You may know me from my time on Saturday Night Live, for my roles in various films (including A League of Their Own, The Wedding Singer and, most recently, Casino Jack) or for my jaw-dropping good looks, but what you probably don't know is that I've been living with a chronic skin condition called psoriasis for more than 10 years. That's right, I'm one of the estimated 7.5 million people in the U.S. living with the disease.
I bet most of you reading this are thinking, "Psoriasis? Isn't that just dry skin?" Trust me -- it's way worse than that. And when I finally talked to a dermatologist and found a treatment that worked, I realized I had to go public with my story and give people like me the hope that they can do something about their psoriasis.
I recently shared my story through a national disease awareness campaign called Are You Serious?, which I hope inspires people to have open and honest conversations with a dermatologist about their psoriasis. I know what you're thinking. Me? Being serious? Well, yes, it's true! But you know everything that I do usually has some humor in it.
It all began with what I call "red dots" on my arms, which looked like a rash at first, so I made an appointment with a dermatologist. I was prescribed a steroid cream that initially helped, but soon the red dots returned. It was terrible. At one point, my skin flared up so much so that the red dots started connecting (picture a human etch-a-sketch). Nearly half of my body was covered in red, scaly patches. And when psoriasis started appearing on my scalp, white flakes would fall from my hair and it looked like I had horrible dandruff -- either that, or people thought my head was a snow-making special-effects machine. Seriously, it was embarrassing and I felt helpless. After all my years being a comedian, making audiences laugh, I was beginning to think the joke was on me?
For several years I tried to get it under control with different treatments that had varying levels of success but could never quite get the level of clearance I was looking for. One night at a party, I happened to tell a friend about my psoriasis, and she recommended I talk to a dermatologist who specialized in treating it. I listened to her advice and sure enough, I found a dermatologist who understood what I was going through and prescribed a treatment that has helped me get full control my symptoms.
Even though I have struggled with the disease for 10 years, I realize people still don't understand what psoriasis is. Many actually think its leprosy and even more think it's contagious. It took me many days of dermatologist appointments and online research to learn about and explain to friends what I had. Put simply, it's an autoimmune disease, which means your immune system sends the wrong messages to your skin -- hello, the largest organ we have.
Basically, the immune system speeds up the growth cycle of skin cells and before old skin cells shed, new ones start to pile on, which results in scaly patches on the surface of the body. (Read more at my awareness campaign's website!). To put this scientific explanation into perspective, there were nights that I would toss and turn from the itchiness and pain. In the morning, I would wake up to flakes covering the bed sheets and my clothes. Everywhere I went, I left a little bit of Jon Lovitz behind... only not in a good way.
On more than one occasion I felt the burden of my psoriasis. I was often invited to events or pool parties where I opted not to go because I felt too embarrassed to even unbutton my shirt. During the summer, I would be on-stage at my comedy club in Universal CityWalk in Los Angeles wearing long-sleeve shirts and jackets to cover my skin. You would think I would feel comfortable in my own club, right? Just the thought of how people would react made me dread leaving my house at times. Thank goodness I'm funny (and good looking, have I mentioned that yet?) because I often relied on my humor to get me through those hard times.
I know many of you reading this right now aren't used to my serious side, but who's to say a comedian shouldn't get serious once in awhile? Normally, I never talk about my private life, but I felt compelled to use comedy to raise awareness about psoriasis without actually making fun of it. Are You Serious? gave me a platform to write and produce TV and radio public service announcements (PSAs) that I hope will give people a laugh, but more importantly, inspire those with the disease to work with a dermatologist to get their symptoms under control.
My longtime friend, Jerry Zucker, yes the Jerry Zucker who directed The Naked Gun, Airplane! and Ghost, directed the campaign's TV PSAs and the Maroon 5 "This Love" song parody, which is a catchy, clever melody I wrote and performed about my own psoriasis experiences. (Yes, I can sing, too, I'm very talented). Based on our long history of working together, I knew if I wrote the scripts, Jerry would infuse the right level of comedy to bring the PSAs to life and impact the psoriasis community.
You can check out the PSA and the parody at SeriousAboutPsoriasis.com. The website also has a lot of behind-the-scenes footage and outtakes, as well as an interactive Q&A section. So sign-up and check it all out -- I can promise you it's entertaining, and informative!
My advice for people living with psoriasis is to speak up to a dermatologist about how the disease affects your life. For whatever reason, a lot of people with the disease don't address the problem, or they've resolved themselves to thinking that they'll never be able to get it under control. I was lucky enough to find a dermatologist I trust and I encourage others to do the same. A lot of people don't realize that there are lots of new treatments out there that can help.
On a less serious note, why be embarrassed about psoriasis? Nobody is perfect, right? Trust me, I would know. I make fun of people for a living, remember?