BY ROB DELANEY
I’m going to talk about comedy here, but it won’t be funny. Or maybe it will be. Or maybe you can blow it out your ass and see if I give a shit, because it’s my article and you’re basically trespassing. Did you think of that? Did you think you were going to just waltz in here and be served tea and biscuits by some well-dressed article from Vienna or San Francisco, whose sole existence was centered around massaging your TV-deadened brain and telling you that you look nice in that shirt, which you very much do not? Did you? Is that what you thought? Oh great, are you crying? Are you fucking crying, you little… you little… Nancy doodle? I just had to make up a very gentle insult for you right there because I know you’d go pee-pee in your silly little trousers if I told you what I really thought.
I’m sorry, this is no way to begin an article. The fact is, I’m nervous. I’m nervous to tell you how I really feel, and it was easier to yell at you. I’m actually a very nice person who cares very much what you think about me, and I have a whole host of defense mechanisms I use to cover that up, including yelling, and look where that got us.
And who are you, my lovely reader? Possibly, your name is Susan, but definitely you have at least a passing interest in comedy and that is why you have saved up your money over the past few months to purchase the “Rob Delaney Comedy Issue” of Vice magazine, as I’ve requested this issue be called. Believe it or not, the editor had proposed we call it “Stop What You’re Doing and Build an Alabaster Reading Nook in Which You’ll Devour This, the Apex of the Western Canon, Luminescently Set Down in Full Deliciousness, by the Exalted Servant of our Lord, Rob Delaney.”
Shit. I think I may need to junk this approach too… This is just me trying desperately to prove myself to you, and doing a poor job of it.
Attempt Number Three: I’m just going to tell the truth from here forward because I think that might be more useful to a reader (like Susan) who is truly interested in comedy.
When a magazine does a “comedy issue” it’s usually just a few pages of pictures of famous comedians (or more likely comic actors, who aren’t really “comedians” at all) wearing expensive clothes in a silly photo shoot that, despite its purported aims, winds up being the opposite of funny. I’d like to offer a tiny antidote to those offensive shit rags.
So if I have your permission, I’m going to shift the tone a bit and talk about subjects that will seem dark at first, but which I will reveal as actually not being that bad by the end.
As a comedian, I talk about comedy all the time, every day, with comedians and noncomedians. There is a popular belief, in and out of comedy, that comedians tell jokes and endeavor to make others laugh as a means of treating the pain they feel inside; that depression and drug and alcohol abuse plague the world of comedy. Is this true? For me, the answer happens to be yes. Among the first things I do each morning is take two prescription depression medications, Lexapro and Cymbalta. Right before or right after that, I post my first joke of the day on Twitter. I take the medication because I deal with severe suicidal depression and have for years. It has come close to killing me two times in the past eight years: once before I became a professional comedian, and once after. I post the jokes on Twitter because making people laugh makes me feel really, really fucking good. I would even go so far as to say, “It gets me high.” And I like getting high. I like it very much. I used to get high on alcohol and drugs and I was extremely good at it, right up until the day I wasn’t. You see, nine years ago I drank myself into a blackout and drove a car (not my car, that would be stupid) into the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. No one else was involved in the accident, but I didn’t know that until I asked the cops if I’d killed anyone and they said, “No.” Upon being confronted with the unassailable fact that my alcohol and drug use could kill other people if I continued, I stopped. It helped that I was in jail in a wheelchair, with two badly broken arms that would require surgery and knees that were ripped open to the bone. When the cops wheeled me around in jail, I would occasionally slide down out of my wheelchair. My broken arms couldn’t grip the wheelchair’s arms to prevent me from sliding out, nor could my busted knees bend to brace myself against the floor. Thus, I would slide right out of the wheelchair onto the floor and my bloody hospital gown would come up, exposing my dick and balls to everyone in jail. An enterprising person would have also had pretty easy access to my defenseless asshole. If you’ve been in jail or even read a book or seen a movie about jail, you know that you really, really want to keep that stuff to yourself in there. It was during those moments, sprawled on the jail floor before a couple of beefy guards would pick me up and place me back in my wheelchair and cover my no longer “private” parts, that I thought to myself, “It is time to make a lifestyle change.”
So as you see, I rather capably support the stereotype of the depressed, alcoholic comedian. I’ve sought heavy-duty treatment for both maladies, and I know that if not respected and attended to daily, they’ll kill me dead. And I don’t want to die. Though my brain has certainly told me “You should die” on many occasions, and fantasized myriad ways it could happen, I’ve chosen not to listen or act. Not only do I not want to die, but having gotten sober and treated my depression, I actually want to be happy too. Pretty demanding, huh? Part of that getting happy has been becoming a comedian, which I only began to seriously pursue after I’d started to deal with alcoholism and depression. So while I may be “depressive” and a “drunk,” I don’t wallow in it and ruminate on my misfortune, railing at the world. Rather, I deal with it, then go forward and write and perform material geared toward squeezing the maximum laughs possible out of a supple crowd. And as someone who still needs to get high and relies on the laughter of others to activate the serotonin cum shots of happiness inside my brain, I squeeze that crowd like a motherfucker. And since I’ve gotten healthier, I’ve gotten funnier too, by a lot. One myth I’d like to beat to death in an alley with a bat is that you need to be “tortured” to be funny. I actually heard one comic urging another comic NOT to go to therapy when he was having a tough time with panic attacks and drinking because “the angst is where the funny is.” What a stupid asshole. First of all, therapy’s not magic, so if you go into the therapist’s office a weirdo, you’ll come out a weirdo. Here’s an example: I’m a 33-year-old married straight man. One thing I didn’t tell you earlier about my morning rituals concerns my most treasured physical possession: my page-a-day cat calendar. It is so fucking awesome. People from around the world send in their candid cat photos all year long to this benevolent company and then they pick the best 365 and make a calendar. And they’re amateur pictures too! Just like I like amateur porn with real women who have cellulite and hairy bushes actually enjoying themselves, I like amateur cats too, in real, fun situations! I hate inbred, shiny-coated, pedigreed cats, being posed in totally sterile studio settings in which NO neighborhood cat would be happy!
Anyway, each morning before my wife and I go to work, we (I) excitedly grab the calendar and admire yesterday’s cat one final time. Then with bated breath, I rip it off and reveal the NEW cat beneath! Sometimes I almost jizz if it’s a particularly cute or fun photo, like a big old orange cat hugging a newly adopted black kitten! I can’t even fucking handle it, it makes me so happy! Now why did I tell you that story? Because I wanted to illustrate to you that I’m not well, at all. And I’ve been in therapy for almost ten years without interruption! Every other Tuesday I go and I talk to my therapist and we work shit out. But I’m still nuts, by any yardstick you could choose to use. And therapy, plus not drinking, plus taking my little pills, allows me to put one foot in front of the other and put one word after another and produce the comedy that makes me, and often others, happy. Therapy lets you work out issues, thereby allowing you to stop sobbing in your closet and actually write jokes and book gigs. I don’t see the allure in being a “tortured artist.” Life, as any moron knows, will torture us all real good from time to time, and there is no use, and no utility, in relishing the torture. And I can assure you: Nobody cares. And I don’t mean “Nobody cares” in a mean way; rather, I mean if you think you stand out and are unique in your pain, you’re ridiculous and you’re not really going to be able to add anything of enduring value to others’ lives or your own. If you don’t want to take my snot-nosed, whippersnapper word for it, listen to Maria Bamford or Louis CK, people who’ve been doing it for most of their careers. They’re two comedians who do a magnificent job talking about the pain in their lives. They’ve spoken in their acts about their horrible experiences (and going to therapy too, by the way) as they try to navigate life and not blow their heads off or just shut down completely. And I cordially invite you to go behind a 7-Eleven and stick a zucchini up your dad’s asshole if you think they’re not hilarious. They understand that life is sometimes a slow-motion journey through a slaughterhouse, rife with pain, jam-packed with disappointment, and ending in stomach cancer or a plane crash. But with their comedy, they effectively alchemize the “lead” of pain into the “gold” of laughter, thereby making their audience genuinely happy and ready to lead their lives in an ever-so-slightly kinder fashion. They help people.
If I sound like I’m preaching now, it’s really only because I am. Good, honest comedy gives me a big fat boner and I like showing it to people. And I want to see your big fat boner too, or in the ladies’ case, your hard nipples and your tasty, wet pussy. I want us to gather in a field and marvel at each other’s ripe genitalia and truly understand that without the world’s comedians turning the horror and drudgery of our lives into sweet, melodious laughter, none of this would be possible.
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