always feeling like a fraud and a failure at work which is terrible. If you ever have a boss like that, it's those kind of people...you can't tell them anything because they know everything already, even though they're wrong. You try to say, “Here's my input” and they're like (panicked) “Hey, yeah yeah!” The people that are in deep fear of being a fraud. They can't take any input because they are so afraid to lose what they have. I had that going on, and my mom. When I realized, by the end of the week, that I would hate a different person really deeply, I'd always be like, “Oh I'm gonna kill him! He's the reason...” and then that would be like, Tuesday... “She is such a bitch I can't stand her!” And then finally I was like, ok, I'm the common denominator. This is about me. And I went to therapy. And the first therapist I got... My friend was a therapist so she was like, “I can recommend people for you. What kind of person would you like to go talk to?” I was like, “I really need to go talk to Olympia Dukakis.” (Laughter). And she was like, “Ok. I think I can do that.” So I... the first woman I went to was this older lady who did look a little bit like her. She had gray hair. Whatever. But she was like, “Why do you need to talk to a therapist, Karen?” And I said, “Well I've got this stuff going on in my--” and before I had the first sentence out she's like, “And how does that make you feel?” And I was like, “Ok I need to take the mic for a while? You can't... I just need to talk...” And she was really weirdly trying to drive it all the time. So I stopped going to her. I only went to her once or twice. I almost had that thing of like, “I can't do therapy!” It didn't work that time so I'm never gonna try again. It was almost like being rejected in dating.
Paul: Yeah, and so many people that have never tried therapy don't realize that the vibe of the therapist has everything to do with how successful it will be and that there's a thousand different vibes and energies. And a good therapist. You will be able to just melt in front of them. All the stuff that needs to come up will come up naturally.
Paul: So did you find that in your second therapist?
Karen: Yes. And the weirdest thing was, I just went on a... Basically I was like, “well fuck it. I don't need therapy.” And then of course I was back at work in like two weeks and I was out again having a nervous breakdown. So I just went on this Psychology Today website and looked under my town. And there was a lady that seemed nice. And the first meeting I had with her. First of all, I loved her furniture. So I was like, “Yes. A nice seafoam green. Midcentury.” And then she was just... she had this thing like... It's so hilarious because she's really brilliant and she's really human and she's really right there with you. And she does a lot of stuff like you tell her a big, hideous story like all the shit I've told you guys today. And she'd be like this: “That seems like a lot to hold.” No one in my life had ever said anything similar. It's compassionate and it's empathetic but at the same time it's not like, “I'm gonna solve it for you. You stop talking!” She's not trying to do anything.
Paul: You felt heard and felt.
Karen: Heard and held, which is hilarious. I love saying that to people.
Paul: I totally know that feeling and it's so fucking awesome.
Karen: Yeah that you don't have to scramble around for a big answer. That it doesn't work that way. It's like you just have to barf and barf and barf, and get it all out and it's like having the stomach flu, for me now, for like 8 years. You just keep on barfing. Keep on barfing, and it just gets a little bit easier. And then you can kind of see, like, the thing that's amazing to me is those voices, back to the voices in the head where she has made it so clear of just like identifying these voices, it's kind of like you know King Arthur's court of the round table where each knight is trying to do something for you. And they're trying to be on your side even though sometimes it's seems so against you. So the voices are saying, “Don't go out! You look fat!” And she would say like, “Well what do you think they're trying to protect you from? What do you think that voice is trying to protect you from? What do you think the fear is underneath that?” So instead of being like, “I'm crazy! We have to get rid of these voices with pills or something.” It's like no, let's actually figure out what the real fear is underneath that, where the real risk is for you.
Paul: Yeah, when therapy is good it feels like—
Karen: I would love a beer right now.
Karen: Sorry. That 'crack' sounded so good! That first sip is gonna be so good. It's all bubbles!
Paul: It's a Keystone Light. You don't want it.
Karen: They serve exclusively Keystone in Portland? That'd be so awesome.
Paul: When therapy is good it feels like somebody is holding your hand and walking down a dark tunnel, and just kind of shining a flashlight when it needs to be shined. But they're not dragging you and they're not pushing you. They're... It feels kind of gentle but ever so slightly kind of prodding. Ever so slightly, just gonna nudge you an inch this way. What do you think about that? And you get to feel like you're discovering it. They're helping you discover it. They're not telling you something they read in a book. Therapy feels like they're helping you to discover something good that has always been inside you that for some reason has been muted.
Karen: Yes. Well, yes. Because depending on your range of issues or whatever...but for me it just felt like it wasn't that I didn't know... Like I know where I wanted to be. Which I feel like I’m the closest I’ve ever been to it in my whole life. And this weekend in particular, I'm having the greatest fucking time. I’m certainly not thin in any way that I’m supposed to be that I thought I was gonna be in my twenties. And I could give a shit. I’ve eaten so many Voodoo Donuts this weekend, I couldn’t even tell you. Right?
Paul: Do you have a favorite?
Karen: Well anything with a bunch of cereal on top. Fuck. Yeah! Do it! But I feel like there was a time where I was like, “Don’t eat that! No I’m going to eat it! Now I’m disgusting!”
Paul, at the same time: I’m a bad person! Yeah.
Karen: It’s like that crazy ping pong in your mind. It’s just so pointless. She has helped me realize that all this stuff is within me, it’s within my power whether or not I choose to make decisions is my own and it isn’t bad if don’t. Like I remember talking to her where I smoked a lot of pot in that period of time that I was talking about, because I couldn’t figure what else to do with myself and I couldn’t drink. I told her that finally one day because I wasn’t talking about it to her because I felt like she would be like, “You have to stop doing that.” And her answer was, “Everybody needs a little bit of oblivion.” And I was just like, “I love you so much!” (laughter) You are helping me so much! And it’s like true. In my mind I have all these things of “Here’s how you’re supposed to be. Here’s how you’re supposed to do it. Blah, blah, blah.” I’m so wrong. I couldn’t be more wrong. So that idea of like, “I’m smoking pot but I shouldn’t!” That’s like… If you’re gonna do it, enjoy it. Don’t do it and beat yourself up for it. Then what… Then you just get nothing, ever.
Paul: That’s such a beautiful experience, you know…what you’re describing. I just… I love hearing stuff like that. Where do you feel like you’re at today? Do you feel like you’re in a lot of self acceptance? You seem… You are a different person than… I bumped into you at a party. I think it was at Dave Rath’s maybe like 12 or 13 years ago and we had never officially met and I think I might have introduced myself but you scared me. You intimidated me.
Paul: And uh, (laughter)
Karen: That was my thing. I was really good at it, actually.
Paul: Yeah you were really intimidating.
Karen: That was my defense. It was actually…to me it felt like that was the only thing I had. That was the only card I had to play. So it was…and that’s that vulnerability thing we were talking about earlier. The idea of, “I could never be vulnerable or nice to people. Because in my mind you can’t be a nice fat girl. That’s the saddest thing to be.” So I was going to be the girl that scared you away from that area of the room. Like what… What is the benefit of that? I know I never went back in and said you could do that. Now what? Now you’re smoking in the corner and everyone thinks you’re a big bitch. What did we get from this? Like the… I never thought that through in any way.
Paul: Maybe the donuts are all yours?
Karen: Exactly. (Laughter). My thing was I couldn’t ever let anybody know that I wanted to meet you. I saw you on tv. I thought you were so fucking hilarious on Dinner and a Movie.
Karen: I swear to god, right?
Karen: Because I would watch that and like, what’s more irritating than interstitial shit during a movie that you’re trying to watch? Where you’re just like, oh my god. And they usually pick people that are so terrible. And you guys were so… I could tell you were riffing. I could tell you were making stuff up on the spot. It wasn’t all scripted. And I had so much respect for that. Like the comfort you had on camera. So I’m sure I was thrilled to be around you. And I think a lot of people do this and you see the person that you like or that you admire and then you’re kind of like, “I have to figure out a plan. How can I get them to--”
Paul: --How can I not look as pathetic as I feel?
Karen: Exactly. I can’t stick my hand out and say “You’re great.” Which is what everybody wants in the world. Instead you’re like, “I’m gonna say this thing loudly. Then she’ll turn around.” I do that constantly. So my thing was always….because I was so intimidated in LA, I was so insecure and all these things. My thing was, I’m gonna be the person who acts like they hate everybody because everybody is always kissing everybody’s ass, so that’s going to be fascinating. Because like—
Karen: Famous people are gonna be like, “Why is she mad at me?” How else am I going to break through if I don’t do that. And I have a lot of people, tons of people tell me that, “Oh the first time I met you I thought you hated my guts!” I was like, “Yes that’s right. You played perfectly into my plan.”
Paul: Well then when we did the live walking the room and we met backstage after probably not having seen each other since that party, your demeanor had completely changed and I felt so safe around you and I just wanted to give you a hug. I just wanted to say, “Oh my god! You don’t hate me! You are not somebody I should be afraid of.”
Karen: The porcupine lady lost her spikes!
Karen: I think my lesson was, going through the stuff with my mom, going through that stuff at work or with that job that made me feel so…nothing. What I realized was that like on the other end of that was that it’s so good to go through terrible things. For me anyway, it was the best… And maybe because I was kind of spoiled all my life and had it really good, and I thought I knew, “Oh I have angst” and I had no idea what angst was. And then I really went through serious, terrible shit. And then you realize, then you’re just so fucking grateful. Then you’re grateful for a smiling face. Any moment you have that’s nice, or that you have friends or whatever. Like I just had that…I mean…I don’t want to judge it. I don’t wanna say right now it sounds cheesy or whatever, but it isn’t fucking cheesy because it’s actually the process that I think people go through their life resisting or finally falling into. And I resisted it for so long because I was like, this: it was like I had a bunch of plaque on me. I was just so stiff and tight and controlling and you needed to see me this certain way and I needed to be strong. I needed to be strong. You couldn’t see me. Like you needed to be scared of me. You needed to fear me. You needed to think I was hilarious. But other than that, nobody could come in. Which is so terrible and lonely and totally miserable.
Paul: So, so lonelymaking. And the irony is that real strength is just putting yourself out there unapologetically and saying, “I want to be loved. I want to be accepted.”
Karen: Well then also because then other people that feel that feeling or whatever, when you can kind of just hang out… and I also realized because I stopped doing comedy when I was working on that show. Completely. I was just like, “I wasn’t that good at it.” Or whatever. It wasn’t meant to be. And I just basically shut down an entire…pretty much the core of myself to go do this other thing, like to make money basically. And I made myself so miserable by doing that. By kind of just dismissing it, like “Oh comedy, who cares? Anyone could do that.” No. Actually. Not everybody…
Paul: I had breakfast with Dana Gould this morning and he said the exact same thing.
Karen: When he was working on The Simpsons?
Paul: When he was working on The Simpsons. And at first he was like, ‘I’m making all this money and I’m working on this popular show.’ But there was a part of himself that wasn’t being able to be expressed. So he started going back to doing standup comedy, and part of himself was judging himself, ‘Why am I doing this? I have been given this great opportunity. Why am I walking away from it?’ But he could feel that there was something inside of him that still needed to be expressed.
Karen: Yeah because it’s not… For me it’s not like I made that decision, like I was going to be a doctor and then I became a standup comic. Like it’s what I wanted to be from really early on and I got to do it and it became my…it is kind of my identity in a way. Like not in the way of like I can’t stop riffing, but in the way of just… I love comedy. I love to be in that world. And to be away from that world made me insanely miserable. And so to be able to get back to do it and to do it the way I want and to know that it means something to be a woman on stage, speaking her mind, being as she is, and kind of being like, “Right everybody?” Like it’s not… It’s not that common anymore. I think a lot of people, a lot of female comics, feel this need on stage to be kind of um to please the audience in a way or you know, be something. Talk about blowjobs or be like the boner girl or whatever. And you don’t see as often people that are kind of standing there like “Well here’s actually my opinion. Here’s my point of view. I’m a human being aside from the handjob abilities that I have.” Which I’m not in any way deriding, because everybody needs those. I realize the importance of it, I think.
Paul: Well we just got the lights so we’re gonna have to wrap things up. But first of all I want to give you a round of applause and thank you so much.
Paul: Is there anything that you would like to plug? Your album is great. She has a five song album out called Behind You.
Karen: Behind You. And that’s on bandcamp.
Karen: Bandcamp.org. No, no. It’s dot com. (Laughter).
Karen: That was just internet humor. Can’t help it. Um, and then…
Paul: You have a beautiful voice. I’m kind of bummed that your guitar didn’t make it because we were hoping that you could—
Karen: --I know, you guys… I left my guitar in Moshe Kosher’s car. We were up til five in the morning last night! I fucking love this festival so much! We’re having the best time. But yeah when I got up at 1:15 today and then realized I had no way to get a hold of my guitar. I could walk over there and do an a capella number for you.
Audience member: Yeah!
Karen: First of all, I could stay here and do it. Totally joking. Let’s fucking jam out some Manhattan Transfer for you.
Paul: Well you know what I’m thinking since we’re running short on time, did you bring any loves to share with us?
Karen: What do you mean?
Paul: A list of fears and loves? Did I ask you to bring a list of fears and loves? I forgot to do that?
Karen: No but I would love to do it. Yeah.
Paul: Well do you want to riff on some? Because what I’d love to do is have the audience share their loves too, so I’d love to alternate between you sharing a love and audience members sharing a love.
Karen: I’d love to do that. Can I say, when everyone is saying their fears, before… My fear is getting caught in a place where I lose my pants somehow and having no one that has the same pants size as me. And that was the thing…and like seriously, I would never date a guy that had smaller pants than me because in an emergency situation I wouldn’t be able to slide his pants on and run out the door. And it’s a serious thing. And if I’m around skinny girls, I start to get a little bit of planning of, where are the closest pair of sweats that I could find if there’s a flood or a fire? How am I going to make sure I have pants?
Paul: That is awesome! That is awesome. So anybody that wants to share will you come up to the stage and just one at a time we’ll have you come up and share a love with Karen. Don’t be afraid.
Karen: It can be the love of me, also.
Paul: Here we go! Do you wanna do your first one? You just keep your mic and I’ll give them my mic.
Karen: Ok. No, you go first.
Paul: Give us your name and where you’re from.
Sal: I am Sal and I’m from Portland. North Portland. It makes a difference, really. (Laughter). The St. John’s Neighborhood. My love is when we get our first real snowfall and it just totally makes the whole world quiet.
Paul: I love that one, thank you.
Karen: Yeah, that’s good.
Karen: I love the crack of a beer. I think I said that already. (Laughter.) I’m sorry. But I really, I love the crack of a beer and it drives me crazy in movies because they never do the sound effect right when people drink beer you can hear the water just slap back down into the bottle. And like you sip a beer out of a bottle, that fizz sound. I’m such an alcoholic! Ok, you go.
Brian: Hi I’m Brian, I’m from Idaho. I love being in my element, I love seeing other people in theirs, and when they find the thing that they’re good at. Paul, love the show. And love how it’s taken me out of that zone where I’m afraid of failing as well as you seeing me. Thank you.
Paul: Thank you, Brian.
Karen: Mine aren’t all gonna be about drinking but I really love being at a bar or a club and seeing kind of a middle aged, shitfaced drunk guy dancing by himself. I could watch it for hours. It’s my favorite. And sometimes they’ll have a fedora that they’ll do stuff with, like try to slip down their arm or whatever. It fills me with joy.
Vanessa: I’m Vanessa, I’m from Seattle, and my love is I love watching my dog swim because that’s when he’s the happiest. And it just fills my heart with so much joy.
Paul: That’s wonderful, thank you.
Karen: I just got a dog. My dog George Lopez. She’s a girl. (Laughter). I never had my own dog before. I can’t believe how much I love her. I can’t believe how much I now understand dog people. And I love watching tv at night, and I’m laying on the couch, and she lays behind me facing the other direction and we sleep back to back. I love it.
Paul: I love when my dogs get excited that I’m going to take a nap. Like, we’re going to accomplish something! The three of us.
Lisa: Hi I’m Lisa I love that feeling after you roller skate for a really long time. And it still feels like you’re rolling.
Paul: Thank you, Lisa.
Karen: That’s a good one. I love roller skating. I was going to say, I love it when something happens in public, like when there’s one super-obnoxious person at Starbucks and then they leave, and then everyone else has a group moment of hating that person after they leave. Right? And it’s not like…I don’t think it’s as malicious as like when you look around knowing everyone else feels exactly the same way as you. Like, “Fuck her!” That’s my favorite.
Paul: Thanks, Karen. Schmitty!
Schmitty: Hey. Hi I’m Mike, I’m from Los Angeles. I love seeing my friend Paul happy and in his element doing this show. (applause) Yeah go ahead, why not? (more applause). And I love Karen Kilgariff, I particularly love your twitter feed, your hysterical… one tweet in particular. You once tweeted, “I never realize how much I hate comedy until ten minutes before I’m supposed to do a show.” Loved it. As a performer, I could not have favorited it a hundred more times.
Paul: Thanks Schmitty.
Karen: Thank you!
Paul: We’re going to end on that one because we are out of time but I want to thank you guys for coming out. It means so much to me. Stick around because Mike is doing his live podcast he has, The 40 Year Old Boy, at 4:00, and it’s a great, great podcast and I know he’s got a lot of shit to talk about. ‘Cause Mike’s going through some stuff! Another hand for Karen for coming out and sharing. (applause).
Karen: Thank you.
Paul: Karen, who stuck with me. And I want to thank you guys for coming and supporting the show. Thank you. Thanks for listening!
Paul: Many, many thanks to Karen Kilgariff for being such a great guest, and all the people that showed up and supported it. Before I take it out with some surveys and a listener email, I want to remind you guys that there are a couple of different ways to support the show. If you feel so inclined, you can support us financially by going to the website, mentalpod.com, and making either a one time PayPal donation or, my favorite, a recurring monthly donation. You can sign up for as little as five bucks a month. Once you sign up, as long as your credit card is valid, you don’t have to do anything. I have some people that are super nice, that even have monthly donations as much as $25, and one really special person that donates $40 a month. Thank you, Amy. You can support the show by shopping through our Amazon portal when you want to buy something on Amazon, just go to our webpage. It’s on the right side about halfway down. You can also support us nonfinancially by going to Itunes and giving us a good rating, it boosts our ranking and brings more people to the show. And you can help spread the word through social media. That also helps boost our visibility. And I want to take this time up because it’s been a while since I’ve thanked you guys but the people that have signed up to—this is another way you can support the show—people that have signed up to transcribe episodes. It takes about a full day for somebody to transcribe an entire episode of this show, and I just want to read the names of the people who have done that: Jennifer Lycano, Debra Norbee, Jennifer again, and again, Sarah Coletaheild, Sean Bryan, Nick Liakis, Sean Bryan again, Wendy Chow, Wendy Chow again, Wendy Chow a third time, Sherry Sly, Amy Tenant, Lindsey Price, Keely Weir, Lindsey Price, Lindsey Price, Lindsey Price, Lindsey Price, Lindsey. You fucking rock. Debra Norbee again, Jean Jebis, Emily Galishote, Lies Pribe, Emily Galishote, Emily Galishote, Emily Galishote, Emily Galishote, Keely Weir again, and Jenna Gains. Thank you, guys! Those are all the episodes that have been transcribed. There are currently other people transcribing episodes and I appreciate it so much. I’m sorry if I butchered any of your names.
Let’s jump into some surveys. This is from the shame and secrets survey. This was filled out by a guy who calls himself Fraud. So you know it’s going to be teeming with self-confidence. He’s straight, in his thirties, was raised in an environment that was a little dysfunctional. Never been sexually abused.
Deepest, darkest thoughts: “Pretty tame. Just sex with a variety of different women. I’m married with three kids and would never act on that.”
Deepest, darkest secrets: “I’ve been feeling down and depleted lately and after a coworker just tore into me a few weeks ago I had nothing inside of me to even attempt a defense. I was working out of town at the time, and went back to the hotel and carved the word, “Fraud” into my left forearm. I used to cut myself a lot as a teenager and into my twenties, but hadn’t done it in fifteen years. Cutting myself again felt really good at the time. But I have come to really regret it. My seven year old daughter noticed it one day and asked me what it meant and how it got there. I ended up just dismissing it and changing the subject. My dental hygienist also noticed it when taking my blood pressure the other day. She’s normally extremely chatty but didn’t say a word after she saw that carved into my arm. Since then, I’ve just kept the scar covered with a bandage so no one notices. It’s extremely humiliating, but I also feel like I deserved it.”
Sexual fantasies most powerful to you: “ Just being able to please a woman. I’m not able to please my wife and as a result we haven’t had sex in almost two years. I’ve never been sexually intimate with anyone else.”
Would you ever consider telling a partner or a close friends your fantasies? “My wife knows. I feel a lot of shame about it.”
Do these secrets and thoughts generate any particular feelings toward yourself? “I feel like a failure as a husband and as a man.”
You know, I hope you listen to this episode and hear about how Karen talked about feeling like a fraud, and know that we all feel that way. At least the people that listen to this show, I know, feel that way. Maybe there are some people out there that never feel that way, but I feel that way a lot. And you’re not alone. And I just want to give you a big hug.
This email came from a woman who calls herself Laura. She writes, “I am a crisis clinician who basically goes and assesses folks when they are suicidal, homicidal, or psychotic. As well as I do admissions and run groups in a voluntary short-term crisis stabilization unit. I will say, I totally have totally ripped you off and have done fear and love-off groups in the crisis unit and the patients have fucking loved it.” That makes me so happy to hear that.
“In my job I deal with folks when they get pretty far beyond the state of ok and I decide when and if they are no longer able to make safe decisions for themselves. Everyone should know that at least in most states (I’m in Tennessee) therapists like myself are out there who will meet you at the ER if you are suicidal and help figure out what kind of care is best for you at that moment. Sometimes it’s as drastic as an involuntary commitment to a psych hospital for a few days of evaluation and treatment, and sometimes it is just an outpatient appointment. Voluntary crisis stabilization units (CSUs) are the in-between. There, patients get evaluated for meds for two to four days, do therapy groups, and have a safe place with peers who are going through similar situations. The level of care needed in that moment of assessment at an emergency room is my clinical judgment call, but I always work in the patient’s best interest and in good faith. I encourage everyone to familiarize themselves with what crisis services are available in their state. Usually this can be done through the state government website. Also, 211 is a fabulous resource.” Dialing 211 from a land line. “Which I know you have mentioned on your podcast. A lot of times there are resources for counseling, meds, and especially crisis services for folks with without insurance. This is something I’ve heard mentioned as a barrier on your podcast. I listened to the Ed Krasnick episode today which is fucking amazing, by the way. I do deal with mental illness myself and I find your podcast so crucial in my daily life lately. I try to share what I can with patients in the CSU as well as with my ridiculously well-adjusted husband who does not always understand what I deal with. I just am so thrilled to have your episodes tucked in my iPhone. They never fail to either make me laugh a real belly laugh, not fake bullshit, or bring tears to my eyes. Often both. I am tired of this squeaky clean, clinical education about mental illness and how to treat it. I want the real shit. I want people to know that I know what it feels like, and I’m not just some therapist who’ll tell them some canned platitudes and cognitive reframes. Thank you. Never stop. Love and hugs. Laura.”
That really warmed my heart. Really, really warmed my heart. I wanted to share that with you guys because I figured that you wanna know stuff that warms my heart. Taking it out with the happy moments survey.
This is from a woman who calls herself Ava, and she’s in her 30’s and she writes, “After a traumatic event in my life, I basically holed up and didn’t go outside or interact with people very much for years. During that time, my health started to decline as well. My doctor, a hematologist, decided to run a battery of tests for various blood diseases and cancer. Everything turned out mostly ok, but they still monitor my blood on a regular basis. Nonetheless, it really shook me up. A few months after going through all those tests, I went out on a walk one day in my neighborhood. There was a moment as I was walking that it hit me how lucky I was to be alive simply breathing and being able to do something as simple as walking, was truly a miracle. I cried most of that walk. I also marveled at everything around me. Since I hadn’t been outside much in the previous years, everything looked so fresh, new, and vibrant. Almost as if I was seeing for the first time in my life. Every leaf. Every flower. Every blade of grass was simply astounding to me. I forgot how captivating clouds look, shifting and moving above me in the sky. Birds had beautiful melodies to sing, and a playfulness. I couldn’t get enough of it. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. It was the first time I truly appreciated and felt the weight of what it means to be alive.”
What a beautiful moment to go out on. Thank you. Thank you for that, Ava. And thank you guys for listening and supporting, and coming out in Portland. And helping me create this really cool community that I love. It really feeds my soul. And if you’re out there and you’re feeling stuck, you’re not alone. There is hope. You just gotta get out of your comfort zone and ask for help.