5 Ways the World Changes When You Sober Up (for 24 Hours)
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):
Things 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 ...
Fuck 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.
Sobriety Doesn't Necessarily Make Things Easier
Sober or not, comedy is still a difficult thing to do in person. Some nights are obviously going to be easier than others, but that's true of a lot of things. Sometimes driving is easy, other times it ends in fiery heaps of twisted metal and severed body parts, and the cause of the destruction is completely out of your hands. That's a lot like how comedy works.
So, showing up with a sober mind is by no means a guarantee you'll have a good set. Even then, a good set doesn't necessarily mean you'll get a ton of laughs, especially if there aren't people around to provide them.
Case in point, I took the stage immediately after Jeff, who, as mentioned earlier, had just left to take the first shot of alcohol of his entire life. Unsurprisingly, damn near every person in attendance, including me, wanted to follow him and watch the chaos unfold (more on that later), and for the most part they did exactly that.
What that meant, as you can hear in the video above, is that I got to tell my jokes to, literally, five or six people while an army of comics and curious onlookers stood a few feet away loudly celebrating Jeff's decision to give up the straight-edge lifestyle for a night. In a situation like that, no matter the quality of your jokes, most of the people in the room won't be laughing.
Shit like that happens all the time. I arrived at a show at a bar in downtown L.A. once to find that there were, at minimum, 150 people packed inside. Exciting! At least it was until I found out that the comedy show was in a room in the back of the bar and that, at most, eight people showed up for that.
"Hellllllllooooooooo almost no one!"
Everyone else was part of a contingency of medical students who'd just left a conference of some sort and had no intention of sitting and watching people tell jokes. Even better, the only thing separating that room from the rest of the bar was a curtain. The crowd at Jeff's anti-intervention bash was nothing compared to the roar of approximately 142 drunken college kids.
The point is, life is hard, and sobering up won't make it better, so you might as well just keep drinking. Except, if you do, make sure to keep one thing in mind ...
Drunkenness Almost Always Makes Things Harder
A famous thinker once said that alcohol was "the cause of and solution to all of life's problems." That thinker was Homer Simpson ...
... and he's right. Since we're already talking about it, let's take stand-up comedy as an example. If you're nervous about trying it for the first time because you're afraid you'll fail, alcohol will totally help you overcome that fear, provided you drink enough. That's also the only time being drunk on stage will be helpful. Beyond that, getting hammered before you go up is a great way to guarantee things will go terribly.
On that note, here's me on-stage, drunk, at the Performing Under the Influence show.
I've done that same bit more times than I can count, and it always takes right around five minutes. Even if you don't watch it, please note that the running time, in this instance, is almost nine minutes. If you're wondering what I filled that extra time with, so was I the next morning. Turns out it's mostly useless jibber-jabber and me making things way harder on myself by being completely fucking trashed. That kind of behavior is generally frowned upon when you're the talent at a comedy show, which is exactly why the PUI show is so much fun.
I mean, it's fun for most people, anyway ...
Whiskey Is a Bad Way to Start Drinking
Hey, so you know how I've been mentioning throughout this entire column that my friend Jeff got drunk for the first time, at the age of 33, that night? Well, here's him before the show ...
... here he is during the show ...
... and here he is after the show.
Right, same guy from the intro of the article. I'll admit, that's not exactly the outcome everyone had in mind, but sometimes things just go better than you could ever expect, you know?
Anyway, the problems started right away, well before the show even started, in fact. See, at some point, it was decided that, for his inaugural trip to the gutter, Jeff should stick to just one type of drink. Great idea! Show producer Quincy Johnson decided that drink should be whiskey. Terrible idea! You can actually hear comic Kym Kral berating Quincy about that very thing in the background of this video of Jeff hating life.
In the span of about 75 minutes, that former prude downed three shots of Jameson along with five whiskey and Cokes. Even worse, he treated all of those drinks like a shot, just downing every one in a huge gulp. Eight times.
I also might have talked him into breaking the "one kind only" rule a time or three when, at some point during the night, I was given the priceless gift of a sparkly pink flask full of Cuban rum.
Of course I kept it.
I drank that. Also two half-pints of vodka. And someone might have brought weed.
I've had decades of experience with missions of that nature, though, so aside from obviously being quite drunk, I was still relatively fine. Jeff, on the other hand, could barely walk under his own power. Even better, the person he was supposed to go home with (understandably) bailed, leaving me and my 3-foot-9 (approximately) friend Vanessa with the monumental task of getting a 7-foot-4 (confirmed, I think) hockey fan from Boston into a car, up a flight of stairs, and safely onto a couch.
That happened, but it wasn't easy. At one point two of my neighbors came outside as he was on all fours punching the sidewalk. I asked him to stop because "the community is watching." Also, as we were slowly getting him up the steps, he heard someone say he couldn't walk and decided to prove us wrong by running to the top. Here's what's at the top of the stairs that lead to my apartment.
I share it with my neighbor.
For a good second or two, I was sure the night was going to end with Jeff pulling a Gus Frerotte on a glass fire extinguisher box and subsequently bleeding out on the way to the emergency room. It didn't, though. It ended like this.
Shout out to the Cracked.com martini shaker on top of the towel.
With that, Jeff was tucked in, Vanessa was wished the best of luck surviving a night sleeping on my hardwood floor, and I exiled myself to my bedroom to Skype with my girlfriend while wearing a mattress pad on my head for no discernible reason ...
Yes, we are still together, why do you ask?
... before passing out. Jeff was slow to recover the next morning ...
This is also where Seth Rogen took Katherine Heigl the morning after he got her pregnant!
... so he and Vanessa ended up staying at my place for most of the next day. It was cool, though ...
Good late-afternoon, sleepyheads!
... at least they saved me plenty of room on the couch.
Adam is drunk. Follow him on Twitter @adamtodbrown.
For more Adam, check out 4 Unexpected Things I Learned Smoking Crack Cocaine and 4 Insane Details of Cough Syrup Addiction (an Inside Look).
Are you on reddit? Check it: We are too! Click on over to our best of Cracked subreddit.