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Mishka Shubaly Dives Into the Darkness, With a Laugh

Mishka Shubaly's music was described by comedian Doug Stanhope as "being for anyone who considers suicide at happy hour."EXPAND
Mishka Shubaly's music was described by comedian Doug Stanhope as "being for anyone who considers suicide at happy hour."
Leslie Hassler

Singer-songwriter and comedian Miskha Shubaly celebrated ten years of sobriety this spring, but when he first quit drinking, he didn’t write any songs or play out for five years.

“I was both afraid of my old material and afraid of being a fraud, endorsing a product I no longer use,” Shabaly says. “Finally, I was like, fuck it — these songs don't own me, I own them. I walked every mile of that road, I suffered every step, and I have the scars to prove it.”

Shubaly has, in addition to battling addiction, survived a 1992 mass shooting at Bard College at Simon's Rock. He was quoted in a New York Times article calling the shooter, with whom he was on the basketball team, and his punk-rocker friends "elitist."

The 42-year-old Shubaly is bringing his music — Comedian Doug Stanhope described it as "being for anyone who has considered suicide at happy hour" — through Colorado, including three stops in the Denver area. Shubaly has a history with the state. He says he wrote his first "hit" in a Charles Bukowski-like flophouse off of Colfax Avenue, and he also studied writing at the University of Colorado at Boulder under renowned writer Lucia Berlin for a few years in the ’90s.

Shubaly, currently of Phoenix, has recorded albums, written six best-selling Kindle Singles available on Amazon and had an introduction to a piece on distance running written by none other than Jeff Bezos. He edited a memoir for Mark Lanegan, of Screaming Trees fame, that will be published next spring, and teaches writing at the Yale Writers' Workshop. Shubaly is currently finishing an audiobook for Audible about staying sober without the help of Alcoholics Anonymous (yes, it is possible) and working on a script for a horror movie about addiction. Oh, and Lanegan is set to produce his next record next spring.

“Jesus, I need to take some time off,” he says.

Shubaly says sobriety (he’s not opposed to eating an occasional psychedelic mushroom) has been fantastic for his writing and performing. He contends that there is an “enduring cult of inebriation, folks who believe you need to drink to be a writer, folks who believe alcohol leads you to some essential truth, folks who believe a fedora is acceptable headwear for a nineteen-year-old.”

“It's juvenile bullshit,” Shubaly says. “Townes Van Zandt, Jean Rhys, Fred Exley — alcohol was something that obstructed their writing, not facilitated it. And each of them died horrible, torturous, degrading deaths. They wrote despite their drinking, not because of it.”

He says people have compared his music to that of John Prine, Leonard Cohen and Todd Snider, though he believes those people are being too kind. Stanhope, Shubaly says, has been a tireless champion of his music, which led to comedy bookings. His set mixes music and standup, and he wades into some dark, albeit very funny territory.

During his upcoming shows, he says, audiences can expect “comedy staples” like “pornography, suicide, stories about my mom, dick jokes, dick jokes about my mom, the horror show of human frailty my body is becoming in my forties, life on the road, coffee, guacamole. The classics. And a bunch of new songs.”

He says he finds himself both older and more successful than he ever imagined getting without actually being old or successful, so he worries a lot about that on stage.

“Most of my old friends are married with kids and careers, and I'm still living out of cars and travel plazas and stabby motels," he says. "They look at me with a mixture of envy and pity, trying to figure out if I've built a lasting meaningful adventure or I'm just unable to grow up and [am] addicted to the road.”

He’s currently on the road for ten shows with comedian Jake Flores.

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"I really admire Jake. He's a genuine intellectual, a committed leftist, a brilliant comic and one bindle short of a cartoon hobo," Shubaly says. "He's like a cross between Watchmen's Rorschach and Droopy Dog."

Flores made news last year when he said that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided his Brooklyn apartment because of some jokes he made online about white people being able to earn points applicable toward bad Cinco de Mayo behavior if they killed ICE agents. Shubaly says he was delighted by the ICE raid, because "you can't buy tour press like that."

Shubaly will perform at a free show at 8 p.m. Wednesday, September 18, at Charlie Foxtrot: Comedy at Stanley Marketplace, 2501 Dallas Street in Aurora. He'll also appear at another free show at 8 p.m. September 19, at the Barnhouse Tap, 4361 South Broadway, in Englewood. He's wrap up his Denver stand with a DIY show at a secret location on September 21. Tickets are $10 and available at eventbrite.com. For more information, visit mishkashubaly.com.

Correction, September 16, 2019: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect date for the Barnhouse Tap show.

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