‘Recovery comics’ find humor in addiction

Laughter will be the drug on Tuesday.

There aren’t too many comedians who can say their first gig was at San Quentin State Prison.

Not that Mark Lundholm, a recovering addict who is co-headlining the Addicts Comedy Tour with fellow recovery comic Kurtis Matthews, which stops at the Liberty Funny Bone on Tuesday, Feb. 23, would recommend it.

“I was fresh out of rehab, and I saw this flier for a variety show that someone was putting together for jails and prisons,” he said. “I auditioned and got the gig, but it was painful. I was foul-mouthed, insecure and defensive in a way that doesn’t work onstage. I just didn’t know a lot about performing. Weirdly, it was like methamphetamines. I hated it, but couldn’t wait to do it again.”

That was in 1988, and Lundholm has been clean and sober ever since. Over the years, he has developed into a comedian/storyteller who travels the country both performing stand-up gigs and giving humor-tinged, motivational speeches for addicts and at events such as the American Justice Summit.

Lundholm said the genesis for the Addicts Comedy Tour began in the early 1990s.

“I would go to a club and do a week as a comedian and then add one ‘sober’ show,” he said. “There’d be no alcohol in the club, and the audience would be all recovery people, and the show would be 100 percent different, specific to addiction and dysfunctional families. Kurtis wanted to retool that show and make it national instead of occasional.”

Lundholm said the general audience for an Addicts Comedy show is 80 percent recovering addicts and 20 percent “normal people,” which Lundholm describes as “people who can have a couple of beers at a ballgame and drive their family home without stopping to buy a bag of cocaine and miss the next three days of work.” Lundholm said he tones down the storytelling at these shows in favor of more laughs, but there’s still a serious element.

“I’ll drop (the audience) at around the 30-minute mark, where we get serious about the relationships we’ve blown away and the opportunities we’ve squandered,” he said. “It’s vital, but it’s not preachy. There’s nothing funnier than conflict, and everyone can relate to that, whether it’s a bad marriage or a crappy day at work.”

After growing up in an abusive home, Lundholm said that by the time he reached his 20s, he was a 120-pound “longhair” sleeping under a bridge.

“I’d traded in a wife and kid, jobs, friends, and money for a temporary chemical fix,” he said. “There was nowhere to go but dead or to clean up. I tried both and found cleaning up worked a little better.”

Although Lundholm doesn’t like to play the victim, he is adamant that addiction is an inherent mental illness.

“It’s in your DNA,” he said. “And sooner or later, time or environment will push you over. It’s a medical fact that people punish their anatomy because they can’t handle their psyche. I’ve been to Congress … many times to advocate for changes in policy, funding, acceptance. It isn’t a moral decision. Addiction isn’t your fault, but it is your responsibility to pay attention and treat it. I tell addicts the good news is there’s light at the end of the tunnel, but the bad news is there’s always another tunnel.”

After nearly 30 years of sobriety, Lunholm said it’s no longer a daily struggle, but there is still a lot maintenance in choosing “hope over dope.”

“I can be drunk and in trouble tomorrow,” he said. “But today, I think I’ll be all right.”

Contact this contributing writer at aaronepple@gmail.com.