Episode 50: Steve Agee (Voted #7 Ep of 2012)
The comic actor (The Sarah Silverman Program) and writer (Jimmy Kimmel) talks to Paul about his conservative upbringing, the teenage rebellion that landed him in military school, his agorophobia and the odd manifestation of his panic attacks.
Paul: Welcome to episode 50 with my guest, Steve Agee. I’m Paul Gilmartin, this is The Mental Illness Happy Hour, an hour of honesty about all of the battles in our heads from medically diagnosed conditions to everyday compulsive, negative thinking. Feelings of dissatisfaction, disconnection, inadequacy, and that vague, sinking feeling that the world is passing us by. Give us an hour, we’ll give you a hot ladle of awkward and icky. This show is not meant to be a substitute for professional mental, psychological counseling. It’s not a doctor’s office. It’s more like a waiting room that hopefully doesn’t suck.
Uh, thank you, uh, for supporting the show so far. I want to welcome any listeners who are coming here from, uh, from Marc Maron’s podcast, which I just, uh, uh, appeared on, uh, that got posted this morning. And I want to thank Marc for being so patient with, uh, with my insecurities and my neediness. Um, for those of you that haven’t listened to the episode, um, it, uh, I-I-I just, uh—after, after we recorded the episode, uh, I was all in my head feeling like it—his interview of me had an obligatory feel to it and I secretly hoped that he wasn’t gonna air it. Then I told him that so, uh, uh, he wanted to record that phone conversation. Um, so, w-we recorded it. And then, uh, we talked about it. And, uh, just imagine somebody as needy, uh, and insecure as me, um, talking to me. It’s like, uh, the perfect storm of, uh, of craziness. But, uh, he was, he was very nice to me. I’ve gotten some letters, uh, emails from listeners that want to do the thing where somebody interviews me for an episode. Which I-I don’t plan on doing at any point in the near future, but if—the closest thing to that, I would say, is go listen to my episode, um, on WTF with, with Marc Maron this week. That, uh, should answer any questions you have, um, about me or my story.
Um, what did I want to tell you? Oh, um, on iTunes, some people, uh, don’t realize that you need to, what’s called “click through” to get to the most recent episodes of the show. Sometimes if it seems they’re not appearing, um, when they should, uh, that’s probably because you’re just doing a search for Mental Illness Happy Hour and then it’s coming up. Well that just brings up the relevant um—that’ll just bring up the most popular episodes of it, that won’t necessarily bring up the most recent episodes. So, if you do a search on it, then the Mental Illness Happy Hour logo and the little name comes up. Click on the name – that will take you to th-the page that has the freshest episodes. So that’s what we call “clicking through”. I didn’t realize either that, uh, what you had to do until about three weeks into doing this show somebody explained that to me. Um, so I spent a week walking around going, “What the fuck’s with iTunes? Why don’t they update their fucking site?” How, how rare that I overreacted and, uh, wound up being at fault.
Um, before we kick off our with, uh, with Steve Agee, I wanted to read a, uh, a letter that I got from, uh, from somebody. Why do I keep calling it a letter? A survey response. This is from the Mental Illness Basic survey. Which you can take at our website mentalpod.com. There’s two surveys, there’s the basic survey and then there’s the Shame and Secrets survey.
This is from the basic survey and the woman’s name is, she calls herself OCDAmy. She says she’s in her 30’s, occasionally uses drugs and alcohol. She was raised in a pretty dysfunctional environment and she takes Prozac for anxiety, shares her feelings on regular basis but doesn’t know if it helps. She writes, “I tried with my husband but he can’t relate or just blows me off. My sister-in-law listens more without being judgmental.”
Most common negative thoughts that she has is, “The glass is always half empty. I never see the good in anything and always expect the worst.”
Describe any behaviors you wish you didn’t engage in but you do anyway. She writes, “I wash my hands constantly. I yell at my child instead of talking. I procrastinate a lot. I eat. I can’t just sit down and relax. I feel like I need to be up doing something all the time. When I do sit down I feel guilty for taking a break. I’m short tempered with absolutely no patience, especially with my child. I try too hard for others’ approval. Regardless of what it is, I always think people are mad at me.”
Do you believe some person place or thing is keeping you from being happy? She writes, “Myself. I feel like I have these internal rules that I must abide by or something awful will happen or things just won’t go as planned. I’m scared or afraid of things.” Wow, I so re-relate to these, these feelings that-that-that she’s having especially before I started going to therapy. Um, uh, I used to try to do like superstitious things because I just felt like there was some big punishment or doom weighing over my head.
Does anything cause you to feel shame? She writes, “I’m ashamed of sex – guilt. I’m ashamed of how I judge others in thinking they are judging me. I’m ashamed of my body. I’m ashamed that I’m not smart enough. I’m ashamed of what I think and obsess over.”
What makes her feel guilty? “I feel guilty that I expect too much from my child. I feel guilt when I can’t spend enough time with my child. I feel guilty when I yell and don’t make a better attempt to talk. I’m internally guilty for things I put my parents through just to get attention. I feel guilty for getting raped. I feel guilt when I can’t make others happy.”
What makes you feel angry? She writes, “I’m angry at my parents for the childhood I go up grew up in. I’m angry at myself for thinking that was normal and then finding out in adulthood it’s not. I’m angry that men always think about sex and that my husband constantly it wants it from me. I’m angry that I’m not more receptive to it and that I don’t like it like society says I should.”
To the question if there is a God what are some of things you would say to God, she writes, “I don’t think I would be able to speak. I would most likely fall to my knees and cry. I would personally ask for my salvation and beg Him for forgiveness I would ask Him if dogs really went to heaven, if so, then if He could point me in the direction of my first dog because I want to apologize for yelling at him the morning he passed away.” Aww, well Amy I just want to send some love your way. Sounds like you’re, sounds like you’re hurting and I related to a lot of the stuff that you’ve said and, uh. Big hug, big hug your way.
Paul: I’m here with Steve Agee who I don’t really know. I know of you but we just met at a picnic a couple of days ago. I mean, we-we’ve bumped into each other.
Steve: Our paths have crossed.
Paul: Yeah, we hung out in San Francisco a little bit, um, but, uh, you’re somebody that I wanted to get on the podcast. A couple of my listeners have emailed me and said, uh, you know, try to get Steve Agee on this podcast. He’s nuts.
Steve: Steve Agee is bat shit crazy.
Paul: Um, and so I came up to you at the picnic a couple of days ago and I’m always filled with a little bit of anxiety when I approach somebody that I don’t know very well because I don’t want them to be insulted, ‘Hey, would you come on my mental illness show because you’re perfect!’
Steve: Yeah, you’re nuts. You’re a prime candidate. Which I am.
Paul: You, uh, you just put me instantly at ease and I want to thank you for that. Because you’re like, “Oh yeah! I’ve dealt with anxiety.”
Steve: I love talking about it.
Paul: I'm so glad, uh, I'm so glad you decided to, uh, let me come by and record you. So let's, uh, you were born in the late 60s in Riverside, California. Most people would know you from the Sarah Silverman Program or your standup. You were also a writer on Jimmy Kimmel. Am I missing anything that people would, would know?
Steve: No, I mean, you got the basics, you know. The occasional guest star on other TV shows and, yeah, I think you got it all, man. Is that from my IMDB?
Paul: Uh, Wikipedia.
Steve: Ok, yeah, yeah. Sounds about right. Sounds accurate.
Paul: So it-it—tell me, what was it like growing up in, uh, in Riverside in the 70s?
Steve: It was, uh, it was okay I guess. I had a great childhood. I had a great upbringing, you know. My dad was a doctor, my mom was a nurse. I mean, we were never struggling or anything. So I had a really, you know, happy childhood as far as I thought—
Paul: It’s perfect—
Steve: I thought, you know, at the time.
Paul: Perfect, your dad was a doctor, your mom was a nurse and you were a patient. Awesome. You just fit right in.
Steve: Yeah. You know, I mean, it was—
Paul: So kinda—no high drama not, no like—
Steve: No, not, you know, my parents weren’t alcoholics, they weren’t abusive at all. They, uh, I-I think it all kind of—once I eventually went to therapy for the first time, which was probably 12 years ago, then I started, you know, through trying to figure out why I was depressed and having panic attacks, you know. Immediately my therapist, like went back to my childhood and then like as I was talking, I’m like, holy shit, like, it’s all starting to fucking make sense. I’m like this isn’t shit that just started happening to me. This is shit that was growing in me from like, you know, being a kid. I had an older brother, a younger sister. They’re both kind of fuck-ups, you know, but I mean most kids are, but I for some reason always felt the need to make everything better to be the good child. I, you know, my-my therapist says I have a real need to—I’m a people pleaser, you know. I-I want to be liked, you know. I don’t want to be the fuck-up even though I ended up being probably the biggest fuck-up of them all, you know. But, um, yeah.
Paul: Would that extend to you’re the peacemaker as well? Or you’re just kind of worried about cleaning up—
Steve: Oh yeah. Peacemaker for sure. I hate, uh, conflict. Yeah, and, uh
Paul: When did you, when did you first—looking back now you may not have realized it at time but when were the first signs that, uh, something was, uh, not right?
Steve: Looking back I can pinpoint it to the, to the minute yeah. This is really weird. I think, I kind of think it's awesome that I can actually know what triggered it. But, uh, I got sent to military school when I was 16 1/2 or 17, and, uh, all the way on the other side of the country Valley Forge Pennsylvania. I went to the school where they filmed Taps. And, um, I remember one day I was walking down the hall and two and two of my friends were wrestling, just playing, they weren’t fighting or anything, they were wrestling. And they fell to the ground and one of the guys hit his head on the corner of the cinderblock doorway and split his skull wide open. Just blood everywhere. His eyes—I can still see it in my head—his eyes just rolled back into his head. He went unconscious. Um, the weird thing is I don’t remember a lot after that. I just have that image in my head. And then that night, um, I went to dinner in the-the mess hall and, uh, I thought everything was back to normal, you know. And I was eating dinner and all of the sudden I couldn’t swallow. Which was really weird. I wasn’t having—it was a panic attack but it was manifested—
Paul: Couldn’t swallow food or couldn’t swallow your own saliva?
Steve: Both, like it was crazy.
Paul: Could you breathe?
Steve: I could breathe fine. Just all of the sudden it was like brain forgot to tell my tongue and throat how to swallow.
Steve: And that was, that made me panic. That was my first panic attack. And I think, I think looking back it was my first, like the seeing that kid’s head split open—we were like 16 years old. You’re, you’re immortal when you’re, you know, you don’t about death. You don’t think about death. You’ll do anything. And I think it was that moment that I was like, “Oh my God. We’re all gonna fucking die.” And I think that really—I’m obsessed with death now. And I have been ever since that. And, uh, so for years, like the only way shit would manifest itself in me was through not being able to swallow. I’d be in a movie theater and I’d just—I couldn’t swallow my saliva. And I hid this for years, like girlfriends—I had a girlfriend in college for years who didn’t know I had this problem. Like, if we’d be in a restaurant—the other thing is, it would always happen in, like, public places. Like that first time in the mess hall surrounded by people. Like, it was, like a claustrophobic fear of crowds. Which later developed into, um, agoraphobia. And, uh, I couldn’t—if I went to a movie theater, I could not sit in the center of the theater, you know, being surrounded by people. I’d have to be in the back or on an aisle where I could easily get out. And if that wasn’t the case I would—immediately I couldn’t swallow. And I would, like, spit into the sleeve of my jacket or into a napkin. I would always have to have napkins or Kleenex with me. And my girlfriends never knew this shit was happening.
Steve: And I didn’t—and I would look this shit up encyclopedias. My dad, like I said, was a, was a doctor and he had tons of medical journals and I would just read this and this is—
Paul: But you wouldn’t go to him with this information?
Steve: No, not til years later. But, and, like, I would go through this shit and, like, I—there’s no record of this in any of these books. I thought I was, like, nuts. I was like—and I thought it was physical. Like, I did not this was mental—a mental thing.
Paul: Right. What, uh, now, the military school, was that your choice or your parents’ choice to send you to military school? I mean, that sounds like…
Steve: (laughs) Definitely my parents’ choice.
Paul: Cuz you said, you said, like, you had this idyllic upbringing and, you know, my experience was the biggest fuck-ups in town were the guys that had the worst relationship with their parents were the ones that got sent to military school.
Steve: Well, the crazy thing is, yeah, I mean, all the—in the 80’s, there was a big theme in those teen comedies, was, “If you don’t straighten up, you’re going to military school.” It was always a threat and you never saw that shit, and, um, when I was in high school, I was really tall and thin and gangly and awkward. Totally afraid of girls. Loved girls, but I was afraid—I was really just socially awkward. And I remember when I was a freshman, towards the end of my freshman year, two seniors took me out one night and got me drunk, like on Boone’s Farm Strawberry. Like, I drank a whole bottle of that shit. And, it took—it was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It turned me into a totally different person, like, booze changed my life. Like, I would talk to girls. I was a—but it kept getting worse. I was, you know, I was like, well, if I’m more social and can deal with people better on booze, why don’t I just drink all the time? So I was going to school in the morning, I would drive to school. I would stop at 7-Eleven and get a Big Gulp, fill half of it with, like, Coke or Dr. Pepper, or whatever, and the rest of it with hard alcohol. Like, whether it was rum or Southern Comfort, and I would drink all fucking day. I would be drunk as hell through …
Paul: How would get all this hard liquor?
Steve: I worked—my first job was working at the hospital that my dad worked at. And I worked in the kitchen washing dishes. And there was a cook there named Quentin. And, uh, I just remember, I remember I thought he was the coolest dude. He drove a Camaro. And he was kinda like Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused. And, uh, he would buy me booze. I would, you know, cash my paycheck and I might give him $50. He would go buy me—and not just, like, beer. I mean, like, Jack Daniels. Like hard shit, man. And, uh…
Paul: And how old was he?
Steve: Uh, I mean, when you’re a teenager—
Paul: Everybody seems—
Steve: Like a middle-aged man. But he was probably in his 20’s. You know what I mean? And, uh, he was, uh, I think the first person to ever get me high too, you know. I smoked pot for the first time with that dude when I went to his house to pick up booze. And uh..
Paul: So, so going to school drunk every day, and, uh, what-what…
Steve: My grades were just dropping. I was just having—I was having fun. Like, I had a blast, like, my first few years of high school. Until I got sent—like, I got kicked out of a couple high schools. One, one time I—I mean, one of the final straws was me cutting the roof off the shop teacher’s Cadillac with a welding torch. And, uh, which he didn’t find very funny.
Paul: He didn’t, uh, he didn’t appreciate a convertible?
Steve: It wasn’t—I, I mean, when I tell this story I kind of embellish it a little bit. But, it wasn’t like a nice new Cadillac. It was—he was the shop teacher and it was his beater car. Like it was a piece of shit. It was primered—it was a Cadillac, probably like a ’72 or something. And I walked into, into the auto shop, and, um, there it was in the middle of the room. The room was, like, the lights were off. There was a, you know, a skylight and it was just like the heavens lighting up the sky. And I was like, “I gotta cut the roof off this car.” A-and, I mean, th-th-the windshield had been removed, like, so there was no glass. It was really easy. It was just four posts I had to cut with a welding torch. And, uh, then my friends came in and helped me lift it off. And I laid it, you know, very gingerly next to the car, and, uh …
Paul: And how did they know you did it?
Steve: I told everybody.
Paul: Oh you did.
Steve: I thought it was hilarious. And, um, then I got kicked out of another school for drinking. And, uh, my parents didn’t know—I-I don’t blame them. Th-they did not know what to do with me.
Paul: Right. Uh, it sounds, it sounds like, and, and, obviously I don’t know, I’m not a m-mental health professional, but it sounds like th-there was some, some real anger inside you. Because, I mean, like, cutting that, that roof off that guy—that’s a, that’s a pretty angry, angry act. I mean, I know there’s also the silly part. You’re testing your power as a teenager, but, like I—when I look back at some of the things I did as a kid, I didn’t think I was angry at the time, but I see it now, and I just see such rage, um. We just find kind of fun ways to express rage. And I, I just wonder is that kind of your normal teenage angst, or do you think there was something going on?
Steve: I don’t ever feel like I was angry as a kid. I definitely felt frustrated because I grew up in this religious community. My family was Seventh Day Adventists, you know. And, which is, kind of like a mix between Baptist and Jews, you know. Like, their Sabbath is on Saturday also, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, but they believe in Jesus as the Son of God, you know. But I-I remember from, you know, from very—
Paul: So your parents were very religious.
Steve: Yeah. And I remember from a very age, just, like, you know, in third/fourth grade, thinking, “This is crazy talk.” And, um, but I, it was just, I was just frustrated a lot growing up. And, um, uh ….
Paul: So it’s fair to say y-y-you didn’t feel like you could really connect to your parents.
Steve: My parents were like a lot of my friends’, you know. Like, you know, most of the people I went to high school with are now followed in their parents’ footsteps. They’re, you know, doctors or they’re, you know, in, in business somehow. And th-they’re all very wealthy but they’re all conservative Christians. There were friends, you know—but, the amazing thing about, like, Facebook and MySpace is I started, you know, contact—getting in contact with people I went to high school with who, when I was there, were drinking just as much as me. Total rebels, like, you know, punk rock, and I was just like, “These kids are going to grow up to be cool, man.” And, like, now they’ve got, like, three or four kids. They go to church and I-I’m just like, “Who the fuck are these people?” Like, it’s almost like they just gave up. You know what I mean? And it’s just like, like—I-I just didn’t see—I-I—any young, creative, like, artistic brained person. And, I went to college, and—my first year of college I wanted to be a marine biologist. Cuz m-my parents had a house on Catalina, like, a cabin basically, really small. And w-we’d spend summers there. And I scuba dived a lot, I was really into the ocean. And, uh, and, so I was like, “I’m gonna be a marine biologist.” And my first semester of college, like, was a disaster. I failed everything. I was just like, “I don’t get this.”
Paul: W-were you getting loaded all the time, not going to class? What was the problem?
Steve: No, no, not—after military school I kind of calmed down for a while.
Paul: You weren’t drinking every day.
Steve: No, no no.
Paul: Is booze a today for you?
Steve: No, no. I-I actually stopped drinking, like, a year ago, simply because, you know, for the past fifteen, twenty years, I don’t get drunk. I would—meaning, I just would socially drink. I didn’t like getting drunk anymore. It just, like, made me nauseous. And, I also even wonder if I might be allergic to alcohol cuz the last time I drank, I had, like, two beers and woke up the next day with really bad vertigo. And it’s like, “You know what? I don’t drink which is really to me”—
Paul: Kind of the point.
Steve: The only point. I was like, so I’m just gonna stop. And, you know, I was—even after drinking a lot in high school and college, like, I don’t think I don’t think I have an addictive personality in that way, like, chemically. Like, I quit smoking—I smoked for, like, ten years, and, like, woke up one morning and was like, “Eh, I don’t think I wanna do this anymore.” And I stopped without an urge.
Paul: That’s amazing. That is amazing. So you wouldn’t identify as an addict then, of any substance?
Steve: No, no my problem obviously, is food.
Paul: I don’t think it’s obvious.
Steve: Sadly, that’s, you know, something that you can’t just quit. You have to adjust and I just love food so much. (laughs)
Paul: W-w-w-we’ll get to food. L-l-let’s go back to, uh, y-you’re in, uh, college and are the panic attacks—they started i-in military school and how often would they, would they happen? And describe, describe, would the panic, panic attack always manifest as you just simply couldn’t swallow? Or, or something more?
Steve: No no. For years it was just the swallowing. But it was in public places.
Paul: You would not get it alone.
Steve: I would never—I hated going to restaurants cuz I just couldn’t eat. And I would always just, like, kinda go to wipe my mouth and spit my food into my napkin. Like, I-I’m honestly amazed that no, no one that I was close to knew this. Like, I hid it so well.
Paul: Is there a name for that?
Steve: I—to this day, I don’t know. Like, i-it’s a panic attack. It’s a form of a panic attack. But I still don’t understand how your brain—
Paul: Cuz y-you normally think of, uh, uh, y-you know, heart palpitations, sweaty palms …
Steve: Which I eventually got. But the—yeah, it’s—swallowing involuntary. Like it’s—you don’t have to think about it. Which would actually then make the panic attach worse. Cuz you start trying to make yourself swallow. It was a disaster, man. Like, a fucking disaster. And that was, you know—when I was in high school, when I had that first one, th-they didn’t happen all the time. I was like, “Wow, that was weird.” And it would probably be a few months before it would happen again. By the time I got into college, it was any time I went to a restaurant, or a movie theater, or was on a plane, or just—I-I just fucking couldn’t swallow.
Steve: And that, that almost made me more mental than, like, any of the, you know, stereotypical panic attacks I would later experience. You know, like, the sweating and the racing heart.
Paul: So could people—like, if you were with a group of friends and they were like, “Hey let’s go get something to eat,” your first thought had to be, “Well, fuck. They—here goes an hour of faking it while I’m hungry.” Or what?
Steve: No, no. I-It’s really, it’s really specific. I couldn’t eat in a restaurant—like, in a—
Paul: That’s what I’m saying—
Steve: The fancier the place, the worse it was for me.
Steve: Yeah. Also I found out later on thr-through therapy that it’s also, like, a fear of embarrassment. You know what I mean? Like, I would feel like I might throw up if I—and then people were gonna be staring at me. And I kinda wanted to just, you know, blend in and not be noticed. That was another thing. Um, I would tell girlfriends about it eventually. But like …
Paul: What was that like the first time you told somebody about it?
Steve: Uh, it was really awkward. You know, and it was terrifying—
Paul: What do you, what do you remember about it?
Steve: I remember, uh, I-I’d been—I had a girlfriend through college and after. I actually moved to LA with her, like, for—we dated for almost six years. And it—probably the first three or four years, she didn’t know any of this shit was going on with me. And then I-I forget, I honestly forget w-what brought it about, but we were somewhere and she’s like, you know, “Why don’t you want to go in there and eat?” And finally, like, we were just sitting in my car and I was like, “You wanna know why?” And I just unloaded, and she was just like, “What the fuck?” She’s like, she’s like, “This has been going on the whole time we’ve known each other?” I’m like, “Yeah.” She’s like, “How did I not know this?” I’m like, “I was just really good at, you know, mask—you know.”
Paul: Did it feel good to—
Steve: It felt amazing. That was really my first experience with, like, a therapeutic kind of, like, discovery. Like, it felt really good to talk about it and, like, suddenly we would go out places and she would be more accommodating. Yeah, like let’s eat outside or let’s sit on the edge of the movie theater.
Paul: A-and not only not judge you, but support you.
Steve: Yeah. People—th-that another thing. Like, you know, to anyone who might be listening to this who’s dealing with—trying to deal with this shit, like, most people are so fucking supportive and understanding. Cuz a lot of people, if they aren’t going through this, know people who suffer from this kind of shit.
Paul: Or have their own issue that—they know that feeling of, ‘I gotta keep this inside because people aren’t gonna love me if they know this about me.’
Steve: And, you know what? When I told my girlfriend this, then, you, we deal with it, like, she hadn’t heard of this shit either. So it was very like, like how a—I am a freak. Like, this shit doesn’t happen—like, I’ve never—and every now then I would, you know, bring it up to, like, close friends, and I’d be like, “Have you ever been, like, eating and, like, all of the sudden you can’t remember how to swallow?” They’re like, “No.” And I’d be like, “Oh. Damn.” And in my head I’m like, ‘Fuck.’ It wasn’t until I came to LA, like, came here with a band, as a musician, and, uh, eventually gave that up and got into comedy, and, um, just started being around other like-minded people, you know, entertainers and artists, and, um, creativos, and, I was like, “Holy shit.” I would listen to stories that some of my friends would tell and be like, “Oh my God. You’re way more fucked up than I am.” Like, yeah, I would describe panic attacks and, like, my friends would just be like, “Oh. That’s a panic attack. I get those all the time.” It was the fucking greatest, most, you know, liberating feeling.
Paul: If we keep it inside, we never get to experience that, that, uh—
Steve: Talking about shit is the fucking—I think it’s the first step of, like—besides realizing that you’re not alone and you have a problem—talking about it is the next best, you know, move.
Paul: Yeah. Sometimes if you don’t even know what it is, it’s just the vague, fucking feeling, or, whatever, th-that you need to express sometimes, that’s the, that’s the place to start. Sometimes th-the—making sense of it can only start by having to talk awkwardly about it with something that you, that you trust.
Paul: Um, and I know some people have opened up to the wrong person and have, and have had a bad experience. But I—
Steve: I’ve never had a bad experience. Knock on wood.
Paul: You know, I used to try to open up to my dad, who was an alcoholic, and that was like, you know, just a door that would shut. And so I learned, you know, he’s—
Steve: Well my dad, he’s—as well, you know, even though he was a doctor—I-I don’t know if it was the fact that he was, you know, a conservative Christian. You know, like, my dad now is 83. He was from Texas. You know, he’s very conservative, um, right wing. Um, almost one of those people who kind of chooses to deny, like, “Oh my son’s fine,” you know. Like, I think when I first started bringing this shit up, he was like, “You’re fine. Don’t worry about it.” Like, didn’t really want to talk about it, you know. Um, we has kinda like a man’s man growing up. He was in the army, he played, you know, like, minor league baseball, he was like—my dad was a badass. He was just like, you know, I think it was to him kind of a weakness. And, uh, you know, at one point in college I was like, “Dad, I’m fucking freakin’ out.” And he, like, gave me a prescription for Valium. Like, and, granted, I love Valium. Like, when I got my hands on that shit, I was like, “What the fuck? You’ve just really introduced me to something that I probably didn’t need.” But, uh, you know, I mean, he tried. And now, you know, I remember, you know, I went to visit him after I’d gotten on anti-depressants, and, I’ve been taking Lexapro for about eight or nine years, and, um, I remember I was just like, “Yeah I”—just casually in conversation, I’m like, “Yeah, I’m taking anti-depressants.” He was like, “Really?” I’m like, “Yeah. And it’s the best fucking thing I ever did.” You know, and he’s totally fine with it.
Paul: And he didn’t—you didn’t uh—
Steve: No, he wasn’t like, “You need to go off those.” Granted, I think—I do kind of think they’re very overprescribed. But I think for some people it’s a fucking blessing.
Paul: I think they’re overprescribed and underprescribed, depending on, depending on the person. Um, so, what was your relationship with your mom like? Was she kind of like, uh, the quiet homemaker?
Steve: The peacemaker, yeah. She was, she was awesome. I honestly, I—my parents are still together. I-I don’t—I can’t remember them even fighting, you know. And maybe that’s one of those, they kept it behind bedroom doors or whatever, but, like, they seemed very much in love and, uh. But, you know, like, my dad, being a doctor, was at work all the time. Like, he was an emergency room doctor. Like, he was an anesthesiologist. He had crazy insane hours. So he wasn’t always around. And also being the fact that he’s, like, very old school, you know, from Texas. Very, like, not showing feelings. We were never like, “I love you. I love you.” It wasn’t, you know, until, like, the past ten years when I would instigate, you know, I would go to see them, you know, I’d come back home and I’d be like, “I love you.” And I’d hug them. And now they’re totally fine with that, and, uh, yeah, th-that wasn’t the case growing up.
Paul: Do you think sometimes—I-I wonder sometimes, if, you know, wh-when you describe, like, a childhood like that, um, that while, while there’s no drama, and there’s no abuse, there is a lack of intimacy, emotional intimacy that we need that when we don’t get it, um, certain, uh—
Steve: I think, I know exactly what—
Paul: Dynamics kind of, um, grow unchecked.
Steve: Yeah, well, socially it makes you, you know, y-you grow up being that way as well, like um—
Paul: Holding things in.
Steve: Yeah. Socially, it was hard for me to tell anyone my feelings because no one in my family shared our feelings. You know what I mean? That was, that was a h-hard thing to do, you know. Even with girlfriends. Everything’s fine. Everything’s fine. It wasn’t until, you know, I was here in LA and was dating someone who, at one point was like, “You’re really depressed.” I would, I would just remember, I knew I had panic attacks, but I-I think it was when I came to LA that I started developing, like, the stereotypical panic attacks, like all of the sudden, like, my heart would be racing. And wherever I was, I had to be somewhere else. Like, I didn’t care if I was in mid-conversation with somebody, I would literally, someone—you could be talking to me right now, and if I started having a panic attack, I could walk away without saying—now, I would be like, “You have to excuse me. I’m having a panic attack.” You know, fifteen years ago, I would have just walked away. You could have been in mid—I did that so many times, someone would be talking to me—
Paul: They just thought you were rude, huh?
Steve: They’d be like, “So, yeah, I just moved to town…” I’d just walk away.
Paul: What would they say?
Steve: Nothing. I don’t know, I wouldn’t stick around! It was crazy.
Paul: When was the last time you had a-a-a-a panic attack?
Steve: I-I will still get them, but so—they’re so minor now that it’s—you know, they last like a minute or two. And they’re not, like, racing heart. Like, I’ll just kind of get, like, hot. Like, I’ll feel really warm, and uncomfortable, and maybe have—feel like I’m not getting a full breath of air. Um, but I can recognize them now and, like, just kind of get rid of them with breathing techniques, and, like …
Paul: What’s the worst panic attack you ever remember having?
Steve: (laughs) Um, it was the first time I had the stereotypical, like, the textbook panic attack. I was, uh, on a flight with my girlfriend from Sacramento, which is where her family was from, to Burbank. We were flying back to LA after a holiday or something, and it’s forty minute flight. Forty minutes. That’s nothing. And, you know, I’ve flown to, like, Micro—I’ve been planes for fourteen hours and this was a nothing flight. And we got on the plane, it took off, and within five minutes I started, like, sweating. I-i-it was—I started feeling really warm, and I turned to my girlfriend, and I said, “Does it feel really hot in here to you?” And this would be the case with, you know, all my panic attacks, if I asked somebody, “Does it feel hot in here to you?” the second they said no, it would just accelerate everything. I’d be like, “Well, I’m freaking out then.” And, uh, she said no, and I just immediately broke out into a cold sweat, like, my heart felt like it was gonna explode out of my chest. And I-I wanted nothing more than to get off that plane but we were up in the sky. So I climbed over the person sitting next to me, ran to the bathroom of the plane and stayed there for the entire flight just, like, splashing water on my face. And that was fucking terrifying. That was the worst panic attack I’ve ever had in my life.
Paul: And was this before you were seeing a therapist?
Steve: Yeah. I didn’t, I didn’t see a therapist after that for years. You know, um, it wasn’t until I—and, the other thing, those kind of panic attacks—I would usually only maybe get those once a year. And they’d last like five minutes, five/ten minutes. So it wasn’t to point where I was like, “I should see somebody.” It was always like, “Oh, here’s my yearly panic attack.” And then it would be gone, and I’d be like—
Paul: What’s the longest one’s ever lasted?
Steve: I never had one that ever lasted really long.
Paul: Thirteen episodes?
Steve: (laughs) You know, like, uh, maybe twenty minutes. You know, but then I was dating somebody else and she was like, “I think you’re depressed. I really think you need to see a shrink.” And she kept bringing it up.
Paul: Was this Teresa?
Steve: Yeah. It was Teresa Strasser. And, uh, I was like, “Fine.” I did it just to, like, make her happy. I was like, “I don’t need to see a shrink.” So I go to see, uh, a-a shrink. And, um, I was I—the other thing, you know, growing up, I was like, I had a really—you know, I was like, “I’ve had a great childhood. You know, my parents had money. Like, I was always happy. Um, I was like, I don’t need to see a therapist. Everything’s great.” And, so, I go in there with this really smug attitude, and I’m sitting on the couch, and then I start to get nervous waiting for her to come in. I’m like, “Jesus. What if she finds something really fucking wrong with me? Or what if she, like, gets me talking and all of the sudden, I’m like, Oh my God, I was molested! What if she uncovers some shit I’ve forgotten.” Then I was like, “Oh my God.” Now I’m terrified. And she came in and she sat down. And she was very nice. She was like, “Oh, tell me about yourself.” And I was like, oh, you know—this was—I was like, “You know, I’m a musician, I’m a comedian.” And she’s like, “Oh, nice.” And blah, blah, blah. “Here’s my background.” And da-da-da. And she’s like, “So tell me about your family.” And as soon as I started talking about my family, I just started weeping. I was just like, the floodgates opened and I was, like, as I was talking, I’m like, “Holy shit. I have needed this for a very long time.”
Steve: And, uh, you know, I was in there for an hour, and I left like going, “I cannot wait to come back.”
Steve: Cannot fucking wait to come back. And, uh, I saw her for a year. And she would, you know, try to get me to deal with, um, with my panic attacks by teaching me breathing exercises. Which, for some reason, never really worked for me. While you’re in the throes of a panic attack, you don’t want to sit there going, “Ten. Nine.” Like, focusing on your breath and then counting backwards. I was like, “That’s not gonna fucking work. I think I’m having a heart attack and dying. Like, I can’t count right now.” You know what I mean?
Paul: So is it about disrupting the cyclical thoughts that are in your brain?
Paul: Cuz, cuz I would imagine that’s what causes—
Steve: And a lot of it for me was finding out, you know, like, my issues of, like, wanting to please my parents and wanting to make everybody happy, and, like, having—another thing for me is having a fear of, like losing control. Like, I didn’t—after that one panic attack on the plane, which I think we kind of figured out was when I would fly I felt like—which I didn’t have control. You’re in the air, and you’re in the hands of the pilot and also the people who made this plane. You know, and shit goes wrong. And I hate—I still hate flying. I fly now with no problem but I really hate it. And also I don’t like being a passenger in a car. I love to drive.
Paul: Yeah, me too.
Steve: I hate being a passenger. Because I am out of control, you know?
Paul: Yeah. Wh-wh-when you went to that first therapy session and the floodgates opened, do you remember what it was th-that was bring up s-so much emotion talking about your family?
Steve: Uh, no, you know what? I think the reason I just kind of unleashed, like, the tears was just because I’d never fucking talked to anybody about anything. I, you know, being a comedian, you wear a fucking mask and you are a fucking clown. And everything is “buh, buh, buh.” And comedians are notoriously depressed and, like, miserable people. Which, I am a miserable person, you know. (laughs) You know what I mean? Uh, I never like, even with my girlfriends, never really been like, “Yeah. I’m fucking really afraid of the career choice I’ve just chosen.” You know, and, um, the—for some reason, there’s just something about going to see a therapist, who’s very professional, it’s like, they can’t tell anybody about what you’re talking about, so it’s really like, you should just fucking tell them everything. And it’s the fucking best feeling.
Paul: It’s the best. And even though you’re paying them, having somebody sit and look at you with care in their eyes, knowing that you can say anything to them, that made me cry in therapy. And that really—it’s a, it’s a beautiful, it’s a beautiful thing. Um, what’s the agoraphobia like? Fear of wide open spaces or leaving your house, or wh-what is it?
Steve: Just fear of being out in public.
Paul: Out and about.
Steve: Being out around crowds. Being around people.
Paul: Ok, so it’s not being just out of your house. It’s, it’s …
Steve: But it kinda is …
Paul: Right. So, for instance would you, would you have anxiety if a friend said, “Hey, I’m gonna pick you up and, uh, we’re gonna go out to someplace and, you know, remote in the countryside.”
Paul: That wouldn’t make you anxious.
Steve: No. Um, it really—that started …
Paul: What if they said, “We’re gonna go share a phone booth with gang members?”
Steve: That would freak me out. It was, um—I’d been seeing my therapist and everything was fine. I would still being having panic attacks once in a while. But I was happy just having somebody to talk to once a week. You know, and—but then that, at one point, became not enough, you know what I mean, like, y-you feel like you’ve reached an end where you’re like, “I think I’ve fucking told this woman everything. She knows more about me than fucking anybody.” And, uh, it feels like you’re just rehashing old shit going in. And, uh, I started, like, having panic attacks more and more often. And I was working in reality TV at the time. And I was working on, uh …
Paul: Always a soothing influence.
Steve: Oh, the worst. The most depressing. Uh, if you want to feel bad about humanity, work in reality television.
Paul: If you want to look up to the spirituality of advertising.
Steve: Or the exploitation of, of really mentally psy—mental people. Um, but I’d been working in reality TV shows since the mid ‘90s and it had been almost ten years and I was working on a show called Joe Millionaire. And I was a writer’s assistant story editor, and, uh, and I was just looking at footage of this, you know, the bachelor, or whatever, the Joe Millionaire guy, talking and, like, it’s kind of footage that nobody sees, it’s, like, behind the scenes, and he’s like, “I-I-I just feel really bad.” And he’s like, “I don’t want to do this.” And the producers are like, “It’s gonna be fine. Trust me.” And, you know, just trying to get this poor fucker to perform, you know, jump through hoops. And I just had a really bad panic attack, like going, “This is fucking horrible.” Like, and, um, that was a panic attack to rival the one on the plane. Like it—that was one that kinda went on for a long time. And I, like, got up from my desk, told someone in the office, like, “I gotta go to the bank.” And they’re like, “Um Ok.” And I just never came back.
Steve: I went to my house, locked myself in my room, and didn’t leave for days. And, um, and that turned into months. Like, I would only leave, like, at night. I would go to, like, to get food. Like, I’d go to either a drive-thru to get fast food, or I’d go to, like, a store that was open all night. And I couldn’t go to a store or anywhere if there were people in there. Cuz that would make me have a panic—like, my panic attacks at this point were out of control. Like, I could walk into a bank and immediately have a panic attack. And the other thing with panic attacks—do you—have you ever suffered from a panic attack?
Paul: Uh, a couple of times I had them, but it was always, uh, induced by, uh, by weed and it was right after the Northridge earthquake. But i-it was, uh, horrible. Horrible. Horrible.
Steve: For me one of the worst parts of panic attacks—after they’re over, being worried about having another one. It would be weeks of me going, “Oh fuck, is this gonna be the time I have a panic attack?” And that kind of grew into starting panic attacks. So I could psych myself into panic attacks constantly. And so, I just decided not to leave my house. And it was like two or three months that I would only go—and I remember—
Paul: Why at night? Because there’s less people at the grocery store or wherever?
Steve: Mm-hmm. Less crowds at night. And I would go at like 3 or 4 in the morning.
Paul: So if you were to go to a-a-a-a-a grocery store at three in the morning and then you saw a single person in there shopping, you wouldn’t go in there?
Steve: Well yeah, here’s what—ok. Here was another turning point. I remember going to a 7-Eleven at like three in the morning, I wanted to get something to eat, or water or something, and I drove up, and, you know, the whole front of the store is glass windows and I can see one person in there shopping. And I sat in my fucking car until that person left. I couldn’t go in until that person left. I couldn’t go in until that one fucking person left.
Paul: But the clerk?
Steve: The clerk, I mean …
Paul: They don’t count?
Steve: They do, but you can’t go in and steal. Like, you have to make the best of it. Like, I would be in and out.
Paul: Did you utilize those delivery services? Where, you know, pinkdot and stuff like that?
Paul: What did your friends say at this point? Did anyone know what was going on with you?
Steve: Again, like, you get really good at masking this stuff. Like, if they’d call, they’d be like, “Hey, you wanna do a show tonight?” I’d be like, “I can’t. I’m sick.” Or, which, kind of, I was, but I would, you know, I would make up excuses. And I remember one, that time I was sitting in front of 7-Eleven and I saw this guy in there and I was like, “What the fuck is wrong with me?” Like, that’s one person keeping me, like, out of, like, I can’t function because there’s one person in there? Like, it went from crowds to one person. You know what I mean? And I broke down and I, like, was just like, like, “I’m gonna have to kill myself.” Like, I don’t know any other options. And I would just, like, start bawling. And I called Sarah Silverman. And, um, she’s like, “Dude, you’re having a panic attack.” She’s like, “I think you need to get on medication.” Sarah’s been on medication—I mean, like, she talks about it, it’s no secret. Um, you know, she was, when she was on Saturday Night Live, she was having them, and that’s when she went on medication. She’s like, “You are having exactly what I used to have.” And she did the same thing for Jay Mohr, like, when he was there. Like, “You’re having panic attacks. Get on medication.” He did, and it, you know, helped him.
Paul: Had you opened up to her before about your panic attacks?
Steve: That’s how we became friends. We bonded one night. I was doing a play that a friend of hers wrote and, uh, she came to opening night. And we started talking afterwards. And I was mentioning how I hate performing live, not standup, but, like, scripted material. Like, I’m gonna fuck up. And I’m like, you know, “I have panic attacks.” And she’s like, “I used to have them too.” And we talked for, like, hours outside of this theater and we bonded and we became, like, really tight. And, um, so she knew, but I think at the time she didn’t know how bad it had gotten for me. And she was like, “Oh yeah. I haven’t seen you in months.” I’m like, “I’m not leaving my fucking house. I’m a fucking wreck.”
Paul: You haven’t come by the right 7-Eleven.
Steve: (laughs) Yes, and, uh, and so, she’s like, “I’m gonna give you a number to my psychiatrist.” She’s like, “You need to get on pills. Or at least try them.” And I remember it was a chore for me in the middle of the afternoon to drive to, like, Century City and go into a crowded building and talk to somebody cuz I--
Paul: Now did you have conscious thoughts about what was making you afraid or was it just a general feeling of, feeling of fear?
Steve: It was just like, I’m gonna go out in public so I’m probably gonna have a panic attack. That alone would make me have a panic attack.
Paul: Was it, I’m afraid someone is gonna beat me up? Somebody’s gonna say something? It was just a general unspecific fear.
Steve: No, it was a fear of panic attacks. It was so irrational, it was like—
Paul: I see.
Steve: I was like, if I go out to the bank, I’m gonna have a panic attack.
Paul: I gotcha
Steve: It was really panic attacks because of panic attacks.
Paul: Right. Do you remember what the original panic attacks—was it about anything specific, or was it just a general feeling?
Steve: No, it was just—yeah, i-it had been going on so long that you really forgot the reason that it all started.
Paul: That became the fear.
Steve: That was, that was the fear.
Paul: Yeah. And so you got on, uh, meds?
Steve: I remember going—driving to this woman’s—doctor’s office, and it was on Pico over near the Fox lot. It’s a really high building, which gave me anxiety as well.
Paul: Now this is after you had originally been to a therapist years before.
Steve: This—yeah, but I was seeing a woman who couldn’t prescribe me medications, and I was like, breathing exercises are not working. And, so, I went to see this woman. And it was like, I was drenched in sweat. Because I was out during the day. I was in a crowded parking garage, going through the lobby of this building. I remember just sitting on the couch across from this woman and I was, like, white-knuckling, you know, the armrests of th-the couch, like, and I—she was like, “You’re a mess.” I was like sweating. She’s like, “Are you OK?” I’m like, “No, obviously not or I wouldn’t be here.” And, uh …
Paul: And she slipped and called you “Summer Home”?
Steve: (laughs) Yes. And she’s like, she’s like, “Why don’t we try you out on Lexapro?” She’s like, “It’s—as far as the, um, anti-depressants go, it’s a fairly mild one and has, like, has very few side effects.” And, um, I was like, “Ok.” And I’d, like, always, like, for years had been like, I don’t need anti—anti-depressants are for crazy people. But I was at a really desperate point where I’m like, just give me whatever and I will fucking take it. I started taking them. I swear to God, within a week I was out doing shows, like, hanging out with my—I felt amazing. You know what I mean?
Steve: Yeah. And I don’t know if that’s psychosomatic, or, you know, but I don’t care.
Paul: Who cares?
Steve: Because, yeah, you know what I mean?
Paul: Who cares?
Steve: It’s working, one way or the other, whether it’s chemical or psychological.
Paul: Right. Do you—so you’re still on them?
Paul: That’s great. Um, w-we’re gonna do a fear-off with the fears from a listener named Chelsea.
Steve: Wow. I’m looking at that paper that you’re holding, and it’s huge.
Steve: There’s a lot of type on that.
Paul: There is. It’s single-spaced.
Steve: Chelsea’s probably gonna beat me up. My fears are—I think my fears are fairly specific.
Paul: Well, we’ll see. Ok. Specific’s good. Uh, um, Chelsea writes, “I fear I will settle for mediocrity the rest of my life and will never reach potential I’ve heard people say I have. I also fear that by settling I will be letting down everyone who has been kind enough to say or think that I am more regardless of how misguided their views may be.”
Steve: One of my fears is that I’ve made the wrong career choice.
Paul: Uh, she writes, “I fear that I will one day become my parents by embodying the worst traits of both. The idea that I could become an addict whose self-importance is gained through destruction of those around me and manage to, at the same time, be a codependent woman that is so desperate for attention I will stay in an unlivable situation for years rather than be alone, plagued by nightmares on a weekly basis.” Boy, she’s, uh, very specific.
Steve: She’s more specific. The amazing thing to me is so many people have these same—like, this is very common and this—these kind of fears, like, I’ll be in bed at night, like, I’m the only one that feels—like, almost everyone has these things. Um, I’m afraid of moths. (laughs)
Paul: You were telling me that at the, at the picnic!
Steve: Yeah, I don’t know why.
Paul: Chelsea writes, “I’m scared the aforementioned fears will let me to build walls so strong it will never fall and therefore prevent me from having any sort of meaningful connection with another human being.” I’m sure you can’t relate to that at all.
Steve: (laughs) The fears I’m going to be listing are so irrational and weird, but, I’m afraid of throwing up. I haven’t thrown up in 24 years.
Paul: Really? So, the pressure of the fantasy of what it’s like—
Steve: I get nauseous. If I’m nauseous, I will fight it to the bitter end.
Steve: Yeah. I-I’ve—and I’ve also maybe only thrown up like five times in my life. Two or three of those were from being drunk. So that wiped out a huge problem. But I honestly—it’s such an irrational fear, but I think about it every day.
Paul: Do you really?
Steve: Every fuck—constantly. Almost every time I eat, I’m like, I hope this is—this doesn’t give me food poisoning.
Paul: Oh my God.
Steve: Especially if I’m eating out, I’m like, this doesn’t look so good. Uh, yeah, it’s cra—it’s crazy. I’m afraid of throwing up.
Paul: That’s awesome. By awesome, you know what I mean.
Steve: Yeah. I know a lot of people might not—
Paul: The sharing of it is awesome.
Steve: A lot of people have that fear though.
Paul: Uh, she writes, “I fear that my inability to connect may have inadvertently damaged my little sister due to the fact that I was more responsible for her upbringing from ages 1 to 13 than my mother was. I can’t help but think her perpetual victim mentality is solely my fault.”
Steve: I have a fear of not being as close to my family as I think I should be.
Steve: Not as much as I want to but not as much as I think I should be.
Paul: I totally relate to that one.
Steve: You know what I mean? Like, I see other families and I’m like—I should closer to my brother, I should be closer to my sister but just, it doesn’t happen. And that’s huge fear of mine is losing them and then, I mean, this goes on to fear of, like, my parents dying before—that’s crazy. It’s, you know, they say parents shouldn’t die—no parent should experience, you know, their children dying before them yet I don’t fucking want my parents to die before me, you know what I mean? It’s like, I-I’m really—I have—
Paul: D-do you feel like there’s things that you’d like to say to them before they die?
Steve: Oh, absolutely.
Paul: What would you like to say to them?
Steve: I wish you would've gotten me a nicer car for my first car. No, I, uh, no, you know, just the, uh, you know, this is—here’s something we should have talked about. And this is all part of my fears. Like, I’m obsessed with dying and especially losing my—not obsessed with losing my parents, but, like, it’s a huge fear of mine. And, um, regret is a huge fear of mine. Like, I don’t wanna be one of those people on their death bed that’s like, I fucking should’ve said this, or after my parents died, saying I should have, you know, told them how much I appreciate them. More and more. I do this thing, being a hypochondriac, like, in—there are times when hypochondria is really bad, like, I don’t get headaches often, so when I do, I am convinced it’s a tumor. And it’s very common for hypochondriacs. Um, but sometimes, like, if it’s really—a really bad headache that hits me late at night, I’ll stay up, writing, writing what I call “death notes”. Like, I open up my laptop, I will write individual notes to, like, my mom and my dad saying, “I love you so much. Thank you so much. Thank you for this, this, this. I wish I would have told you” Da-da-da. And I—i-it goes one. My other, like, my brother, my sister, to, uh, to my friends. Like—
Steve: Like, crazy. And I’ve realized now over the years of doing this, that it’s more—it’s a tool to get me to fall asleep and keep my mind off of the fact that I’m dying, but it’s really fucking crazy. I will leave my computer on and the notes on my desktop in case I do die in my sleep, they’ll come in and find them. But then, every single time I wake up the next morning, I look at these notes and they are so horrifying to me that I delete them. I’ve had friends, managers and agents especially, who are like, “You need to make those into a book, dude.” And I’m like, “I can’t.” I—they really-it’s—there’s a whole lot of shame that goes along with it for me. Like—
Paul: Shame that you wrote them, or shame in what you say?
Steve: The shame in that I should just that I should address these things to these people.
Paul: Have you ever said to them what you’ve written in the notes.
Steve: (laughs) Oh God, no.
Paul: Why not?
Steve: I don’t know. I-i-it’s the whole, you know, growing up not sharing your feelings. Like it—
Paul: Are you afraid you’re gonna look like a softie?
Steve: I-I-I think kind of, yeah.
Paul: And so, and so if they perceived you as a softie, that—what would happen?
Steve: Almost not that I’m gonna look like a softie, but, like, I know, I don’t know. I feel that it will make my father very uncomfortable. And I don’t like seeing my father uncomfortable. He’s not good with sharing his feelings and stuff. And I don’t wanna be like, you know, like, thank you for everything you gave me. Like, that kind of shit. He’ll be like, “Oh, no problem. Don’t mention me. Ah, oh, let’s turn on the tv.” You know? (laughs) Yeah, death notes. That’s—yeah, but that all results from basically a fear of regret, you know?
Paul: Mm-hmm. What if you, uh, told your dad that you think you love cock? What would …
Steve: I’ll tell you this: I don’t love cock. But, um …
Paul: You have a love-hate relationship with cock.
Steve: My dad, conservative Christian from Texas, not the most, uh, understanding of homosexuality, and, you know …
Steve: E-E-even, you know, I’m not gonna say he’s an old Texan.
Paul: Say no more.
Steve: I played a gay character on the Sarah Silverman show, and that was my big break. You know what I mean? That opened a lot of doors for me. That was, like, my first big gig. And when I went home and told my parents that I was playing a gay character, CHARACTER, on TV, I was so terrified, I felt like I was coming out to my parents.
Steve: I was like, uh, “Hey. I’m gonna be a regular on a TV show.” I didn’t even tell them about the pilot. We did the pilot and I was like, I’ll just wait to see if it gets bigger. It got picked up and I’m like, “I’m gonna get paid to be on—a regular on a TV show.” And, like, “That’s great!” Oh my God, they were so happy for me. My dad’s like, “So what’s your character?” I was like—actually, it wasn’t until he was like, “What’s your character?” that I was like, oh fuck. “Um, he’s a slacker. He, uh, smokes pot. And, um, uh, he’s gay.” (laughs) I felt like I was coming out to my parents. It’s so fucking hilarious to me now.
Paul: And what was your dad’s reaction?
Steve: His reaction was, “Well, they’re paying you, right?” I’m like, “Yeah”. He’s like, “Well, so screw it. Do it.”
Steve: He didn’t care.
Steve: I think we make our parents out to be, you know, a lot more, uh, uh, uh, I don’t know what to …
Steve: Yeah. W-w-w-we see them a way that they’re really not. Or we see a version—
Paul: Or as limiting.
Paul: Yeah, back to, um, back to the fear-off. Chelsea writes, “I’m scared that when I die no one will come to my funeral because I will have made no impact on any lives and I will leave no legacy other than a bad credit report.” Oh, I love her.
Steve: I am afraid of the fact that I’ve been single, am single, I’m single. I’m afraid that I’m going to die here in this apartment. No one’s going to find out about it for weeks and the only thing that clues them in is a smell, like. That’s what’s gonna—no one’s gonna miss me or be like, “Where’s Steve been?” They’re just gonna be like, “Did you hear Steve was dead. They found him, like, his neighbors smelled, like, smelled his fucking decaying body. He’d been dead for like a month.” You know, I’m afraid, like, no one’s gonna check up on me.
Paul: Yeah. Who would, who would be the person that would, uh, most likely notice you missing first?
Steve: That’s, that’s another fear of mine. I have no idea. Honestly, I don’t have any idea. Maybe my friend Ellen.
Paul: Uh, you know, that fear, th-th-that she said, that we’re forgettable? I think, especially for performers, I think th-that’s our deepest, our deepest fear.
Steve: I fear that I’m not, I-I-I’m afraid that I won’t live up to my potential as a performer. I used to fear that I—this weird thing that I wanted to leave something behind. You know, a legacy or whatever. I feel that even h-having just done Sarah’s show, that, like, there’s some—there’s record that I’ve been there. And now that that’s kinda off my last, I’m still, like afraid that, like, well, I could’ve done more. I should’ve done more.
Paul: It’s not big enough. I’m not gonna make a big enough of an imprint.
Steve: Exactly. I want people to cry at the Academy Awards when my face—(indistinct)
Paul: Oh my God, yeah.
Steve: Do you ever imagine—I haven’t done this in a long time—do ever imagine that you’ve died and, like, you’re at your funeral, like, seeing what—how people are acting?
Paul: Yes, all the time.
Paul: All the time. I would say a couple of times a month I picture my funeral, wonder how many people there will be, what they’ll say, um. You know. And in my mind, of course, then it gets grandiose. People can’t find parking. You know what I mean? And, uh, and I find that, um, I don’t know if the word “comforting” is right, but it um …
Steve: It give you a-a-a sense of peace, like, ok are gonna be bummed out.
Paul: People are gonna care. People are gonna care.
Steve: I think I had a tweet a long time ago. Like, what it all boils down to is, we just really want people to be bummed out that we’re dead, when we die.
Paul: I have to say, um, one of the, one of the things that I started doing, uh, a couple of years ago, is making a conscious effort to tell people that are close to me how much they mean to me. On a, on an almost regular basis. To tell them that I love them, to tell them what I love about them, you know. The specific traits that they have that I think are-are special. Um, and there’s, there’s a handful of people that I feel like if, God forbid, they died, I would be like, “You know what? I-I let them know how much, how much they meant to me.”
Steve: That’s great. That’s great.
Paul: Yeah. It, it, uh, it calms me down because it, it—I guess less of that feeling, um….
Steve: It’s hard for me to do.
Steve: I-It’s hard for me to do as a comedian. Especially with, like, my really close friends, because I’ve always—I don’t—I hate for people to feel bad for me. It goes back to the—always wanting to please people. But, like, um, y-y-yeah, I just. I forgot where I was going with this, sorry, Paul.
Paul: I-it’s hard to say that. I-It’s hard to open up to opinions.
Steve: I don’t wanna—I feel like I have to keep up this charade of always being happy, and goofy, and joking. And, like, it—I feel really awkward showing, like, my true, like feelings. And my best friend, my best friend’s mom died, um, about a month ago. And that was just really kind—one of those things where you’re just like, “Well, I can’t joke about to him. Like, I have to tell him, you know, I love him and, like, I’m sorry, and I’m there, like, if he needs anything.” And, you know, I went to funeral and it was just really—it was horrible, but it was also, like, kind of a beautiful thing like t-to experience.
Paul: But it’s hard w-when neither of you has started that thing. How do you start that without looking lame?
Steve: Yeah (laughs)
Paul: Th-That can be a hard one, especially if, you know, th-they’re like our dads. Or, they’re like a lot of comedians, which is there’s a baseline cynicism in the comedy community that, um, doesn’t have the tone of, “Hey, man. I love you. You’re really special to me.” So it’s, it’s, uh—Jim Pardo’s a-a-a-a comedian friend of mine that, uh, about, probably about thirteen years ago, he and I started having really deep heart-to-heart conversations and uh….
Steve: You see, I can’t picture that.
Paul: Oh, J-J-Jimmy can get really deep, really deep. And, uh, um, very—he definitely knows when not to be “on” and, uh, and I find those people become the, the friends that I value the most – the ones that know how to, kind of, drop the, drop the mask when, uh, when it needs to. But, alright, back to the—um, Chelsea writes, “I fear that my daddy issues are so ingrained that I’m afraid that I’ll continue to date men that are even more emotionally unavailable than me. On the off chance that I meet a good man, I fear that I won’t I be able to recognize that healthy isn’t boring and damaging is not the same thing as passion.” Wow.
Steve: Yeah, someone who’s obviously that in touch with their fears has—
Paul: Has done some work.
Steve: Has done some research, which is awesome. I guess it’s my turn. I’m afraid of the instance—that instant, that I die. I’m afraid of that—
Paul: That moment.
Steve: The crossing over. I’m afraid, this is crazy, but I’m afraid of it hurting. I don’t want it to be painful.
Paul: I totally get that. I totally get that. I-I-I think often about the moment when you’re dying and you can’t get enough oxygen.
Steve: Oh, yeah, me too man.
Paul: And what if—I was reading Patti Smith’s, uh, uh, autobiography and she was talking about being around, um, uh, Robert Mapplethorpe when he was dying from AIDS and she said, his last weeks, he was, he was gasping for air as if he had just come up, you know, underwater. And it was just for weeks, and I thought, “Oh my God. Oh my God.”
Steve: Oh man, that is heavy.
Paul: That is really heavy.
Steve: That, uh, that, uh, really scares me.
Paul: That fucked me up for a while. Chelsea says, “I worry that the resentful feelings,” uh, oh no, I’m sorry. “I fear that I will always feel responsible for fixing my family.” That’s a good one.
Steve: That’s mine too. That’s, like, that’s, that’s a very base issue with me, is, you know, feeling like I had to be the glue that, uh, you know… My brother would fuck up, I felt like I had to—
Paul: Hey, I’ll wash your car, Dad.
Steve: I just didn’t want my dad to be fucking upset or my mom to be upset.
Paul: You know, i-it’s interesting, th-there’s something about, um, having stoic—a stoic parent. That absence of them expressing something that really agitates us. Cuz my dad was the same way. And I would just, not knowing what they were thinking or feeling drove me crazy. And I wonder if that’s not like, uh, the dynamic in anxiety and kids of a, of a stoic parent.
Steve: The only time I saw my dad cry was at his dad’s funeral, my grandfather’s funeral. That was really weird to see.
Paul: Yeah, I bet.
Steve: Really weird. I mean, that was—
Paul: Was he trying to stop crying?
Steve: That was, like, twenty years ago.
Paul: Or was he letting it all out?
Steve: No, he was letting it all out. But that was fucking weird.
Paul: Did you tell him, “Dad, that was weird?”
Steve: (laughs) No, I mean, I was probably, like, eighteen or something so I was just like, afraid of my dad. I’m afraid when my phone rings in the middle of the night cuz I go to the worst case scenario.
Steve: Because my parents are older now, I’m always afraid that it’s gonna be that call, like, your dad’s dead or your mother’s died.
Paul: Yeah. I’ve gotten that call, by the way.
Steve: Oh. In the middle of the night?
Paul: Um, it was, it was about ten o’clock at night. My dad had—was sick. Um, you know, he was dying of cancer. But, uh, it came—I was on the bathroom floor with, uh, stomach flu. It was coming out of both ends, and I just had uh, uh, uh, screws put in my ankle because I had just broken my ankle. And I was just in agony on the floor. And that, and that news came in. And the funny thing is, Steve, is I went to this place of—cuz I’d just started recently kind of believing in, in God, at that point, and I just kind of went to this place where I just went there. And it was all OK.
Paul: It was all OK. And that moment, I realized there’s almost—if I can get through that, and not be shattered, I can handle just about anything. And that was a real turning point in life for me. Um, and I think it goes back to that thing that you were saying, um, that Eckhart Tolle—what we picture in our head, it will never be that, never be that, that bad.
Steve: Yeah. I also have a weird thing of, like, like, I’m convinced that it’s gonna be so bad. I-I-I-I-I go through scenarios, like, I’ll make up scenarios of, like, you know, I’m on set or I’m shooting somewhere and, you know, my mom will call and say, “Your dad’s passed away. You need to come out here.” And then I’m driving, you know, in the middle of the afternoon or night or whatever it is and, like, I-I have this weird picture in my head of driving—it’s like an hour drive, I’ve been working or something so I haven’t eaten, and having to stop and eat. I have this weird, this really weird scenario of, like, driving to one of my parents’—to be with one of my parents when the other one has died. But, like, I-I really shouldn’t be stopping to eat. My dad just died or my—but, like, the reality is like, “I’m fucking hungry.” Like, I don’t know why I always think about that, but I’m like—
Paul: Isn’t that weird, the way our brains work?
Steve: Yeah! It’s fucking cra—I’m like, “Should I stop? Am I even gonna be able to eat?” You know what I mean?
Paul: You know what? I-I’m gonna—we’re, we’re actually—
Steve: Out of time.
Paul: Yeah. W-w-w-we’re pretty close. Um, at the end of this episode, I’m gonna read, uh …
Steve: The Bible.
Paul: (laughs) I’m gonna read a letter, uh, that, uh—actually, it’s not a letter. I keep calling them letters. But a survey response from a listener who talks about the fantasy of that same thing, about how to react when a parent dies, that is so detailed—
Steve: Oh, cool.
Paul: And, and, it really relates to that. And so I think I’m gonna, I think I’m gonna go out with that. But, um, I wanna, I wanna thank you for, uh, for opening up.
Steve: You bet.
Paul: Is there, is there anything you wanna, uh, you wanna add before we wrap up?
Steve: No, just that I hope that if anyone is listening to this, that is, like, kinda at their wit’s end, and, like, all this experience is new to them. Like, whatever their, their problem is, that—I mean, and you say this on all your podcasts, th-that they’re not alone. Like, that was the biggest comfort to me, was finding out that other people have this shit, like, no matter what medical or mental issue you have, it’s not the first time, like, that there’s, there’s a reason for it. And there’s most likely a cure for it. You know, if not, you know, a-a-a way of making a little more—
Paul: A way to manage.
Steve: A way to manage.
Paul: That there’s a way to manage and lessen what you’re feeling at the moment.
Steve: And I love talking about it, you know, and I, you know, people need to know that that’s a very important aspect of any kind of mental issue, is just talking about it helps.
Paul: Yeah. Absolutely. Well, uh, I appreciate you, uh, talking to me about it.
Steve: You bet (laughs)
Paul: And, uh, I’m glad, I’m glad we’re getting to know each other.
Steve: Yeah. You bet.
Paul: Maybe I’ll be the guy that finds your body.
Steve: I love you.
Paul: (laughs) I love you too, Steve.
Paul: Many thanks to, uh, to Steve Agee. Uh, I had, uh, before we go out with, uh, a couple, uh, of listener emails surveys, uh, uh, I want to remind you that there a couple of ways to support the show if you feel so inclined. Um, you can support it financially by making a PayPal donation or shopping through our amazon search link. Those are both on our website, mentalpod.com. Uh, you can also buy a t-shirt, uh, through our website. And you can support us non-financially by going to iTunes and giving us a good rating. And, uh, write something nice about us. Um, so, uh, if you feel so inclined, uh, that would be greatly appreciated if you do that.
As I’d mentioned, uh, during the episode, the interview with, with Steve, there’s uh, a survey respondent that really reminded me of what he was talking about – that fantasy that he had in his head that he didn’t really understand. Um, this survey response was filled out, uh, on the Shame and Secrets survey by a guy named Shameless? Uh, he’s straight, he’s in his 20’s. Environment he was raised in - a little dysfunctional. Ever been sexually abused - never been sexually abused. Deepest darkest thoughts - he writes, “I’ve a recurring thought that my mom will dine in a car crash. I’ll get the phone call informing me of the bad news and I will react without emotion or surprise. A cold checklist of to-do’s quickly forms in my head. And I execute each one with ease. I get time off from work and travel home to where our old house and where my mom died. I’m there for my sister physically, but not emotionally supportive in the slightest. I handle the cremation, death certificate, the car insurance, the life insurance, the mortgage, the bills, the stuff that’s not supposed to matter when you lose someone but does matter. Family flies in from all over for the service and I realize it’s my duty to say something in front of them at the service. It’s at this point that I begin to plan what to say, that it all hits me and I completely lose it. I’m all alone and can’t control the anger, sadness and overwhelming grief. It’s like a wave that hits me, and I’m tumbling underwater. But just as fast as it hits, I swim to the surface and get my emotional bearings. Uh, that’s it. That was my grieving. I push on writing my speech, deliver it well, and receive the condolences of many. Publicly I’m cold and quiet and everyone thinks my lack of outward expression is odd, but they excuse it and think, ‘Oh, it hasn’t hit him yet. He’s still in shock.’ The truth is, as much as I love my mom, and would hate to see this happen to her, I’m so desensitized and robotic that this is how I’d probably be. I’m ashamed that I wouldn’t feel more, even though logically I want to feel more.”
Deepest, darkest secrets – he writes, “At first I thought that I don’t have any dark secrets, or even secrets at all. I’m very open with my friends and tell them almost everything. I’m extremely disciplined and a well-behaved member of society. One thing that I keep a secret is my ever-growing and deepening core belief that we are all slaves in a monstrous system that is consuming the earth and humanity itself. This isn’t so much a secret, but it’s extra taboo in my occupation as an officer in the military. I’m stuck in a position, not only as a slave, but a leader of hundreds of slaves, giving everything they have to defend the monster and carry out its will. It feels pretty fucking dark sometimes. I should hate myself for my actions, but justify it as alright for a number of reasons: society respects you for carrying out this duty; there’s an overwhelming amount of peer pressure to not only participate, but to thrive and succeed. It can give you a rush of power and a sense of accomplishment. It pays the bills and allows me to live comfortably in a materialistic sense. But it makes my soul feel dark and I know it’s ultimately wrong. I’m scared when the time comes that it will be difficult to walk away and turn my back on my peers. Obviously when I volunteered, I was a young and different person and have since learned much about the real world. Hopefully I’m strong enough to choose freedom and righteousness over comfort and purpose at the end of my obligation.”
Do these secrets and thoughts generate any particular feelings towards yourself? He writes, “They generate a mixture of feelings. I’m proud and feel stronger that I think I know what’s true in the world even if the majority of people don’t see it. It can feel like a lonely, lonely road, but I don’t mind that. The fact that I don’t mind being so alone, both in my beliefs and often physically makes me feel like a bit of an arrogant bastard. But I AM an arrogant bastard, and part of being one means not giving a fuck, so it kind of solves the problem it creates. It’s funny that I can characterize myself that way because outwardly I’m very disciplined and humble in my actions. Most of my feelings are directed outward, at the world. The system humanity lives in, political theory and realities, economic and foreign policy, injustice, and the fading freedom occurring in our time.” Wow. That is fucking deep. Um, thank you for that, uh, Shameless?, as you call yourself.
Um, I didn’t want to go o-o-out on that one because it’s, um, it’s a little—I don’t know if downbeat’s the right word, but, uh, a yeah, a little downbeat, so I wanted to go out on this one, which, uh, is from a, uh, listener. This is also, this is from the basic survey, and this is by a guy who calls himself StuffedKangaroo. And, uh, he’s in his 20’s and, uh, to the question, Does anything cause you to feel guilty?, he writes, “When I was about fourteen, I licked my female cousin’s toes while she was sleeping. I have no idea where that came from or why I did it. I regret it every single day. Every time I start to feel good about myself, I remember what I did, and I remember why I’m a horrible person, even though I’ve never done anything like it before or since. I wish every day that it had never happened. I hope that she didn’t notice and I dread the day that she comes forward about it and I lose the respect and love of my entire family.”
Um, to the question, If there is a God, what are some of the things you would say to God? He writes, “Make me happy. Take away my fear. Send me someone to love. Give me friends who make me laugh and surprise me in wonderful ways. Make my life exciting. Make me feel the way I did when I was fourteen. Allow me to make music people fall in love with. Tell me why I’m absolutely repulsed by oranges. Tell me why I’ve never been with a woman who I found attractive physically or mentally. Make me strong. Make me brave. Make me a hero.”
Wow. I am so touched by your survey, um, StuffedKangaroo, as you, as you call yourself. Um, I think everybody listening, that just heard that, had the same feeling that I did, which is, what a sweet, sweet kid that guy is, and he needs to forgive himself for what was really not a big deal. Um, as I’ve said, I’m no expert in mental health, but, um, you know, we’re curious when we’re kids and when we’re teenagers. And sometimes we do stuff that we don’t understand and I’ve done a ton of it. So, um, forgive yourself, um, it is not a big deal. And you sound like a great person. Um, and I hope that you can, you can find, uh, a point in your life where you can see, um, the good qualities that you have cuz, um, th-they really shine through in that email that you sent. It really, it really touched me. So, uh, thank you and know that, uh, you are definitely, definitely not alone. Thanks for listening.