Our number one concern is Health Care for Comedians. The Heckler Fund is for emergency grants for things such as rent and child support. Long term dream is The Comedy Museum.
Hi. My name is Steven, and I’m a comedian and I lived in London, England for nearly twenty years. As a resident of the UK, I have National Health Care. Given to me by my Queen.
The interesting thing is that my NI number (National Health card number) is the same as my employment number in the UK. In other words, imagine if the Social Security number we have here in America for employment and tax filing ALSO gave us health care. Is it Socialist? Not anymore than the government taking money from us to finance foreign war. (Actually, that’s fascist.)
MY PERSONAL JOURNEY:
I had a million dollar home in London, England, where I had a solid stand-up, acting, and voice-over career. That’s all gone now. These last couple of years has been a very rough ride for most of us, for sure. But for me, I have a different story to tell. A story of reaching great heights and falling very very far down.
After 5 years of being a Regular Comedian at The Comedy Store in Hollywood, having a great time, making ‘em laugh, but not getting anywhere career-wise, I went up on stage and announced that I was, “leaving Showbiz and that tonight was my last show.” Although I truly meant it at that moment, something magical happened. Suddenly, no longer feeling the pressure to be funny all the time, I was funny. So, I decided to come back the next night and do another “farewell performance.
America was going through “Twelve-Step Fever” with every celebrity coming out on Oprah saying they were addicted to this, addicted to that. I read a great book by Norman Cousins, “Anatomy of an Illness,” in which the U.C.L.A. Adjunct Professor told how he healed himself back from a severe collagen condition with “large doses of Vitamin C and Laughter Therapy”.
In my book, “Confessions of a Show-Biz Junkie,” Cousins confirmed my theory that if laughter can get you “high,” then it can also be addictive. I would close the stand-up act by bringing out a prop pistol, putting it to my head and threatening to pull the trigger. In the end, I would just point it at the loudest heckler.
5,000 “farewell performances” and 16 years later, I moved to London, England, where I became a full time working comedian for the first time in my life and known as “that American comedian who ‘tops himself’ (kills himself) at the end of every show. Wanting to help people with real addictions, and seeing a way to bring over some of my American counter-parts, I created High On Laughter.”
On September 8, 2002, I produced what was to be one of the most talked about comedy shows ever in London’s West End. High On Laughter is a comedy charity show I created which benefits Turning Point Scotland, a drug and alcohol charity launched by Princess Diana. I had produced the first HOL in 2000 at the 900-seat Queen’s Hall at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For that show we had George Wendt doing improv with improv troupe Off the Wall, American comedians Rick Right and Zach Galifianakis. Plus Neil Mullarkey (formerly partnered with Mike Myers), the wonderfully surreal Shelagh Martin, Aussie sensation Julia Morris, plus house band Ronnie and the Rex.
The next year (2001) HOL II was held at the 3,300 seat Edinburgh Playhouse, 15 US & UK comedians. It was a great success. Then, finally, in 2002, I brought the show to the London Palladium. 12 British and American comedians and Jerry Lewis. Yes. Jerry Lewis. The great comedy legend. “Unfortunately Jerry got ill and never went on.” What really happened backstage (and in the two month lead-up to the event) is a long story, and became a critically acclaimed one-man show entitled, “I Eat People Like YOU for Breakfast!,” a show about redemption and the true meaning of being a comedian.
I believe in the connection between creativity and addictions. In my unpublished book, Confessions of a Show-Biz Junkie, I interviewed famous comedians Steve Allen, Alan King and others, as well as Norman Cousins, whose book Anatomy of an Illness told the tale of how he healed himself back from a collagen condition by “Large doses of Vitamin C and Laughter Therapy.” I was reaching, but Cousin’s more than confirmed my theory that if laughter can be healing, that it can also be addictive. I believe and still believe in the cause of High On Laughter.
I knew early on that British comedy was starting to make its way across the Pond to America. When I lived in London, I did a gig with Russell Brand before he was famous, had drinks with Rickie Gervais (who came to the Palladium show), and shared tea with Eddie Izzard. I saw how great the audiences and comedians were in England. I wanted to share that with my American counterparts, and I did.
My keen eye for spotting American talent is quite good too. Zach Galifianakis was on my first High On Laughter in Edinburgh, Scotland in August 2000, well before he became the star he is today. I knew they’d love Zach, they did and that’s why I brought him back for the High On Laughter III show at the Palladium. HOL III was a great show, but all my money was riding on my star, Jerry Lewis. After all I was producing an international TV show.
July 2009, my home in London was repossessed. It was time to come back to LA and be with my “not feeling too well” mother and maybe start over. How naive was I….
Coming back to LA was never going to be easy. I never thought it would be, but certainly with all my accomplishments in the UK, there would be some doors open. Nope. Perhaps it was the Recession, but I could not find work. I trawled Craigslist every day. Most sales jobs were either home start-ups or ended up being scams. I went to The Comedy Store, my comedy home for ten years, and was told I would have to sign up and audition. I tried to get a voice-over agent for over two years in LA. Nobody wanted me.
Then my 1999 VW Beetle was towed by the city of LA for lack of payment for tickets and registration. I had realized I had hit bottom. That’s when I called my old Beverly Hills therapist and asked for some help. He never called me. Instead a few days later, I received in the mail and unpaid therapy bill from god knows when. Stuck in a creepy high-rise, no work, no prospects, no respect, and no hope, I announced that I was “going to jump off the building in 4 days.” I was serious and so was my family who quickly intervened. That was well over two years ago.
Since then, I’ve ridden a bicycle around Los Angeles and have lost 25lbs thank you, am back in therapy with a vengeance. (I was diagnosed with Clinical Depression.) I’m doing comedy gigs and all the stuff a comedian does. I am doing what I can to survive and, indeed, enjoy life again. More than that, I am taking advantage of my terrible personal situation. I am looking outwardly once again and applying the recent lessons I learned to what I see as a bigger problem in the community at large.
Living in the UK has really opened my eyes. There are other ways of doing things. And I do hope that just because I’m talking openly about my mental breakdown, and clinical depression, that you don’t think of me as loony or weird. I’m just a heart on his sleeve kinda guy. (my dry cleaner hates me!) My conscience dictates that I share my knowledge with others, if I think it will help.
One other thing, a lot has been made (by me mostly) about my former relationship with one of the greatest comedians of the Twentieth Century, Jerry Lewis. I considered Jerry Lewis a friend. We shares laughs and we shared tears. I really wanted to honor my friend who came to London to receive a lifetime achievement award from me. Things didn’t exactly work out too well, as many of you know.
That was nearly ten yeas ago and the reverberations of that fateful night at the London Palladium can be felt by me everyday. I’m a little obsessive, but that experience cost me a lot of money, eventually my home, then my mind and nearly my life. I’m not exaggerating. But, as I told Jerry himself in a letter last year, when I saw my name listed in his Wikepedia page under “Health Concerns,” it was like, “being the violinist on the Titanic.” In spite of all that’s happened, I do wish Jerry well and often miss our friendship. I even miss arguing with him!
HANGING UP ON JERRY LEWIS!
This is a clip from my infamous one-man show, “I Eat People Like YOU for Breakfast!” Set-up: Jerry Lewis agreed to come to London to be honored with a lifetime achievement award on a show I was producing at The London Palladium. Jerry started to reveal his dark side…And the more he did, the more I got sucked in….
Thanks for reading my personal story. I know I can be long-winded at times, but look, I’m a little crazy, yes. But, maybe I’m just crazy enough to make the dream of Health Care for Comedians and a Comedy Museum a reality. (Oh, did I mention that I’m going to be peddling my bicycle from Los Angeles 305 miles through the Mojave Desert to Las Vegas for the November 18th Laughter Foundation at the 2,000-seat Smith Center?
I want to very sincerely thank many many people for their support, particularly my therapist. But, also Kelly Carlin, Paul Provenza, Rick Overton, James Carey at the Attic Theatre and especially the lovely Liz Leshin for her undying tea and sympathy. I’m going to make this thing happen. Health Care for Comedians. A no-brainer!! What do I have to do, ride my bicycle from Los Angeles 305 miles through the Mojave Desert to Las Vegas? Hmmmm. Not a bad idea…
SICK COMEDY OK, SICK COMEDIANS NOT!