Mark Lundholm and Kurt Matthews, aka The Addicts, have built comedy careers by making their respective recovery processes not only relatable, but funny. No, it wasn’t funny when Matthews got in a drunk-driving accident in 1984 and almost killed himself and the girls in the other car. Losing relationships and being arrested wasn’t necessarily funny, either. But both Lundholm and Matthews recognize the humor in their flaws. “The insanity is funny,” says Lundholm.
The Addicts have been on the road, bringing awareness to addiction recovery through their standup comedy, and will stop at the Denver Improv Comedy Club on Monday, November 14. Ahead of that show, we caught up with Lundholm and Matthews to talk about addiction, recovery, how they keep their material fresh, and how they stay sober on the road.
Westword: What’s funny about addiction?
Mark Lundholm: The act of addiction is rarely funny, but you take a couple of steps back and time off. There’s certain behavior that I, an addict, can get away with. If I do a little I’m okay, or if no one finds out, I’m not guilty.
Kurt Matthews: What’s not hilarious? I’m kidding. Both Mark and I are alcoholic/drug addicts. I believe that in every comedian, there’s something wrong. Normal people aren’t standup comics. The difference between what you may see at a mainstream comedy show and ours is, we’re leading drug addicts and alcoholics. We’re not doing a 4/20 show. But there’s no lecture in our show. We’re just like, hey, here’s who we are, here’s the stupid stuff we did, hope you don’t go to jail as much as we did, oh, and tip the waitress. It’s about having the ability to laugh at your own behavior and all be together in the same room.
Addiction speak, if you will, can be a little rote. Everyone knows the line "I’m so and so, and I’m an alcoholic." So how do you keep your comedy routines fresh?
Matthews: We’re not doing a meeting, we’re doing a comedy show. Personally, I will tell you I’m in recovery, but I’m not going to tell you I’m going to programs, because those are anonymous. It’s a standup show, but the predominant topic is ourselves, which means a lot of self-deprecating humor as well as our recovery. We make fun of some of the stuff that’s rote. I think it’s funny that no one can pronounce "anonymity," ever.
Lundholm: There’s a saying around recovery circles that you either have to evolve or dissolve. I don’t want to do the second one, so I have to do the first one. If you’re looking toward evolution, why can’t you have new language at every meeting? You need new language to describe an old process. That’s why comedians get paid. That’s why I don’t need to be funny in a meeting. We make fun of insanity or outcomes without making fun of individuals.
Where and how did you two meet?
Matthews: I started doing comedy in 1984 in L.A. That was also when I took my last drink and used. So I focused on my comedy career. I needed some outside stimulation to what it was that I was doing, some acceptance. I came from my own broken background. I came from a functional family, but I was also the drug addict in the family. The attention I got from making people laugh made me feel a part of something. I think I couldn’t tell myself I was a worthwhile person; I needed people to clap at me when I stood up. Now I do comedy because I want to. Mark and I pick our schedules.
About 25 or 26 years ago, I was doing a one-nighter. The opening act was Mark. We started talking, and I realized, this guy’s intense and different but also in recovery. Since then, both he and I ruined marriages, and he had kids. I moved out to San Francisco and he moved to San Jose. We decided back in 2009 that we’d put together a theater show –- a comedy addiction show -– with some other recovering comics. But we thought it was a little too theatrical, so we stripped it down and said, let’s go to comedy clubs.
Lundholm: It was no accident that we met. It was really universally connected and kismet. All connections are, if you pay attention. That’s a personal opinion.
Touring is notorious for sending performers into a downward spiral of addiction. How do you maintain your sobriety?
Lundholm: By being drunk.
Matthews: I’m committed to my sobriety because I remember what it was like when I was out using. My whole career I’ve been sober. I was never in a bar and thought, that looks fun. My last night was a drunk-driving accident. I almost killed myself and the car of girls next to me. The State of California told me I couldn’t drink anymore. I just go from A to Z. Immediately, bad things happen.
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Here’s what I did today, a typical day. I went shopping, because I’m an old guy and I always like underwear and socks. We got some Steak 'n Shake, slept in, got coffee. I have to admit, Mark has an addiction to Dunkin' Donuts. He bought, like, a dozen. Who the hell ever eats a dozen? We did an in-patient appearance today at a rehab. We always talk at those for free. Tonight we have a gig. After this interview, Mark is probably going to take a nap. I’ll take a walk. We’re not crazy dudes. We both have relationships back home. I’m not looking to get into trouble or arrested in a strange town. Mark likes napping. I like driving and watching bad TV.
Lundholm: Are you a better performer or a better recovery person? Only one survives. If you’re a musician, you’ll end up like Prince or Amy Winehouse. You take care of yourself; otherwise, your road is short. They had a disease they weren’t paying attention to. It’s no one’s fault.
I’m a really good recovering man. I’m a kind, fair man, but that takes work. It’s not my nature. I happen to be funny as a byproduct. If you can’t remember how you got to do what you do for a living, you have to stop doing it. I don’t want to be a statistic, number 7,000,004. That’s not to say that a genius doesn’t get to thrive, but addiction loves smart people. High high equals low bottom. That’s the short answer for how we survive. One is more important than the other. Keep doing it. I don’t want to be on an obituary page because I forgot for a day that I was only funny.
The Addicts show starts at 8 p.m. Tuesday, November 15 at the Denver Improv. For more information, including where to buy tickets, visit the Addicts’ website.