Even sobriety can't tame comedian Ben Roy's savage humor

On an unseasonably warm winter day, Ben Roy is jogging through City Park. Dressed in running sneakers and a black hoodie that covers a galaxy of chest and arm tattoos, he passes a Latino family pushing strollers loaded with children, a yuppie couple walking a Labrador, an elderly loner trying to feed the geese.

A few paces behind, red-faced and out of breath, a journalist holds a microphone into the air, attempting to capture the comedian's rapid-fire responses.

"We're all flawed in design, in that our intellect is a slave to our emotion," Roy says with a slight East Coast accent. "We feel something, and our intellect rationalizes it. So if something feels wrong but we want to keep doing it, we use our intellect to justify it. Being an addict feels wrong, but we can rationalize all sorts of reasons why we're not an addict."

Ben Roy (right) with his wife, Crystal, and their son, Milo.
Ben Roy (right) with his wife, Crystal, and their son, Milo.
Andrew Orvedahl, Ben Roy and Adam Cayton-Holland are the men of The Grawlix.
Andrew Orvedahl, Ben Roy and Adam Cayton-Holland are the men of The Grawlix.
Chuck Coffey (left) and Ben Roy perform as Spells.
anthony camera
Chuck Coffey (left) and Ben Roy perform as Spells.

Does he think everyone deals with this?

"Everyone experiences addiction in their lives, with all sorts of things, most often with food," Roy replies as he passes an obese man wedged into a park bench, enjoying a Big Mac. "We're so accepting of people's bizarre relationships with food. We really shot ourselves in the foot as a society with how we've stigmatized addiction to drugs and alcohol. In demonizing it, we've made people curl in on themselves and never want to admit they're an addict. If we didn't stigmatize it, people wouldn't be so ashamed, and they'd see that a lot of people are suffering."

See also: Everybody Loves Ben Roy: Denver comics weigh in on their longtime colleague

As he picks up the pace, Roy's passionate commentaries come faster and faster, covering everything from zoos to Christian rock to the state of the comedy industry to parenting, race relations and pharmaceutical drugs. His endurance for physical and mental stimulation seems endless, particularly since this jogging interview — during which he runs like a Kenyan marathoner and talks like Quentin Tarantino on speed — is a minor commitment in his day, squeezed in among writing, meetings, picking up his seven-year-old son from school and, eventually, performing on stage, where he will talk at even greater speeds and length on similarly provocative topics.

As the sun begins to set on City Park, Roy slows to a trot and the conversation moves to his latest project, a podcast called Voiceless, during which Roy conducts heartfelt interviews with members of Denver's homeless community. While Roy himself has no problem talking at length about any subject, no matter how personal, he's had difficulty getting his interview subjects to open up about their situation, discovering that some want to deflect blame onto someone or something else. "It does nothing painting yourself as a victim, because the general public thinks you already view yourself as a victim, and they don't want to hear it," he says. "Maybe some hardships have befallen you — they've befallen all of us — but the more real your story is, the more people are going to relate."

******

A man's got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book. — Ernest Hemingway

Ben Roy hails from the rural town of Winthrop, Maine, where he was exposed to a Gummo-style unpleasantness that the privileged children of coastal towns would only read about in the books of home-state hero Stephen King.

"With Maine, you always hear about the picturesque lighthouses and lobsters and coastline, but when you get into mid-Maine, it's very working-class, very poor towns," explains Crystal Allen, a woman who grew up near Winthrop and would eventually marry Ben Roy. "It was kind of depressing, honestly. When you're a teenager and you're bored and have all this energy, you start partying a lot and the morals become a bit askew."

"It's a very dark place for me," Roy recalls. "It was so isolated — you had nowhere to go and felt you couldn't leave. We were all so depressed, and the minute you tried to better yourself, someone would just say, 'Aw, don't be a fag.'"

As frontman for the melodramatically named hardcore band Thousand Year Suffering, Roy fell into the East Coast scum-punk scene — a music culture largely influenced by notorious degenerate GG Allin, a man whose on-stage exploits could make the darkest recesses of the Internet blush — and found both a creative release and a world of intense violence and intoxication. "My friends had no money and were living off of dog food. Some of them got jaundice," he says, citing malnutrition and alcohol poisoning. "And there were so many fights. One night there was a big brawl, and I watched my friends throw this large, full-sized TV on a guy's head. He's blind in one eye now."

Predictably, this lifestyle made Ben Roy a very anxious young man. Flunking every high-school class but civics, music and drama, he developed intense panic attacks, sometimes urgently fleeing class without a word and running straight home. The only things that seemed to take the edge off were screaming into a microphone and pouring vodka down his throat. "I didn't know I was drinking too much, because all my friends drank that way," he remembers. "They'd say, 'Nah, you don't have a drinking problem.' And then you take a look at them, and it's like, 'You're a fucking mess!'"

After briefly escaping his home town for a six-month tour of Denver and Boulder, Roy returned to Maine, where he met his future wife at a party thrown by some mutual friends. "He was really funny back then, but he drank a lot," Allen recalls. "He was really drunk at that party, and he just ended up yelling at me. I was like, 'Oh, you're in a band, that's cool. I'd love to come see you some time.' And he said, 'You're never going to fucking come see! Just forget it!' And then he ran off."

A few weeks later, though, Roy ended up at Allen's apartment early one morning at the invitation of her roommate. Dressed in pajamas and a bandana, Allen talked with him through the day and late into the night, the two of them developing an instant chemistry. "I stayed around Maine for an extra six months, because I really, really liked her," Roy recalls.

Ultimately, both decided that central Maine was not the place for them. So in August 2002, now engaged, Roy and Allen moved to Denver, where he landed a job at Dish Network as a retail analyst while he continued playing in bands. The following June, Allen was hired as a waitress at a downtown club called Comedy Works. And that changed everything.

******

Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot. — Charlie Chaplin

Like any other artistic genre, standup comedy has gone through different waves of style and popularity, from boom to bust to boom, from wholesome innocence to dark provocation.

Before the '60s counterculture forever changed show business, comedy was dominated by family-friendly TV personalities like Jack Benny, Bob Hope and Phyllis Diller, who contributed significantly to the medium but were ultimately bound to a self-imposed censorship, never daring to risk their careers with subversive material or even colorful language.

The variety shows of New York's bohemian Greenwich Village were a conscious departure from this sanitized material, incorporating not only new methods of storytelling, but recklessly controversial topics, including politics, drugs and menstruation. As demand swelled for comics like Joan Rivers, Richard Pryor and the Smothers Brothers, what was once a quietly contentious group of "dirty" performers penetrated the public consciousness, landing gigs on television, in large theaters and, in the case of First Amendment hero Lenny Bruce, in jail.

Many of their jokes were autobiographical and drifted into a more literary style of humor, which ultimately created a new kind of celebrity, one based as much on the intimate details of the artists' lives as it was on their live performances. While Phyllis Diller had made a career out of mocking husband Fang (a man who didn't actually exist), Richard Pryor would confess real-life tales of being raised in a brothel and setting his body on fire after smoking too much crack. "Today's comedian has a cross to bear that he built himself," Bruce said. "A comedian of the older generation did an act, and he told the audience, 'This is my act.' Today's comic is not doing an act. The audience assumes he's telling the truth. What is truth today may be a damn lie next week."

The notion of altering perceptions of truth and beauty was embraced wholeheartedly by the new generation of comics, and the road toward this kind of enlightenment typically began with altering the brain's chemistry. Drugs and alcohol became an essential component in a standup's persona, and enjoyment of the show by the long-haired, glassy-eyed audience was suddenly dependent on believing the person on stage was just as bombed out of his head as they were.

As the divide between the old guard of comedy and the new wave of subversives widened — while Bob Hope delivered a Christmas in Vietnam special, the Smothers Brothers wrote songs satirizing the draft — musicians and comedians bonded over their love of intoxicants and their hatred of mainstream America. The Troubadour, the Los Angeles club that was instrumental in the careers of Steve Martin and Cheech & Chong as well as James Taylor and the Eagles, was rife with heroin and alcohol abuse, while New York's Saturday Night Live studio became party central for celebrities who consumed endless amounts of cocaine and marijuana, with John Belushi and writer Hunter Thompson ingesting enough speedballs to kill a herd of woolly mammoths (or at least Belushi, who died in 1982).

The 1980s comedy boom — also known as standup's "disco era" — catapulted performers to previously unimaginable heights. From 1978 to 1988, more than 300 comedy clubs opened in the United States, and with their steep cover charges and two-drink minimums, these operations were suddenly able to pay comics decent money, inspiring an influx of young entertainers. Eddie Murphy's standup film, Raw, debuted at number one at the box office; celebrated meathead Andrew "Dice" Clay opened for Guns 'N Roses at the Rose Bowl, performing for 62,000 fans.

As paychecks and fame grew, so did the use of ego-boosting drugs. Former Pentecostal minister turned hedonistic party boy Sam Kinison (to whom Ben Roy is at times compared) was earning $50,000 per show, yet would often be so zonked on a combination of cocaine, Valium, marijuana, Xanax, heroin and entire tumblers of vodka that his handlers reportedly kept oxygen tanks just behind the stage curtain so that he could blast his brain back to life before stepping out in front of a packed auditorium.

But in the late '80s and early '90s, cable stations like HBO, MTV and, eventually, Comedy Central began regularly airing standup specials of their own, leading many comedy fans to get their laughs at home while avoiding the hefty financial burden of a night out at a club. The cash that had sent so many would-be rockers into standup comedy began to dry up. Where a mid-level comedian working in 1987 would be flown to a club first-class and paid $500 for a night's work, by the mid-'90s that offer would shrink to $175 and a bus ticket...if he was lucky.

This led to standup's "alternative" or "indie" phase, when left-leaning, DIY comics began organizing small shows in warehouses and rock venues, echoing the Greenwich Village culture that had birthed a similar movement decades earlier. The underground scene of the '90s mirrored its hippie progenitor with more than just the low-cost, pass-the-hat style of paying for entertainment. It also despised the generation of humorists that had gone before, seeing the misogyny, homophobia and '80s excess of comics like Kinison and Clay as ludicrously out of touch.

This new group certainly had no qualms about getting truly blitzed, however.

Micro-joke luminary Mitch Hedberg would duplicate John Belushi's heroin-cocaine heart-buster, as did SNL iconoclast Chris Farley (who died at the same age as Belushi, 33). The Elvis of alt-comedy, Bill Hicks, often made drug legalization a central theme of his act, and Mr. Show sketch-comedy legend David Cross achieved big-name success while consuming Herculean amounts of drugs and alcohol.

Yet this wasn't just a rehash of '60s hedonism: These comics were committed to breaking down the whole machine and starting again. Eddie Izzard could come out as a transvestite, yet do an entire act about world history; Jon Stewart could do a satirical news program, yet make it concise and earnest enough to be seen as a legitimate news source.

The first spark of what would become Denver's alternative-comedy scene ignited in a bar on — where else? — this city's meanest, dirtiest, most culturally rich and diverse street, Colfax Avenue. "The whole thing started at the Lion's Lair with Troy Baxley's open mic," recalls local comedian Jim Hickox. "This was about nine or ten years ago. Comedians would go to Comedy Works and kill — but that was easy as falling off a log. At the Lion's Lair, where everyone hates you, we learned what comedy was all about real fast. We had to work that much harder to win them over. We learned how to be playful with all these bellicose people who didn't want to listen to us. And when everything took off with Greg [Baumhauer] and his open mic at the Squire, we had to step up our game. Everyone gravitated there, and that's where we had to learn to deal with hecklers and have good material — because these Denver comedy fans are really smart."

"In the beginning, I didn't get it," says Wende Curtis, who started out as a waitress at Comedy Works soon after it opened in 1981, then became its owner. "I really thought, with some of the comics I was seeing, that 'alternative' was another word for 'bad.' I just didn't see a punchline. But that was my own naiveté; it's really grown on me." Traditional venues often warn comics to keep it clean, and Curtis theorizes that "out of any place where there are a lot of don'ts — like a household that has strict rules about watching TV and being to bed on time — there's going to be good stuff coming out of breaking the rules."

The scene quickly expanded beyond Colfax, with comics Andrew Orvedahl, Ben Kronberg and former Westword staffer Adam Cayton-Holland creating a monthly show at the now-defunct Orange Cat on Larimer Street. "Back then, that neighborhood was very different," recalls Cayton-Holland. "There was no Meadowlark, there was no Casselman's. There was nothing up there; it was dangerous. But the space was very cool, so walking into that place, you were like, 'I feel like I'm in on a secret just being here.' It was like a punk show. There was no bar. It was like an 'Our parents are away — house party!' kind of vibe."

"When there's no one above you, there's no booker or anything, you can kind of just say whatever you want," says Orvedahl. "You would think at Comedy Works the audience is pretty progressive, but I'll do a joke lightly making fun of Jesus, and people have walked out and complained. You would think a city audience would be cool about that, but a lot of the time they aren't. But at Orange Cat, I always felt like I could say anything. That crowd was my peer group."

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My routines come out of total unhappiness. My audiences are my group therapy. — Joan Rivers

By early 2004, Ben Roy had started dabbling in standup comedy himself, entering a Comedy Works new-talent night at the urging of his wife's co-workers. His years of performing music gave Roy a confident stage presence to match his animated personality, impressing one Comedy Works manager so much that he snuck Roy into a professional contest a few months later, when he came in second behind Josh Blue, a local comic who was starting to hit nationally by putting the "cerebral" in cerebral palsy.

Roy met Cayton-Holland and Orvedahl when all three were in the infancy of their standup careers, and they instantly bonded as friends while also challenging each other as artists. "When they first start, most comics are awful," says Cayton-Holland. "But Ben clearly had something going for him. Even in those early days, he was really talented."

"The first time I saw him, I was like, 'Wow, this guy is definitely not joking around,'" remembers T.J. Miller, a Denver native who has gone on to achieve large success with his own Comedy Central show and assorted Hollywood films. "I remember thinking, 'Oh, great, another guy covered in tattoos, entering comedy just to bitch about everything, wanting to be the next Bill Hicks.' But then as I listened to him, I was like, 'Wow, he's really funny.' He has a different cadence to how he delivers material."

"I was sitting and watching in awe," recalls local comic Kevin O'Brien. "His material and energy blew me away. All of the comics on the show watched Ben, and we were loving every minute of his set. He had just gotten back from seeing his family in Maine, so everything felt very raw. He unleashed this ten-minute bit about how you should move away from your family and craft your own identity. At the end he had an analogy about when cells in the body clump together like families, they create a tumor, and that essentially family can be a cancer. When he finished, I remember thinking that Ben could do a one-man show in a theater with honest, insightful and hilarious material like that."

But quick success and heavy drinking made for a dangerous combination. "All that went to my head," remembers Roy. "I became an awful person. If you have someone with a damaged ego and then you soak it in success, it becomes this fat, ugly blob. I became an awful person and did shitty things."

Roy was still suffering from anxiety attacks and depression, and he used alcohol to self-medicate. His night would often begin with a few beers before he left the house, and when he was out with friends at a bar or a comedy club before a show, someone would inevitably order him a shot of whiskey, which would be followed by several more beers and shots. Over the course of a night, Roy would consume, on average, about four or five shots and ten to fourteen beers. But he could still perform.

"Ben's the type of comic that could be on heroin and would still show up and deliver interesting, intelligent stuff," Cayton-Holland says.

There were signs that Roy's lifestyle was getting in the way of his new life, though. "Chuck Roy and Josh Blue used to have a show called 'Bobo and Blue,' and one night Chuck was like, 'Let's let the new guy host, and we'll get him drunk!'" Roy remembers. "And I just got annihilated on stage. There was a woman in the crowd, and I just said the most awful shit to her. It wasn't even funny — it was personal, making fun of her weight. Real shitty. Crowds don't like to see someone, even if it's a novelty, wasted on stage."

Blackouts were becoming frequent, with Roy waking up in odd positions on his living-room sofa, half naked and unsure how he got there. "You ever have to check your online bank statement in the morning to find out all the different places you went the night before?" Roy asked while performing at Red Rocks in 2010. "You're like, 'Holy shit, I was at nine different bars last night! I was at a 24 Hour Fitness at 3:30 in the morning! I took a fucking spin class?'"

On his 2012 comedy album, I Got Demons, Roy recounts a night of murky excess, this one ending with him waking up in a jail cell: "Waking up in jail out of a blackout and having no idea how you got there is like your drunk self getting your sober self a present. Except when you open it up, inside it's a badger." After being brought before the judge and pleading not guilty to charges of disturbing the peace and assault, Roy feels home free, until the "Harvard-educated" judge recites a transcript of the defendant's un-remembered exploits: "Mr. Roy, you told officer Garcia at 1:41 a.m. on Market Street that you would 'fuckstart her face if she didn't shut her yapper.'"

In March 2005, Roy became a father when Allen gave birth to their son, Milo. Three years later, Allen left her job at Comedy Works to start her own photography business, and the two were married soon after. While Roy was financially secure, having landed a new job as a sales rep for Netquote, he was still drinking heavily, and his emotions and behavior could spin out of control into unpredictable realms of either vulnerability and affection or explosive rage and intense criticism.

One day he was walking through an airport terminal in Reno, on his way to a gig, when he collapsed with chest pains and heart palpitations. Diagnosing him with a panic disorder, Roy's doctor offered him a prescription for Xanax to take the edge off. Roy's response became another bit on his comedy album. "Take the edge off? What are you, my coke dealer?" he asks, then adds that since one of the drug's side effects can include erectile dysfunction, he did some research and learned that cardio exercise can be used to treat a panic disorder. With this new information, he confronts his doctor, asking why he hadn't recommended jogging in the first place. "Well, I didn't think you'd do it," the doctor says, to which Roy responds, "Doc, I'm a 32-year-old male — if you tell me you're going to give me something that will make my dick stop working, I'll run anywhere you fucking want me to! You can have my car keys, because I'm running home right now!"

Soon Roy was running eight miles a day during his lunch breaks, for a total of fifty miles a week. Today he weighs ninety pounds less than he did before he took up jogging. "I never exercised when I was a kid, because I never wanted to be a jock," Roy says, while keeping a steady trot around City Park. "I didn't want that stigma of being a meathead. But then I asked myself, 'Why am I letting the jocks take all the good stuff?' It's in our nature. Look at all the workout regimens — they simulate labor. We're like horses — we're happiest when we're moving a lot."

Roy's routine does include some meathead sentiments, though, the journalist running behind points out, including macho phrases like "Man up" and "Don't be a pussy."

"Yeah, there's probably some truth to that," he responds. "You don't hate what you don't have a passion about. In the end, we are what we hate most."

******

When humor can be made to alternate with melancholy, one has a success. But when the same things are funny and melancholic at the same time, it's just wonderful. — François Truffaut

About a year into his marriage, Roy began to get a sense of what a negative impact drinking was having on his behavior.

Allen had realized it long before. Shortly after Milo was born, Roy cheated on her one night while he was at a gig in Wyoming, an event he often brings up as one of the lowest points in their relationship. "Everybody wanted me to leave," she remembers. "And I considered it a few times. He would say these awful things to me [when drunk], and they would stick with me. And the next day I'd feel horrible, and he wouldn't remember what he said. Then gradually he would go back to the normal Ben that I love, and that's the person I stuck around for."

All this reached a boiling point on May 23, 2010, when the couple attended a dinner party with Allen's sister and her boyfriend. A small argument between Roy and the boyfriend escalated, with the fight briefly becoming physical before Roy stormed off. When Allen eventually returned home, she found her husband guzzling down glass after glass of straight vodka. "He started yelling in my face," she says. She wanted to walk out of the house, but her husband wouldn't let her. Roy pinned her down on the couch and was shouting angry, vodka-fumed words in her face when they suddenly noticed Milo standing in the doorway, awakened by the noise. "It was horrible," Allen remembers. "Milo was old enough to know what was going on. I basically told Ben I was done."

After spending the night with Hickox, a longtime friend and comedy collaborator, Roy called his wife the next morning, apologizing and promising to go into a treatment program. The program didn't last long — "It was near brainwashing, just garbage; a bunch of people who didn't want to be there. I found it be more negative than helpful," Roy says — but he and Allen went through a year of intense therapy, strengthening their marriage and working on the emotional issues that had been driving Roy to drink.

"I didn't stop drinking for comedy," Roy says. "There was a real fear that I was leaving a large, unhealthy impact on my son. Not that I don't think comedy isn't worth quitting drinking for."

Even though Roy didn't quit drinking for comedy, his changed demeanor on stage wasn't lost on his standup colleagues. "He was funny before, but he was unpredictable," remembers Orvedahl. "You never knew if you were getting red-hot Ben or drunk, unintelligibly angry Ben. Then I went away to L.A. for two years, and when I came back, he'd done the biggest 180 I've ever seen anyone do, in comedy or in life. He used to take his anger out on the audience, assaulting them, and now they're coming along with him on his rants. And it's electric. He's still powerful and angry on stage, but he's also being vulnerable, because he'll share personal things about his drinking or his sex life. So when you're in the audience, you feel like you're getting this honest, genuine experience."

A standup comedian will typically fall into one of two archetypes: You're either playing the villain, being a bombastic, powerfully insulting, politically incorrect maniac (Don Rickles, Lisa Lampanelli), or you're the self-deprecating loser who can't get a date and will probably die sexless and alone (Jon Stewart, Louis C.K.). But Roy has found a way to embody both of these archetypes, displaying his vulnerability by confessing his inferiority complexes while still retaining a powerful confidence that drives him to criticize social issues and cultural trends.

"People will hit him up on Facebook, confessing to him that they drink too much, asking him for advice," says Cayton-Holland. "Since he's doing so well and he's vocal about it, people come to him like a messiah. And he'll tell them, 'I don't know what the fuck I'm doing. Every day is a struggle for me.' I think that's why his comedy continues to work. He's not like, 'I'm sober, and you should be, too!' He's like, 'I'm sober, and every day is a nightmare!'"

"Oh, I love vodka," Roy said one night at last summer's Laugh Track Comedy Festival in Denver. "But I can't drink vodka anymore. That shit's the key that opens up the door to where I keep all my baggage. I don't know why comedians always talk about alcoholism like it's wicked fun. They're always like, 'Yo, you ever been so wasted...?' and then cue fun party story. They never follow it up with real alcoholic shit. They never say, 'Yo, you ever been so wasted that when you go to the bathroom in the morning there be blood in the bowl?' Or 'Yo, you ever been so wasted you go home and push the couch in front of the door so your wife and your five-year-old kid can't leave the apartment?'

"But also, everyone wants to paint sobriety like it's this grand fucking thing," he went on. "I'm sober and I'm still one miserable motherfucker. Some people have found enlightenment, but that's because their lives were a cup of diarrhea, so anything that isn't huffing trucker cock in the handicap stall of a Stuckey's for Klonopin seems like an enlightening experience.... But for most of us, when we stop drinking, we think we're going to feel better. But nope, all you did was take the liquid earmuffs off, and now your demons are way fucking louder. They're like, 'Really, you're wearing tight pants at 33, you know your Dad had a house at 27?' My inner dialogue is so much fucking louder now, it's ridiculous. I hate what I'm saying to you right now. How the fuck is that possible? Every time I go to write a joke on a piece of paper, it's like me putting on a record, spinning my favorite self-hating classics. Like this one: 'Everything You Write Is Shit,' by Shame-Shame and the Go-Nowheres. Being sober is not the answer."

After performing together for a few years, Roy, Cayton-Holland and Orvedahl formed the Grawlix, a comedy team that hosts shows at the Bug Theatre. Every month, they present a new installment in their comedy short-film series, along with performances by a variety of local and national standup talents. Last June, Amazon gave $50,000 to the Grawlix to film a pilot for a new TV series written by and starring the trio. Titled Those Who Can't, the series takes place in a Denver school, with three inept teachers played by Orvedahl (the lovably dim-witted gym teacher), Cayton-Holland (the more collected yet equally frustrated and susceptibly cynical straight man) and Roy (the idealistic, emotionally unpredictable history teacher). In the pilot, Roy locks his students in the classroom, role-playing the labor struggles of the Industrial Revolution by not allowing bathroom breaks, putting one student, "Boss Man," with all the money and comfort at one end of the room, and placing the other children in the opposite cramped, hot corner, a sign reading "Working Man" hanging above their heads.

Apart from the meteoric success of the Grawlix, Roy has been on his own fast trajectory, signing his standup career over to Apostle Management, the company founded by Denis Leary and Jim Serpico. In the summer of 2010, just two months after he stopped drinking, he performed in the "New Faces" division of the Montreal Just for Laughs Comedy Festival — the comedy equivalent of Coachella or Lollapalooza. He's currently pitching a pilot for a TV drama he's written, this one about a high-school addictions counselor in central Maine who works with troubled teens. There's also his podcast, Voiceless. And his latest band, Spells. And the running.

And his son. Even in his drinking days, Roy was a good father, his friends say. "That kid doesn't have a father, that kid has Ben Roy," says Hickox. "Watching him with Milo is heartwarming. You can see his tenderness; it's just spilling out of him. He's very dedicated."

"He's always been an awesome father," says Allen. "He rarely drank around Milo — only a few times when he came home late at night, and then it would be an issue. He is so great with him. They're both taking martial-arts classes right now, and it's the cutest thing. He does more things with him than I do. He teaches him how to box, takes him to the art museum and the park. They have a really great relationship."

As dedicated as Roy is to raising his son, he maintains that being a parent isn't the time-consuming, soul-destroying affair that many people make it out to be, saying he finds plenty of time to write and perform comedy while maintaining a close relationship with Milo. "After they get past a certain age, being a parent isn't that hard," he explains. "It's an emotionally difficult job, but I think parents like to overstate how hard the job is. They use it to justify the other aspects of their lives that they're letting go. They let their bodies go, their relationships go. Your kid is owed seeing you successful and happy. Give them something to strive for. Don't be a fucking lump on a couch. Don't live for your kids; let your kids live for you. Your kids should want to be like you."

Who wouldn't want to be like Ben Roy these days? Since July 2010, he's been a full-time comedian, making a good enough living to support his family. He hasn't had a drop of alcohol in almost three years.

And yet Roy is not completely satisfied. While the journalist who just huffed and stumbled his way around City Park feels ready for a two-week nap, Ben Roy continues talking and moving, commenting on his new life of sober anxiety, contrasting it with his old life of ignorant euphoria. These thoughts will often reach their zenith on stage.

"I've found that a little bit of unhappiness is really fucking motivating," Roy says in one routine. "You should be unhappy, you should be a touch miserable. That's why so much great shit comes out of Detroit. Have you ever heard of anything awesome coming out of Palm Beach, Florida, the wealthiest city in America? It's all right to be miserable. If you do too many drugs and drink too much alcohol in order to numb yourself, you're being a pussy. Sometimes the voices in your head are right."

Josiah Hesse

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