Author:Paul Gilmartin

The Slow Slide into Crazy

I’m sitting here at my favorite coffee place, and not ten feet from me sits a guy whose name I don’t know, but whose face I recognize.

Our paths crossed about a year ago when we were hanging out around a group of mutual friends.   I remember everyone giving him a wide berth because he seemed really edgy (not good edgy) and snapped at a few people.  We were trying to help him, but he bristled at the thought that he needed anyone’s help.  I remember thinking he had great hair, and how could anyone with such great hair be angry about anything.

I then saw him about six months ago begging for change outside of a Best Buy.   I think he recognized me and we both avoided eye contact.    He looked pretty much the same, but a little more tired.

Right now, he has a scab on his forehead, he no longer looks handsome.   His tan is getting too “homelessy” and he looks like he hasn’t showered in days.   He is talking to himself.   And the saddest part is he is wearing coffee-stained pants.  Not lightly stained.  Stained like a big mug of coffee was murdered.


I don’t think there is anything I can do for this guy, and to be honest I don’t want to approach him.  He scares me.   When I tried to approach him last year, he snapped at me.  I think he’s probably on a multiple day bender on meth.

I think this is the first time I’ve seen the arc of someone sliding into homelessness and insanity.  It’s really sad, but also fascinating, in a selfish way.   He has a bundled up journal that he’s clutching as if it’s his whole life – his remaining link to the civilized world.  It’s covered in dirt. He’s about 30 years old.

Part of me feels sorry for him, and part of me doesn’t.   I’ve seen so many people slide into homelessness, addiction and insanity because they wanted to try to get out of their situation without help; you can’t tell them otherwise until they have tried every shitty plan in their crazy heads and had a front-row seat for its Hindenburging.    I’m tempted to give him a sarcastic thumbs up and a wink.  And I know that’s wrong, but I just get so ANGRY at people that won’t get help.   He’s like the drunk asshole that thinks he can take on a car full of cops.  I have trouble sometimes feeling for the sick when they are arrogant.

Maybe the saddest part about him are the coffee-stained pants he is wearing – they’re white.

The white just makes it extra pathetic.  It’s like the universe is shining a light on him for everyone to see, saying, “Here’s what happens when we refuse to acknowledge we need help, when our instincts start to work against us.”

He reminds me of a stray dog running around near traffic.  No matter how hard you try to get it to come to you, it’s convinced that safety is danger and danger is safety.  And my fear of seeing the accident turns into anger.

I can become that guy if I believe my instincts are always right – if I minimize my depression and addiction – if I try to isolate.  My instincts are distorted and to some degree always will be.   I know I have to connect to other people and run stuff by them; my wife, friends, therapists, other addicts & alcoholics.  Sometimes its inconvenient and often I don’t want to.   But if I stop reaching out, I’ll eventually wind up like him.

It’s humbling accepting the idea that I need other people.   But what’s ultimately more humbling is being in his situation and trying to act as if everything is okay.

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Danielle Koenig

Paul and Danielle talk about the desire to minimize painful memories, feeling like we’re not enough, writing for Joan Rivers, suicide and the lasting feeling of humiliation.   And believe it or not, there’s laughter!

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Jimmy Dore

Comedian Jimmy Dore talks to Paul about growing up Catholic in a violent and segregated Chicago neighborhood with 11 siblings.   Who knew that attending mass could lead to depression, panic attacks, fistfights, robbery and an empty feeling following success?

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Self-Pity is a Drug

I don’t know which is more dangerous; heroin or self-pity.

That probably sounds a little dramatic, but so many people are addicted to one of these; at least heroin addicts know they’re heading in the wrong direction.  People trapped in self-pity sometimes live their whole lives never realizing they were addicted to feeling sorry for themselves.

When Dinner and a Movie (the show I co-hosted from 1995-2011) was in its heyday in the late 90’s, I started to get more offers to do stand-up.   I was excited.   Its what all stand-up comedians dream of; the clubs calling you, instead of you calling the clubs.  Suddenly you have leverage.   You make more money, your accommodations are better, and you can even choose who performs on the show with you.

My co-host at the time, Annabelle Gurwitch, was getting even more attention.   Ford had given her money to not only appear in a campaign for their new car, the Focus, but they were letting her be a part of the creative process and use her friends in the ads.     I was SO jealous.

Suddenly my new club dates weren’t enough.  Why wasn’t I getting MY own series of commercials?   Why HER?  What’s the matter with ME?   Am I not good enough?  All these thoughts cycled around and around my head.  Never did it occur to me to be happy for her.

I took consolation in the fact that I had a new gig coming up in Augusta Georgia.  Dinner and a Movie was big in the South, and I knew the outpouring of support from those club shows would make me feel better; and I was booked to make more money than I ever had, with a chance for a huge bonus for sellouts.

The night of my first show, I was getting ready in my hotel room, half-watching the MTV Video Awards, which at the time was the epitome of pop-culture cool.   The Internet was just taking off, so cable was still “it” and MTV was the “it” of cable.

I was trying to be upbeat about the fact that the hotel was not what the club had described (a common occurrence).  It was a little seedy, but I had stayed in much worse.

The very first commercial break of the Video Awards was the debut of Annabelle’s Ford Focus ads.    They were cool.   And it was during the coolest show on television.  Suddenly, I was a piece of shit.   I was nobody.   I was a sucker in a shit hotel who would never rise above mediocrity.

I took a deep breath and steeled myself, knowing I would feel better after my show that night.  I was being billed as a Special Event.  I had never been billed as a Special Event.   I was excited and ready to put on a good show to boost my self-esteem.

I probably was good that night, but it’s hard to tell when there are only three people are in the audience.  And twice during your show a punchline is ruined by rats running across the stage; and after the show the owner says he is regretting booking you and you are going to cost him money.

I wanted to step out in front of traffic; I probably would have been hit by a Ford Focus.

I was so full of self-pity.   I hadn’t yet figured out anyone to lay the blame on, so I laid it all on myself and I got that feeling when you’re about to O.D. on self-pity.  I wanted to die.  Heroin addicts vomit.  Self-pity addicts want to die.

In reality there was no one to blame.  Not me, not my agent, not the club, not the town.  It was what it was.  I’m sure the club owner feels differently.

The rest of the shows were just as…how should I put it…selectively attended?  And what did I do to get myself out of it?   I just thought more and more about myself.  I went over my past and over my future looking for an answer.   And I drank.   And obsessed.   And drank.

Trying to get out of a funk by obsessing about the past and the future is like trying to defeat an enemy by getting advice from the enemy.   You are going to get the absolute shittiest advice imaginable.  It’s a Catch 22.

The other challenge is to not reach for the second-worst choice, which is to get out of self-pity by replacing blaming yourself with blaming someone else; The mother-of-all drugs – self-righteousness.

If you don’t think self-righteousness is killing our society as much as meth, listen to talk-radio.   There is so much hate and demonizing by both the left AND the right.   And I’m as guilty as anyone on any given day.   It’s just so tempting because it feels so GOOD TO BE RIGHT.    With a single sentence I can demote someone else and promote myself.  And for a second it feels good.   But it’s an empty high and it always leaves me wanting a bigger hit.  If self-righteousness works, why are most radio talk-show hosts so miserable and angry?   Why do so many self-destruct?

Because the ego can never get enough.

A general rule of thumb for me:  If I’m feeling like I want to die, I’m in self-pity.  If I’m feeling like I want to kill, I’m in self-righteousness.

The challenge I have when things don’t go my way is to have empathy towards myself and others.

But empathy is a tough one because it requires emotional moderation.   If you’re an addictive personality like me, you don’t do moderation naturally.

If I were to do that night all over again, I wouldn’t try to block the feeling of being not good enough or blaming the promoters.  I just wouldn’t wallow in it.   I would try to be aware of what I was feeling and remind myself that my emotions are not reality.   I would probably call someone and talk about what I was feeling, so I could get a perspective on it.   I might try helping someone with their problems to help break my cycle of self-obsession.  I might call Annabelle and congratulate her on her great new ads.

I think emotions are reality filtered through the prism of our flaws (fearfulness, impatience, grandiosity, competitiveness, selfishness, self-pity, vindictiveness, neediness etc.)

If I had been aware of that, I would maybe have made a gratitude list of all the things in my life I had to be grateful for.

Here’s what a partial list might have looked like:

  • I have a wife who loves me
  • I have a job that pays me well for doing something I love
  • I have a house with electricity and running water
  • No photo exists of me with a perm
  • I am food secure
  • I have friends who love me
  • I have family members who love me
  • I am physically healthy
  • I get to play sports that I love
  • No recording exists of me singing to my dogs
  • I am not alone in what I’m feeling
  • I’m not a limelight-seeking rat living in a shit club that doesn’t know how to book people.

But I was still far away from seeing the truth of the situation.   So I wallowed for years in self-pity and self-righteousness, never realizing I was hooked.

I haven’t completely kicked my habit, but I’m not a junkie anymore.   And I feel pretty free.   It’s hard to not be a junkie when the pharmacy is open 24 hours.  And it’s in your head.

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Wendy Liebman

Comedian Wendy Liebman opens up to Paul about anorexia, pedophile teachers, exploitive therapists, the need to entertain and perfectionism.   Oh, and some good old-fashioned fear!   Wendy has appeared on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, HBO,  The Tonight Show, Late Night with David Letterman, and Comedy Central Presents.

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Mark Roberts

Paul talks with Mark Roberts, former stand-up, playwright and creator of the CBS sitcom Mike & Molly about growing up in a dysfunctional small-town Baptist environment as an overweight kid and the role art plays in finding a way to cope.

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Jen Kirkman

Jen Kirkman (Chelsea Lately, Drunk History) and Paul have an epic “Fear Off” that leaves both of their souls emptied.   Jen shares about her panic attacks and what it was like to be in New York on 9/11.  Paul shares about the horror of being in an earthquake.  They talk about the odd beauty that humans are capable of in horrible circumstances.

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Greg Behrendt

Greg talks about his roller coaster ride to fame and then losing it all.  He and Paul have the first “Fear Off” where they swap fears until one of them comes up blank.  Of course they talk about their penises.  And girls.  And comedy.  And surgery.   Bet you didn’t know as a child Greg had an eye patch and ate off a stool with his hands taped to his sides.

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