Comedian Dustin David rebounds from a nihilistic year [interview]

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Dustin David is a Maine-born comedian who is living, working and performing in Los Angeles.

It's sort of too boring and convoluted a story to go into how it ended up getting set aside for so long, but this is something of a lost interview. We talked with David in March of last year—about a year and a month after he got sober. We had actually planned to talk with him about something else altogether, but for a number of reasons—again, boring and convoluted—we instead ended up focusing on the circumstances that led to his sobriety. We are glad we did, as the conversation turned out to be honest and a little raw.

David celebrated his second year of sobriety on Friday of last week.

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So you got sober a year and a month ago?

Yeah. Beginning January, 2012 through December, 2012, I was just in a rolling black out. I had a friend, Angelo Bowers, and we had been doing comedy together when I started. He was the nicest guy I knew. The greatest dude. He was diagnosed with cancer and I immediately lost faith in any idea that there could be a God or higher power or anything like that. There was just no way. There is no way that God would give this guy cancer. So just before New Year's Eve he called me up and was like, “Hey man, I beat cancer, so I am going to be moving back to LA and we can do shows again" and I was like, "Oh my God, this is the greatest thing ever.” A few days later he was killed in a car accident. A drunk driver hit and killed him.

I was like, “All bets are off.” There were no consequences and nothing mattered to me after that. I figured that anything I did was pointless and worthless. So I was selfishly getting drunk at the world. Like, “How dare you cross me?” And so I was drunk for all of 2012.

I had no regard for myself or for others. I was just horrible, just drinking. It all came to a head on New Year's Eve going into 2013. Before, I drank myself into sort of a psychosis. I thought the world was going to end at the end of 2012. 2013 was not going to happen. I had realized that for a while, I had been living like the world was going to end. I would joke about it—say it offhandedly—but secretly, I really thought it was going to happen. [Laughs] I’d tell people, “Well, 2012 is the end anyway, so we might as well party...” And they would think, “This guy is crazy.” And I was like, “But seriously…” It didn’t even dawn on me that wasn’t a possibility.

So I am in Maine for the holiday and I took my little brother out on New Year's Eve. I was just super drunk and he was not having it. He was telling me that I should chill out. I was like, "Buddy, I know how to drink. Let me show you." I am taking shots and doing all this crazy stuff and then I order two shots and I tell him to take one. He says that he’s cool and then I got super mad at him and I blacked out. That’s all I remember. He stormed off. Later he said that I told him I wanted to kill myself. He said that it was shitty—the shittiest thing he’d ever heard from somebody. He had to leave because I was out of control. He had to save himself. I get that. It was the worst because… I love my little brother! I hated myself so much that it became an outward hate. There was a void of anything. For whatever reason I thought I was the worst person in the world. And then I couldn’t stop drinking. There was a demon inside of me that needed alcohol. That’s raging alcoholism. There is no control. I couldn’t fix anything because I couldn’t stop drinking and I figured this was just how it was going to be. It became a thing where I was actively trying to push everyone away so when I finally drank myself to death, it would be easier on them. They could be like, “Fuck that guy, he was an asshole anyway.”

So in retrospect you were spiraling out of control, but you had no idea at the time?

I didn’t even know this was happening. All this shit happened on New Year's Eve and I went to a dive bar and I was drinking next to a homeless guy. I knew the bartender. The homeless guy is in the bar drinking out of a paper bag and he turned to me at one point and goes, “Buddy, I think you need to chill out.” [Laughs] I turn and say, “YOU NEED TO MIND YOUR OWN FUCKING BUSINESS.” And the bartender, who I KNEW, was like, “Get the fuck out of here.” I am on the street before midnight and apparently I called my mom to come out… I don’t remember that happening at all. I bought this bottle of champagne in this dramatic scene. I’m like, "WHY?" and it was like this scene out of the Great Gatsby and I was on the wharf and I threw the bottle and fell in a snowbank and I started sobbing. My mom picks me up and I get in the car and I am crying uncontrollably and so we go home and I pass out. Finally I wake up in 2013. I was alive. Somehow I had survived. It’s really hard to drink yourself to death. Super hard.

So I woke up and said, “I’ll never drink again.” You know? I could start over.

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So that was it?

Well, a friend picked me up and asked if I wanted to go to a bar. I told him I wasn’t drinking anymore and he said, “That’s hilarious.” So we’re hanging out and talking and we end up going to a bar and I have a beer to get rid of the hangover. You know? So then it turns into, "Well, I just won’t get drunk anymore." So I have one beer and cut to 10 that night and I am wasted. I was drinking gin and tonic and flirting with this 19-year-old girl and I am like, "OH NO WHAT HAPPENED?" And I realized I just can’t drink. I can’t just have one. I’ll just go crazy.

My mom picked me up the next day and she’s like, “If you drink like this when you come home, how do you drink in LA?” And I’m like, "No, it’s totally different," and then I thought, Wait. I’ve been drinking like this for the last 4 or 5 years. I was like, "Oh, shit. It IS like that. It’s like that a lot." Everything came screeching to a halt and a friend told me about a meeting where people who don’t drink anymore get together—that that’s where she goes. A program for recovery. I had no idea that was even such a thing. She asked me in a way where she was like, “No, I’m sure that you don’t have a problem…” Because I am sure if she was like, “It sounds like you have a problem,” I’d be like, "Fuck you, I’m fine. I’ll drink there. Fuck you. You don’t know me."

Do you miss drinking at all?

No. I told a friend of mine that we would be doing this interview and he was like, "I don’t know why; you’re so fucking boring." He said, “Is he going to ask you how you don’t do anything fun, but also not kill yourself on a daily basis? Is that why he’s interviewing you?" [Laughs]

It’s funny, I don’t derive fun out of the things I used to think were fun. Now when I look back, I think how did I ever think that shit was fun? It used to be fun for me to get crazy blackout drunk, wake up the next day, and reconcile what I did with who I am as a person. Holy shit, what? Every day I did that? God, I can’t… It’s so shitty. I have no idea how I did that. And sometimes I didn’t mean it, but I was drinking out to black out every time.

I watched Spring Breakers recently and watching that movie I was like, “Oh yeah! Remember when drinking was fun like that?” And it’s like, no, drinking was never fun like that. I know that’s not what happens when I drink, where I drink a couple of beers on the beach and hang out. I would drink as fast as I could and get as drunk as I could. I don’t drink to drink a couple and get a buzz on. I drink to get fucked up. I finally know that. It’s a huge relief to know it is a problem for me and that it is not a fun thing.

After [Bowers] was killed, it sounds like you entered a sort of extended nihilistic blackout.

There were a couple of times he had come to town and I didn’t see him not because I was doing anything in particular, but because I was fucking drunk. I can’t even remember where I was. I was just at a bar being drunk. I didn’t get to see him the last couple times he was in town. That’s the kind of selfish piece of shit that I was. I couldn’t see a dear friend of mine who was sick. You never know it’s one of the last fucking times ever that somebody is going to be around, but the choices that I made then were just to be drunk because I’d see him later and it was no big deal. Shit was just getting away from me.

Then he called me that time and was like, "Dude, I’m better." A couple days later he was dead.

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It’s sort of interesting that he was killed by a drunk driver and while that intersects with you getting sober, it has nothing to do with the fact that the driver was drunk.

There was no connection. I never put two and two together. Everyone was thinking of this guy [who’d killed him] as this piece of shit and not that maybe he couldn’t help it. That he could be sick. Some people that drive drunk don’t do it because they want to or because it’s fun; they do it because they’re fucking sick and they don’t know that they’re sick—walking around with the disease of alcoholism. It took a lot for me to be brought to the fucking gates of sanity.

A year and a month in, how are you holding up?

Things are going great. Things are really good now. Shit is super busy. I am staying really involved with sobriety. I volunteer a lot of my time for… I don’t even really think of it as volunteering. People helped me get sober by giving me their time, their numbers. I speak in hospitals and institutions like psych wards to carry the message and to tell people how I got sober. I speak on different panels and stuff like that. Being involved with that has given me a huge sense of purpose.

Being involved with a program of recovery has certainly given me the feeling that I have a purpose—I never really felt like I had a purpose. It’d be like, yeah, my purpose is to tell jokes and be a funny dude, but then I would get so far away with the drinking that I just couldn’t reconcile anything. Now it’s like I can do standup in a capacity that I want to do by being sober on a daily basis and hoping to help other people achieve sobriety if they want it. It fills my life with a lot of purpose if I wake up with that in my mind.