Never Not Sober
Before he quit drinking, Jimmy Pardo—the host of the popular podcast Never Not Funny—used to get tossed out of casinos. Now, every Thanksgiving, he raises money for disabled kids. That's no joke.
If you’re familiar with the podcast circuit, you know about a number of people who probably strike you as far more amusing than the hosts of those late-night talk shows. They all have podcasts and are always guests on one another’s podcasts and while the whole thing is a bit incestuous, it’s also terribly amusing. While Marc Maron is arguably the best known, the others that regularly make the circuit—Jimmy Pardo, Doug Benson, Pete Holmes and Paul F. Tompkins among them—are arguably as hilarious. And perhaps none is better than Pardo—the 46-year-old Conan favorite, who’s also appeared repeatedly on Comedy Central as well as on Last Comic Standing and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and whose podcast, Never Not Funny, regularly rates at the top of the Itunes lists. His style can best be described as sardonic without ever being cruel and old-fashioned without ever being corny. And he never shuts up—in a good way.
Every Thanksgiving—the day after Thanksgiving as a matter of fact—Pardo puts his motor-mouth-ery toward a cause: hosting a 12-hour live version of his podcast, complete with celebrity guests, in order to raise money for SmileTrain, a charity which provides surgeries to correct children born with cleft lips and palates. This year's show, which will feature Sarah Silverman and Jon Hamm, among many others, will take place at the Acme Theatre in LA and play live on both pardcast and dailymotion from 12 pm to 12 am PST on Friday, November 23rd.
And yet for all of his chatter, it takes serious effort to find out that Jimmy Pardo is sober. He rarely talks about it on his own show. He rarely discusses it when he’s a guest on anyone else’s show. The way I actually discovered it is that I heard Doug Benson referencing a time he and Pardo were tossed out of a Vegas casino when Benson was a guest on Paul Gilmartin’s Mental Illness Happy Hour. Mention was made of the fact that “Jimmy doesn’t drink anymore.” My ears perked up. Could it be? Googling “Jimmy Pardo” and “sober” turned up a few interviews mentioning the fact—pay dirt—but it’s hardly a flag he’s constantly waving.
I know people in the program will say, “Well, if you didn’t keep going, then you just didn’t find the right meeting.” And maybe that’s true.
Which isn’t to say he’s not game for discussing it. He’s very game. He just doesn’t seem to get what’s so interesting about it. Here he discusses the way he used to drive into ditches, how he stopped and why he wishes he’d done it earlier.
You seem to handle your sobriety in a very interesting way—in that you don’t really talk about it but you don’t seem opposed to discussing it. Why do you think that is?
I don’t really know. I don’t feel the need to constantly tell people that I don’t drink. But I haven’t for 13 ½ years. Every now and then it’ll come up; at a party or a show, someone will ask me what I’m drinking and I’ll say, “I don’t drink” and someone will joke, “What, couldn’t you handle your liquor or something?” And I’ll say, “Actually I couldn’t.” And that’s sort of it. I didn’t ever really do any program or anything, so maybe that’s why.
It could be. Perhaps people who do programs talk about it more.
I think maybe they do. My wife and I were watching the show Nashville recently and there’s this character in it that’s in AA and another character says something about how it’s an anonymous program and I turned to my wife and said, “I’m not sure I know anyone in AA who doesn’t talk about how they’re doing AA.”
Was there an incident that made you stop drinking?
There were sort of two. One was in 1995, when I was coming out of a breakup and I’d just moved out to LA and I was drinking like crazy and [comedian] Paul [Gilmartin] said to me, “You’re drinking too much.” But I was in denial so I said something to him like, “Go fuck yourself.” My dad made a couple of comments about my drinking, too and I said, “Look, I haven’t missed a show. I show up.” And he said, “If you’re showing up hung over, then you’re not really showing up.” So in 1995, I quit for a month just to shut people up.
I met my wife Danielle in June of 1998 and I was still drinking and making bad choices and just not treating her as well as I could. I was essentially self-sabotaging, sort of saying to myself, “Well, no other relationship has worked so she’ll probably leave me anyway.” And I would get drunk and leave these nasty, vile messages accusing her of cheating on me—those sort of “Who are you fucking?” messages in the middle of the work day. Also, I smashed my head on a sink in a hotel room. And I drove my car into a ditch. But the way I always looked at those things back then was that it was all under control. Because it was like, yes, I drove my car into a ditch but there was a guy there to help me so I didn’t get a DUI. And the time I did get pulled over for a DUI, the cop let me off because it was my birthday and I was a block from home.
But on July 18, 1999, I left Danielle one of my famous messages and she finally said, “I can’t take it anymore.” And I thought, “I’m about to lose the person I think I could be with for the rest of my life.” And so I quit drinking.
You just quit? No meetings at all?
I went to meetings for the first month. I know people in the program will say, “Well, if you didn’t keep going, then you just didn’t find the right meeting.” And maybe that’s true. But I just didn’t feel very welcome. At the meeting near my house that I went to, I walked in and sort of felt like I was intruding. I said, “Is this where the meeting is?” And they were like, “Yeah.” I went back there again and this gruff construction worker guy came up to me and said, “Hey, you can’t do this alone, here’s my number.” So I called him and he said to me, “The consensus is that you’re not taking this seriously.” I’d been sober all of two days! And I've been to two meetings...How much more seriously could I be taking this? So I said, “Thank you for your time” and hung up and didn’t go back there.
I found another meeting but that one was filled with a lot of rock stars that seemed like they were really enjoying the stage and just getting off on it being a performance. I don’t want to say that I thought people were making stuff up but it was just sort of…someone would say, “Traffic got me down and it really made me want to drink.” And look, maybe traffic did really make that person want to drink but aren’t we all dealing with traffic? Still, at the same time I saw people there that looked like if they didn’t go to this meeting, they’d go straight to a bar. But I just didn’t go back.Do you miss drinking?
Well, I have the classic comedian thing where I can talk to 5000 people from a stage but in a small group setting full of strangers, I get tense and quiet. And my wife will sometimes say—not really seriously but more as a comment about how I could relax a little—“Boy, I wish you could still drink.”
But right away, when I quit, I started feeling great. I started treating Danielle better. I started treating myself better. And I’m proud that I haven’t had a drink for this long. Still, I miss drinking when I’m at baseball games and rock concerts, I miss ice-cold beer on a Sunday afternoon.
Do you believe alcoholism is a disease?
I don’t know. I’m a guy who drank circumstantially and didn’t know how to control it in those circumstances. But there are people I know where I would say [in regards to their drinking], “Yes. They seem like they have a disease.” But really I’m not at all qualified to say one way or another. I mostly drank out of boredom. I’d be on the road and all alone and my friends would be whoever was on the bar staff at whatever comedy club I was performing at. And I would drink there until it was time to go home. I had nowhere to go.
Do you have regrets about those days?
I do. I was given so many opportunities that I screwed up. I can’t tell you how many times I was told things like, “It’s down to you and this one other guy for this TV gig.” And the other guy would always get the job. And I look at photographs of me from back then and see that I really just had that alcohol bloat. I wouldn’t have put me on TV, either!
There were also the opportunities that I blatantly screwed up because of my drinking, like the audition I had to leave to throw up, claiming it was because I had food poisoning from the Carl’s Jr I had for lunch but knowing it was because I was hung over. The way I looked at it back then was if one of the other guys who was going to be auditioning the next day was at the Improv drinking till 2, then I could be, too. I’d justify it by saying, “Look, this is what we do.”
And now your life is a lot different. You and Danielle have a son. You have a top-rated podcast. And you do a lot of charity work.
This year will be our fourth time doing the Pardcast-a-thon and last year we raised over $41,000. I have to say, this event is the highlight of my year—I’m on a high for at least a month afterwards.
Anna David is the Executive Editor of The Fix and the author of the books Party Girl, Bought, Reality Matters and Falling For Me and the Kindle Single Animal Attraction. She's written about Tom Sizemore and gambling addiction, among many other topics, for The Fix.