There's never been a shortage of out-of-shape, heavy-drinking, self-deprecating comedians.
Maybe it's part of getting older, maybe it's a trend, but over the past couple years I've definitely noticed a change in how comics are approaching their personal lives and their work. In just the last week, I've seen at least three different comedians (young comedians) announce via Facebook that they're celebrating "___ year(s) of sobriety!" Another comic recently completed her first 10K race. And I know of several others who have made the jump into a full vegan lifestyle. Could it be that the old rock 'n' roll party days of comedy are being exchanged for gym memberships and seltzer waters? Could it be that comedians and the comedy community are actually becoming *gulp* health conscious?
I used to be 50 pounds overweight and ecstatic to be paid in drink tickets. But after repeat performances of eating late-night post-show pizza, guzzling cheap whiskey, and waking up too tired and hungover to write, well, it got old. Long story short, I cut back on the booze, watched my diet, and dropped the weight. This year I completed my first half marathon. I was becoming one of those people I formerly despised: a healthy, productive person. And when I started to look around, it seemed like I wasn't the only one working to get my ducks in a row.
With so many opportunities to get one's work seen (whether via YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, or live performance) and with so many people hungry (no pun intended) to be seen, having a clear head and a healthy system seem simply necessary for a comic's career longevity and the ability to produce quality work.
I wondered if anyone else even saw this trend, or if I was imagining it, so I asked some comedians and writers to weigh-in (okay, that was a pun) on the subject.
I was trying to emulate the lifestyles that my heroes lived and I don't know how much access you have to your heart a lot of time when you're submerged in distraction trying to avoid yourself. A lot of people can't deal with who they are or how reality is without taking the edge off or changing their perception.
It's the difference between pretending to be fearless and actually being fearless. It's the difference between acting in reaction to your fear or actually moving through it. If you're high, or using that as fuel, you take that away and you're a pretty fragile thing. Without medicating, you can apply that courage to your creativity, to your work ethic, to whatever you want.
When looking at the big picture, I feel like it IS a fad because the majority of the history of comedy has been drug-addled and super inebriated, and this drive for reform is so recent. But I certainly hope it's just the beginning of a trend that keeps going up and up and up. Comedy is such a dive scene -- shitty bars, basements, whatever -- and I think performers feel like they have to match their surroundings and that partying is part of the job. But when people are healthy or turn healthy, it doesn't make them dull, it gives this extra layer to find funny. You're just better when you're less fucked up.
When I started in comedy I was fat. Even before that I relied on my being fat to be funny. In a way having a weight problem was the thing that really got me started in comedy. That, and being gay, were the things that made me different, and what I thought gave me a voice. In retrospect it was just a crutch.
The weight-loss [100 lbs] did have an impact on my work. It forced me to give up those crutches that I relied on and start talking about whatever I wanted to talk about. There was nothing aesthetically that I felt compelled to focus on, it freed me to talk about anything. You also learn really quickly that a skinny comic telling fat jokes isn't funny at all.
Sobriety seems to be a bit more prevalent among comedians than other groups of people I know, but mostly because being a drunk is also more prevalent among comedians. Being in comedy is often stressful, lonely, and a bunch of other awful things and -- if you perform live -- there is a bar at work, so it can lead to trouble at some point for some.
I started running a couple years ago too, which really helps diminish my anxiety and depression and all that. It's good for keeping in decent shape, but I like it mostly because it makes me feel better mentally and emotionally and not spend so much time investigating getting a gun permit or something... [and] any time I go running in the dead of winter, my junk shrivels up so much, I get a new eight minutes of material out of it.
It's so cliché that authors and writers are drinkers, but I get it now. You're alone, there's no one telling you "you can't." You also feel more creative when you're a little tipsy.
Austin Kleon (author 'How to Steal Like an Artist') talks about how you have to be boring. In order to be successful, you kind of have to be boring. You can't go to every party. You can't stay up till four in the morning. And unless you're some sort of social Page Six type reporter, WHY are you out until four in the morning? A lot of comedians get home late from doing sets, so I do think that their hours are a little different. But the principle is the same. You go home after you're done. That's your work day.
If I had a dollar for every time a comic said to me they quit drinking/smoking weed/etc., I'd be rich. I think it's great, but I also feel like it's a fad. Someone influential probably quit drinking. Once someone hip starts shooting frosting up their nose we'll all probably follow suit.
I am more inclined to stay in at night, so I'm letting go of anything that requires that of me on a regular basis and instead I'm focusing on what fits within my lifestyle. Also, speaking from experience, a lack of sleep can be really dangerous for your health. A few years ago I was super stressed from lack of sleep and got Shingles (old person disease!) and burst a blood vessel in my eyeball. LIKE, INSIDE. Doctors were amazed as that usually happens while sky diving. (I was singing.) Just relax... you are working hard enough and your time will come.
My physical health and my comedy career are like two escaped prisoners shackled together at the ankle: they can't get away from each other, but they hate each other's guts. Being a professional comedian is what makes it possible for me to carve out time for exercise. But it's also what makes it so miserably necessary.
Part of it is that comedians are in an eternal state of arrested development. A lot of comedians think of having a trainer or going to the gym as "adult stuff." I never talked about losing weight as a "bit." I mention it in passing. I firmly believe that nothing is less funny than genuine accomplishment.
All photos are courtesy of Mindy Tucker.