When Addiction Is the Punchline
Anthony Kalloniatis' zany comic persona hid a secret life of meth, booze, blackouts—and enough arrests to secure regular invites to cop parties.
ANT (full name Anthony Kalloniatis) is a 45-year-old gay actor and comic. While he’s been jumping successfully from job to job since he was first cast as a regular on the WB show Unhappily Ever After in 1995, the Last Comic Standing star and Celebrity Fit Club host was simultaneously losing his long-standing battle with alcohol and meth.
After several years off the wagon, he got sober for a second time in 2010 and has now been clean for over 20 months. In this exclusive interview, ANT talks about performing interventions on celebrities while high, incorporating recovery into his stand-up comedy act and how the creator of Saved By the Bell saved his life.
How long have you been in recovery?
I’ve been sober twice. The first time was in 1998 because my drinking had gotten out of hand in the midst of some professional success. Success is not why I became an alcoholic and a drug addict, though. I was an alcoholic well before I started my career. I was blacking out in high school and drinking was really a problem from the time I was around 15. That said, success enabled me access to better drugs and top-shelf booze.
When did you start doing drugs?
When I was 19, I began casually using meth to enhance my drinking because it enabled me to drink a lot more. I started using it every weekend when I was 23 and it became daily just a year later. By the time I was 30, I was an intravenous drug user. Alcohol always came first, though, because I’m a chicken. I knew what I was attracted to, but needed something to lower my inhibitions and give me the courage to do it.
A lot of comics in recovery will say that at one point they couldn’t imagine performing sober. Did you feel that way as well?
Absolutely. I couldn’t get on stage unless I was high and loaded. If I was bombing, I was able to feel a sense of numbness to it. But I drank after every set whether I killed or bombed. I drank on sets, when I wasn’t on stage, when I was unemployed. My disease and my career are two different things.
There are times when my disease affected my work, though. I’ve been fired from gigs because I didn’t show up for the second show, which was the same night as the first one. I’ve been fired from television shows for being belligerently drunk on set, to the point where they called my agent. I was newly sober on Last Comic Standing but I’ll watch things that I did on VH1 or Tru TV and literally go, “I can’t remember doing that.”
There were times when I got so drunk that I would wake up with chicks.
Is it fair to say that you weren’t sober on Celebrity Fit Club?
The last season of Celebrity Fit Club, you barely saw me on the show because I was so drugged out and unusable. Between cycles five and six, I lost 70 pounds and nobody said anything about my appearance. I was wearing a turtleneck or big baggy sweatpants to cover up track marks and we were shooting in the middle of the summer in LA.
The crazy thing is that the same people who said I looked great during that time would then tell me how much better I looked once I got sober, that I looked gaunt and awful and emaciated back then. When you have fame, people walk on eggshells around you. It’s a double-edged sword. It insulates you from the mean people in the world, but it often keeps you from the people who have your best intentions.
I always thought one of the more memorable moments of Celebrity Fit Club was the cast intervention on [former Grease star] Jeff Conaway during Season 3.
The crazy thing is that I was using while we were all telling him what a drug addict nightmare he was. That is the level of denial and insanity that was happening. I was literally talking program to him and saying that if he needed a sponsor, I would do it. It never crossed my mind that anyone would find out about me using because I was such a high-functioning addict at the time.
Were there any particular moments that made you realize something had to change?
There were times when I got so drunk that I would wake up with chicks. My friends tell me that when I’m drunk, I become a straight man named Chip. It literally is my alter ego. I woke up one morning and this girl was sobbing in my room. I’m like, “How drunk was I?” and she goes “How drunk was I?!” I got really offended by that and had to stop myself and go, “You’re gay, what do you care?!“
But that was only the catalyst to slow down. Twenty months ago, I was shooting up in my living room. At that point, I had just gotten a dog and never left my loft. The dog came over and looked at me like, ‘Daddy, what are you doing?’ And I started crying. God sent me to grace and I just saw it. I went to my knees and just said that I could really use some help.
The next day, I went over to my friend [Last Comic Standing and Saved By the Bell creator] Peter Engell’s house for dinner. He and my friend both got up from the table and walked over to me, so I thought they were going to hold an intervention. I just blurted out, “I’m a drug addict and using again.” They genuinely had no idea, but at that point it would’ve been awkward to say I was kidding. They immediately took action and I was in rehab three days later.
Do you ever talk about your recovery or the dark points of your drinking in your stand-up act?
I talk about drinking and bender nights and getting arrested. I have material on how I was arrested so many times in Van Nuys that the cops invited me to their Christmas party. A lot of my material is loosely based off personal experiences.
That’s the beauty and the challenge and the art form of stand-up. How do you take the emotional pain that you’ve gone through and make it identifiable and relatable?
What advice would you give to people who are trying to maintain their sobriety?
Speaking for myself, I work the 12 steps and I have a sponsor and a home group. There are always plenty of excuses, but no actual reasons to go drink and use. I also really try to be of service to others. When I help people, my life gets bigger and I get out of myself, which is often what drove me to drink or use. I also encourage people to not be so hard on themselves. There are people I’ve met who have been alcoholics for 20 years and wonder why life still sucks after three weeks of sobriety. It gets better, but it really is about just taking things one day at a time. There’s no finish line to this, just the journey itself.
McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer currently residing in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in Time Out New York, The Huffington Post, abcnews.com and usopen.org, among others. He has also written about Carré Otis and Celebrity Rehab, among many other topics, for The Fix.