There was a moment onstage tonight when you almost forgot what came next and had to reorient yourself. Do you ever just get fully lost?
You have a very loud clock ticking in your head. Sometimes I get disjointed and it's great. I get outside of the act and I'm able to just talk, and that feels good. Sometimes you get outside of your act and there's nothing there, there's no other thoughts, and you just go, "Tick, tick." Then your brain supplies you with whatever it wants, and if you're greased up enough and oiled up from a long tour, like I am, you probably get the next bit. But if you haven't been onstage for a while and your act's kind of disjointed, sometimes it will give you an old bit or something that you're like, "I should not be doing that."
Early in your career, did you have moments when you froze?
When you start out and you're doing four shows a night in the clubs to make a living, and because you're hungry, a thing that happens to a lot of comedians is you'll repeat a joke. Or you just go, "Uh, anyway, that's crazy ." A lot of terrible things have happened to me onstage.
What are some of the worst?
Once, when I was probably 19, I was opening for Anthony Clark, from Yes, Dear, and at the time, in Boston, he was a huge comic. Everybody in Boston loved him, and he killed every night. So I went and did a show with him in New Hampshire at some Holiday Inn, and he asked me to get high with him before the show. So I smoked a joint with him. It was really, really powerful, and I hadn't been high in a long, long time, and then he said, "I need to jump on first, because I have another show to do." I had no ability to follow Anthony. He goes on and just fucking destroys for 40 minutes, and then I go onstage. I'm superstoned, and I'm looking at the audience, and the way I remember it, I talked, and they stared at me. I don't know what was coming out of my mouth, but people looked really upset at what was going on. I didn't get a single laugh; I don't think I did more than five minutes. All I could think of was my car in the parking lot: "I have to get in that car, and I have to get away from this building really quickly." I started looking around for the door, and I saw where the manager was staring at me, and I just fucking walked of the stage. Nobody applauded – that's how bad it was. I got the fuck out of there. That was bad.
Doing shows and only five people are there and you have to do an hour; living in Winnipeg for two weeks in the dead of winter. Miserable life. Doing gigs in Buffalo and Niagara Falls, where folks are talking and not that interested in what you're doing, and you just feel like an asshole. You're just trying to survive the moment, so those were tough days.
Do you think you needed all those years and failures to become great?
Yeah, all the tools I have come from those years. There's nothing elusive or ethereal about it; it's very practical and directly related. I learned how to avoid a huge amount of pitfalls by walking into them and surviving. Then two things happen as you go along. The first thing that happens is your best gets better, but what really matters is when your worst gets better. You can't always be crackling with energy. Sometimes you go up there, and the thing didn't happen, but you've got to put together a fucking amazing show anyway, so your worst show has to be above everybody's best – that's what you really want. So your worst, that comes with time, that comes with experience.
A lot of people dream of overnight success, rather than slogging it out for 20 years and gradually improving a craft.
It's understandable for people to want all their favorite things to happen, but the crazy thing is to think that they can avoid all of the hard things. To want everything that you ever dreamed of, to the exclusion of anything hard, that feels common to me now in a way that is hurting people. They're ignoring how much good there is in being present for the hardest parts of your life. I wouldn't trade those years for anything. I loved all that time; it was hard and I suffered. Times where you're like, "I think it's over, and I'm in too deep to start anything else." There are really scary moments in a showbiz career, but it's so great that they got to happen. It's a very unforgiving field; it doesn't say goodbye nicely, and there's no one there to keep you going – it's all you. But if you survived that time, that's always there.
Would you keep doing it if you found yourself playing smaller venues again?
I don't need to be this success I've been for the last few years for this to be good for me. I just love doing it, it's a thing that I generate, this stuff, and I love to communicate it, so I would be OK if it levels down, and it will. If I cruise to a Steven Wright altitude, that's pretty fucking great. That's what I wanted when I started. If I needed this level of fame, I'm in trouble. I don't really want to be generally famous.
I was struck by interviews while you were making your long-vanished HBO series, "Lucky Louie," where you were imagining 10 seasons of it.
Yeah, for sure, I dreamed about it. I never buy lottery tickets, because if I buy them, I start thinking I'm going to win. But it doesn't hurt me to fantasize and then have things not work out. Like when I just got nominated for a Golden Globe. I knew I had a very slim chance, and I thought, "So, I'm going to really hope I win." I got to live the feeling of winning, because I was very close – I was one in five. The second they're saying the names, everything, you get this totally uncontrollable rush. Then in the next second, it's like I'm watching Don Cheadle cum in the woman I was just fucking. I pulled out and he's cumming in her [laughs]. And he's got this rosy "Oh, my God!" Then the next thought is, "I am so fucking glad that Don won that," because he's an actor. I'm not an actor; I'm self-employed. He could win a pile of those and still be really struggling. I mean, Kevin Costner was at my table, and he was like [forlorn voice], "I hope I win." The last thing in the fucking world I need is a Golden Globe, Jesus Christ.
You once told Howard Stern a story about an encounter with a crack whore who attempted to murder you.
Was that the most shameful orgasm of your life?
Oh, I definitely have had worse than that, shamewise. That was probably the most dangerous one I ever had. I do want to correct that: "Crack whore" were not my words. I don't think there's anything meaner you could call somebody. "Whore" is a really mean word for a prostitute; it's the derogative. I made no judgment on that woman. She was just doing what she had to to supply her crack habit, but that doesn't make her a crack whore.
The part where she teamed up with a dude to try and kill you, maybe you can judge her on that.
I can judge her on it, but not as "whore." That was just rude.
Your work makes it seem like you find all orgasms shameful.
No, that's definitely not true. I used to when I was younger, but you kind of outgrow that. You get to a point where, when you have that moment, you're like, "I'm entitled to this, I earned it."
You described a time of being newly single, and you said there was some "young, good pussy" for you, but you soon realized you didn't want to sleep around. How long did that take?
A few months. It was a little while that it was just sort of casual sex without much else going on. The thing is, you get to the point where you realize, "I'm waking up with these people; this is really intimate." That's a big commitment to a person I don't know. When you're younger, you don't think of it that way, but when you get older, you're like, "This person is in my bed; this is my bed. This is a pretty private place, and they're here and I know nothing about them. Why is that happening?"
There's a George Carlin quote, "The women who line up at a comic's dressing-room door are not what you'd call your class groupies," and he compares the situation to "watching an animal trainer and then wanting to fuck the chimp."
Yeah, that sounds true. But I don't know who was showing up to dressing rooms. I've never had a woman show up to my dressing room in 30 years. So I think he was lucky to be getting those chimp-fuckers. Where's my chimp-fucker?
You've said you learned in therapy that your compulsive behavior – eating, sex – is just self-medicating your anxiety. Does having that insight help?
Oh, definitely. Once you say that to yourself, "Oh, this is anxiety," you get to say to yourself, "Why am I anxious?" because when something's bothering you, you don't name it, you just start eating something. I'm still going to eat the two Twinkies, but when I start opening the second package, I say to myself, "What's going on, buddy?" That will get me to two Twinkies instead of eight.
Have you, as you suggest in your act, given up on reaching any ideal weight?
I've never cared what the shape of my body is, in terms of what it looks like. I do think that, at 45, there's no way I'm going to get to some trim place. I don't care. I want to be able to move around, that's all, and I am concerned about having too many fat cells, because it means my heart's working harder. I don't give a shit what I look like – it's nothing to me.
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