Our first guest blog comes all the way from across the pond! Sean Daniels is a writer, director and the Artistic Director of Arizona Theatre Company. He was a NyTimes Critics pick for the Off-Broadway run of his autobiographical play about addiction ‘The White Chip‘. His guest blog features his op-ed about why the recovery movement needs more jokes…
The recovery moment in America needs more jokes.
I was 74 days sober, at a Christmas party, when alone in a kitchen, I poured a drink and considered drinking it, knowing it would most likely lead to my death.
For reasons I still don’t understand, I did the thing I had been trained to do in rehab: I called someone in the middle of the night.
I called Dan Bakkedahl, hilarious star of Veep, and more hilarious college roommate of mine. One of the funniest sober people I know. Actually, the only one at the time.
He offered the advice I wasn’t expecting. “Pour out that drink, and then you gotta listen to some podcasts, you ever hear that John Larroquette one?”
So, Christmas Eve, 2011, I listened.
In the first minute, he perfectly lands about 5 jokes.
I could tell you how great it is, how much I loved the dark humor it, but perhaps the bigger compliment is that I didn’t drink that night.
There’s a big-time addiction moving coming out soon, ‘Four Good Day’. I’m glad addiction will be in the national conversation for a moment.
But it’s Oscar worthy trauma porn, and once again the idea of addiction is one in which you will travel to the edge of death and destruction before turning it around. Which I get, that’s my story also…so no lies there. But what about the millions of people, who will see that, and then continue using/drinking because they haven’t had an award-winning firing/divorce scene in their life yet? What if they’re just slowly destroying their lives/livers/current relationship, and haven’t yet made their Mom give a Glenn Close worthy speech?
What if, instead of drama, we used humor to encourage those people to get off the elevator before it goes all the way to the bottom? What if we normalized the idea that you can ask for help before being dragged from a car wreck? You can ask for help, when you first need help. What if you knew addiction looked like more things than you saw in movies?
In AA meetings, people often refer to Rule 62. The story is in the early days, an ambitious young gentleman put together 61 rules for how people could stay sober, these rules would be distributed and followed to help people get sober. This plan was never implemented, because have you ever tried to give a stubborn drunk a bunch of rules? What did come out of it was a joke: “Rule 62: Don’t take yourself so damn seriously.”
Let’s put that rule out there. First step of conquering addiction in our country: everyone, don’t take yourself so damn seriously.
Marty Walsh was recently named Labor Secretary, making him the highest official publicly in recovery. His “My name is Marty Walsh and I’m an alcoholic” at the 2016 Democratic convention is still one of the largest admittances we’ve all ever seen from a successful public figure whose life and career was on the up and up. He was given a national platform to introduce himself as a new mayor, and that was his opening line. Not his public apology on why he made a horrible mistake, but a way for you to understand his success.
I’ve met him several times (including once when my daughter slept thru his speech and baby holding), and I was always impressed by his set up – he tells you he’s an alcoholic in recovery, he MAKES A FEW JOKES ABOUT HOW BAD IT WAS, and then moves on to public policy.
It disarms the room, it allows them to laugh, which we know is the greatest way to bring people together. Not only is he shame free, but he’s also humbled himself in a deeply charming way, which makes us want to believe and work with him on what he pitches next.
I’ve been working with John Larroquette on an upcoming audio play, ‘The Heath’ by Lauren Gunderson.
There’s a wonderful thing in terms of working with the people that so affected your life. It never goes like you think it will. I was so excited to tell him how much he meant to me, figured we’d laugh and laugh about it – but when I told him my story, perhaps I showed a bit too much reverence. He responded with a story of a friend of his. A guy who was a real leader in the sober community, decades of work, community organizing – a guy so well regarded that when he slipped and started using again, he couldn’t tell anyone, he couldn’t bring himself to admit that he, sober champion, had slipped. After a few days of not hearing from him, his friends went to his house – and found him dead.
Always a great performer to know when the audience is expecting another joke, that’s when you give them the gut punch.
The lesson once again: don’t take yourself so seriously.
So, let’s do it, let’s save a few lives, by telling a few more jokes?