Sober Comics Laugh at Their Past With Addicts Comedy Tour

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With 30 years of stand-up experience under their belts, telling jokes is what has helped Kurtis Matthews and Mark Lundholm stay sober. Lundholm’s rocky past includes addictions to meth, cocaine and alcohol that left him either in prison or homeless throughout most of the ‘80s, while a drunk driving accident that Matthews found himself in at the age of 22 nearly killed four girls.

After getting sober, they both found themselves through stand-up. Lundholm had his own comedy special on Showtime and made appearances on Comedy Central, while Matthews runs the San Francisco Comedy School. They’ve also teamed up to launch the Addicts Comedy Tour, a comedy show that largely caters to people in recovery.

In their exclusive interview with, Lundholm and Matthews talk about how the tour has evolved, the prevalence of addiction in the stand-up world and how their comedy may have literally saved lives.

How is your set for the shows on this tour different from what you might do at a comedy club?

Mark: It’s very recovery specific, but normie-friendly. It’s a small niche in the mainstream community, but it’s like an urban show or a Latino show in that it’s geared right at the people who bought these tickets. But what we find out is that addiction has touched everybody at some point. When they figure that out, we’ve done our job.

Do you have to deal with heckling from the audience or some of the other things that might take place at a comedy club show?

Kurtis: I’ve worked a bunch of bars when I wasn’t being recovery-specific and didn’t get heckled. We’ll talk to a crowd and they’ll talk back to us, but if you’re truly paying attention to your audience, that doesn’t happen. The myth about people being drunk is that it’s actually easier to make sober people laugh. At our shows, they’re smart, they’re well behaved. It’s really more like a theatre crowd.

Mark: No arrogance here, but you’re dealing with professionals. We know what to do in those situations. A heckler is like a sparkler in a fireworks show. It burns out real fast and doesn’t have any power. What you learn as a performer is that what you give energy to will continue. If you let it go, the crowd just becomes annoyed with the heckler and bonds with the comic.

Kurtis: Not to say we couldn’t go for their jugular if we wanted to [laughs]. We have that gift. We’ve been doing this a long time.

How much money can you make from a recovery show?

Kurtis: We’ve both been doing for comedy for 30+ years, so we don’t work at comedy clubs because we don’t have to. The only time we go into a comedy club is because we’re bringing our crowd there. We charge between $20-30 per person because our audiences are a little bit older and have more money. We’ve made our own career at this point and our audience comes to us, so we’re grateful for that.

If a private rehab center asked us to come perform, we’d charge about $10,000. That said, we share for free. Mark goes into prisons for free and we’ll go into halfway houses for free.

Mark: For a show at a rehab center, they also get some foundation in the clinical sense in that we’re going to talk about how to remove shame from a disease that isn’t your fault, but is your responsibility to treat. We’re going to talk about dysfunctional family survival stuff.  There’s a way to get to the audience that supports what the staff is teaching them there, but it’s an independent voice and it’s really funny.

How has the tour evolved over the years you’ve been at it?

Kurtis: We’re performing for more people and getting more gigs. We were just on Dr. Drew’s podcast, This Life, with him and Bob Forrest. That was a nice perk and it’s only because people are starting to know us.

We started out as four people and it was called “The Comedy Addiction Tour,” kind of like of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. It was very specific and everybody was in recovery. We were going into theaters that were way too big for us. At a certain point, it was like KISS – if Mark was Gene Simmons and I was Paul Stanley. We’ve always been the core, so we just decided to strip it down, take it into clubs and make it more affordable.

It started as a theater show and now it’s a stand-up show because Mark and I can headline on our own. It went from being like a bus to a Hyundai. We travel lighter, we work quicker and can be available to more things. Scheduling is immense for us because it’s all about how you coordinate your dates.

We’ve lost so many talented comedians over the years to drugs and alcohol, from Robin Williams to Greg Giraldo and Mitch Hedberg. Is there something about the lifestyle of a comedian that sparks addiction or are these isolated incidents?

Kurtis: I have a big comedy school in San Francisco and a lot of the people who come to me are addicted or bipolar or clinically depressed.

Mark: A depressed comic is redundant. It’s like saying “small dwarf person.” Most comics suffer from some sort of depression or low self-esteem.

Kurtis: I think there’s an adrenaline rush and a connectivity that comes with stand-up. Drugs and alcohol made us falsely feel connected, but making an audience laugh or having them understand your darkest moments is life-affirming for some people. But at the same time, I think people who have a good family life and a job they like don’t need to stand in some weird bar and talk about their issues with strangers.

Most people who want to do stand-up, there’s something wrong. And we lead with that with our audience. We’re narcissistic, crazy addicts, Mark a little more so than me at least criminally speaking.

Have there been any moments with your shows that really stand out?

Kurtis: Many moments. I got an e-mail the other day from a woman who said she brought her daughter to our show because she didn’t know how to intervene with her drug problem. Afterwards, it opened the door for her to talk to her parents about it and they sent her to rehab.

At this point in our careers, Mark and I know we’re not going to be big deals…and we’re not trying to be. We just want to do what we love and share with people. If all we ever did was kept people clean and sober for two hours, then it’s all worth it.


Image Courtesy of Matthews and Lundholm


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