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."

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!'"

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Josiah M. Hesse
Contact: Josiah M. Hesse