I'm a big fan of chemicals. Well, drugs, actually. Let's just say drugs. Not hard drugs (like crack or cough syrup), just the basics. Nicotine, weed, alcohol, prescription ADD meds ... it takes a lot to keep me going. So, imagine my distress when I found out I'd have to give it all up, all at the same time, cold turkey. Don't worry, it wasn't due to any kind of traumatic life event or court decision (this time); it's just that I had a show to do.
Specifically, the Performing Under the Influence show at the Hollywood Hotel, which is almost exactly what it sounds like -- comics telling jokes while drunk (at the very least). There's a hitch, though, in that for 24 hours leading up to the show, all of the comics who are scheduled to perform have to remain completely sober. If that doesn't sound like a challenge, it's probably because you're not a sad, impoverished entertainer like 98 percent of Los Angeles.
"Hi! I brought my own booze!"
Anyway, you have to do that because the show is split into two parts. Each comic does three minutes of jokes while sober, after which they're expected to immediately start drinking (or drop acid, smoke weed, chew Vicodin, the possibilities are endless). Then, they come back and tell eight more minutes of jokes, sometimes while teetering on the brink of being blackout drunk. Relax, everyone's required to have a designated driver. It's a super responsible operation.
People don't even all the way die!
I did that show last Saturday night, and it was a goddamn event, especially the part where I watched a 33-year-old man have the first drink of his entire life. That man is Jeff May, and he joins me on the Unpopular Opinion podcast this week ...
... to talk about that night and so much more. I'm also joined by comic and PUI show producer Quincy Johnson and comic Vanessa Gritton, who was my designated driver that night and, in turn, is the only drunk person on the podcast.
That eventful night is also what I'm talking about in this column today. Surprise! Here are a few things I learned when I finally got sober (for a day):
5Things You Don't Think About Are the Hardest to Give Up
In the name of keeping things interesting, I decided to give up everything in the run-up to the show. I mean, yes, I drink, but not every day, and when I do, it's usually not a thing I start doing in the morning. So not drinking for 24 hours was no problem, and what fun is that? Problems are the entire reason alcohol was invented in the first place.
So, to make the day a bit more of a challenge, I decided to give up the entire array of substances that go into helping me face the world.
To keep everyone up to speed, what you see there is a particularly wonderful strain of weed (named after Willie Nelson), niacin (for anxiety, Google it), and methylphenidate (ADD meds). Yes, there's also nicotine gum, and no, I'm not trying to quit smoking. I just never stopped chewing the gum from when I did quit like five years ago.
All of these things combined make up the fuel that keeps this engine barely running, and giving them up, even for one day, was a total fiasco. Again, the weed wasn't a gigantic problem. One of the best things about that drug is that no matter how much you smoke, giving it up, temporarily or otherwise, is fairly easy.
Everything else definitely was not.
I started the day assuming I'd just pass the time working to take my mind off the lack of tasty drugs in my system, but the lack of tasty drugs in my system made working nearly impossible. I actually need those pills I take each morning, or at least my body strongly believes I do, and when I don't take them I start fidgeting and getting distracted. It's not a great way to be when you're trying to write or edit a 2,000-word article.
Also, thanks to my out-of-control gum habit, I take in a ton of nicotine on a daily basis, probably way more than I did when I smoked, because you can do that shit anywhere. I used to go to bed at night with a piece lodged in between my cheek and my gums until I read about that college basketball player who was found dead in her dorm room after she aspirated a piece of chewing gum in her sleep. Aside from the part where cigarettes give you something to do with your hands (and also cancer), the nicotine gum experience isn't a whole lot different.
Especially if you wear a patch while you chew it!
Unfortunately, that means giving it up is every bit as unpleasant as quitting smoking. In fact ...
4Fuck Not Smoking
I followed through on all of my chemical-free vows to the bitter end, with the exception of this one. To force my hand, I made sure to actually be out of nicotine gum at the start of the dry period, and I woke up fucking hating myself for that on Saturday morning. One of the most famous symptoms of nicotine withdrawal is irritability. I'm usually pretty high on that anyway, and figured that would be exponentially more true on this day, and I was right.
Fortunately, I'd already planned to just spend the day working so as to not subject anyone to spending time with me until the last possible moment. As mentioned earlier, though, work was a problem, so I gave up on that plan in favor of watching movies on the couch. I started with Keanu Reeves' goddamn fantastic John Wick, but there must have been a glitch in the matrix that controls the totally legitimate website I bought it from, because the version I got had strange subtitles and looked like it was shot using the Zapruder Film camera.
I think the second word is "John."
Weird! I had better luck with Boyhood, except for the part where it made me sad and my burgeoning agitation made me feel like I was watching all 12 years they spent filming the movie instead of just the 165 minutes of actual footage they eventually condensed it down to.
It's like watching Ethan Hawke look relatively the same the entire time, right before your eyes!
I passed a bit more time by cleaning and doing various other tasks that don't require me to concentrate or be satiated by the active ingredient in cigarettes. Masturbating, crying, that kind of stuff. Here's the thing, though: I have my limits, and sitting in Los Angeles traffic for an hour after a day of giving up everything describes one of them perfectly. That has the potential to turn into The Shining on wheels in short order, so when my ride arrived and announced that she had cigarettes, I decided to smoke. When it turned out she didn't, I decided to hurl myself off the nearest roof. We got cigarettes instead. They seemed like a more appropriately self-destructive choice than gum.
Still, I managed to hold off on everything else! And I hated every goddamn minute of it. Speaking of minutes, let's talk about the first three of that show.