An AmericasComedy.Com Interview
It took comedian Mike DeStefano awhile to transform his pain into comedy. For thirty one years he battled a tough world filled with addiction and heartbreak.
For 15 of those years he was addicted to heroin. But DeStefano, who began using at 15, attributes his heroin addiction to saving him from a life of crime on the streets.
He says he wanted to be a gangster but got into heroin at such an early age. Though he still had “connected” friends on the street, by being a heroin addict he was never trusted to conduct “family business.” A good thing too, because, as he tells Marc Maron on his popular podcast, “WTF!,” once, after he went to rehab and got straight, his friends gave him some heroin to sell. Not the smartest thing to do. In short order, the heroin was gone and so was his rehabilitation.
At the age of 31, after being clean for about a year, DeStefano was working as a drug counselor in Florida. He was depressed. His father had died the year before and his wife, also into drugs, had died of AIDS two years earlier. At a rehab pool party that had been rained out he offered to entertain the audience. It was at the very first laugh that he decided to dedicate his efforts to a career in stand-up.
Since making that positive career choice, DeStefano has been a regular in all the top clubs in New York, has appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Comedy Central’s Live at Gotham and was a feature comic at both HBO’s Aspen Comedy Festival and the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival in Montréal.
Destefano has also performed at over 100 recovery events all over the world including the World Narcotics Anonymous Convention in Atlanta, Friends of Bill and Lois in New York and many others.
Many people were introduced to DeStefano for the very first time as a top-five finalist on NBC’s Last Comic Standing Season 7. His brand of comedy is very brash and his take-no-prisoners approach and tell-it-like-it-is demeanor made people both laugh and cringe (NBC’s censors no doubt had to work overtime) while the judges and viewers all appreciated DeStefano’s ability to take subjects that aren’t funny on the surface or painful and make them funny.
Today, DeStefano is a very busy man. He recently finished a six month, 65 city countrywide tour with the Last Comic Standing finalists and has just completed production of his new one-man show Drugs, Disease and Death: A Comedy in association with Cringe Humor. The show will debut with a week of preview shows beginning on February 7, 2011 at the Producers Club Theater in New York City.
“Mike DeStefano is one of the best stand-up comedians in the world, but this show is so much more than stand-up,” says Cringe Humor, CEO Patrick Milligan. “We’ve worked with some of the biggest names in comedy but this is by far and away the most fulfilling show we’ve ever put together. I can’t wait for Mike’s fans, our fans and theatergoers to see this for themselves.”
America’s comedy.com was able to catch up with Mike by phone recently and wondered how he was doing with all of his projects.
With your new show; Drugs, Disease and Death: A Comedy, most people don’t realize that you have experienced all three in your life. Are you planning on taping the show for us non-east coast’ers?
“I’m going to tape this upcoming run of the show. It’s primarily for development of the material. I’m not only going to give people a great show but they’re going to see a process of development, but they’re not to see a polished piece. I don’t know if it’ll ever be a polished piece because that’s not how I operate. So it will be me up there telling stories, being as honest as I can.”
Once you have the material all developed, what are you going to do with it? Are you going to take it on tour?
“Oh, I have no idea where it’s going to end up. I did this [one man show] two years ago and I had to stop because it was too painful. But now, I’m in a different place. I’m going to approach it little bit differently so I can do it for a long period of time. But you never know what’s going to happen. I have no plans, because plans are kind of a waste of time for me.”
So Mike, are you happy?
“Yeah, I’m happy. Happiness to me is knowing what your purpose is in the world and being committed to doing it. It’s miserable at times, scary at times, but at least I know who I am [and] what I’m here for. That’s happiness to me. Whether I’m fucking smiling or not, I’m still happy.”
So, happiness isn’t just the lack of pain?
“No happiness isn’t a lack of pain because life is fucking painful. I’m just know I’m here, alive, and knowing I have a purpose that I feel is meaningful to me.”
Even though you talk a mean game, people say you are a softy inside. How would you answer that?
“Yeah, I’m a pretty sweet guy. But, I think some people have a right to be afraid of me in terms of what I could do to them physically if they tried to hurt me, you know, physically. I’m very dangerous in that way but I am not interested in fighting with anyone or being a tough guy. Although I do have a reservoir of ‘that stuff’ in me that just don’t go away.”
You are always talking about pain, stupidity and hypocrisy, yet you’re always rising up for the underdog. What’s up with that?
“I never, ever want to hurt people’s feelings because of their condition or disability. I try not to come from a place of cruelty. Anytime I bring up [topics like] gay, fat or anything that’s an issue in life, the bottom line is I want to uplift people. I’m not interested in hurting people.
I can’t stand comics that make fun of retarded people, as they got no heart, they got no real balls. I’m sure I did that in the beginning of my career when I was trying to find the right words, but it was never meant to come off as cruel. The motive was to get a bit that was smart and gets into the heart of an issue and gives the person dignity at the end.”
You say whatever you want and you say it however you want to. Do you ever worry about going too far and having the public turn on you?
“I worry a lot and I think everybody worries. When someone says ‘I don’t care what anyone thinks of me,’ that’s bullshit. We’re all human and we all want everyone to love us. But, I don’t need their approval enough to sell myself out. I want people’s approval, but I don’t need it.
Here’s a quote from my book. ‘Less people like me more when I be myself.’ That’s my philosophy, the people who like me, fucking love me. I get e-mails that are not just about my jokes, it’s about something really meaningful from my material. It’s from the heart.”
You really connect at a deep level with some people. Others, not so much. How do you address your critics?
“I don’t pay attention to negativity about myself. I don’t read blogs and I don’t search Google for myself. I really don’t. When I see something good, I get really excited. Then, if I see something bad, I get really depressed. So, I’d rather just stay in the middle and realize that some people are going to like me and some people aren’t. But it really doesn’t matter, this is my life and I have to live it my way.”
You are often compared to comics like Doug Stanhope who is very public about using drugs to cope with his inner demons. What do you use to cope?
“Yeah, I smoke cigarettes, I drink a lot of coffee, and I masturbate a lot but I don’t do drugs. As for my demons, a lot of them are used in my material. I really don’t have any desire to erase my pain anymore, I enjoy it, it’s kind of fun and that’s where all the good stuff is, it’s in the pain.
Watch this video of Mike talking about his life, his addictions. Caution: This is raw adult content and NSFW adult language.
About the Author: Steven Bloom is Founder/Publisher of AmericasComedy.Com. He is pursuing his dream of laughing every day and associating with some of the most creative people in the entertainment industry. Steven@AmericasComedy.Com