Comedian Jake Fogelnest: From Self-Loathing to a Life Beyond His Wildest Dreams

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Comedian Jake Fogelnest: From Self-Loathing to a Life Beyond His Wildest Dreams

By Rebecca Rush 09/12/18

Notice they don’t call it the “9th Step Maybes.” It’s not the “9th Step Possibilities.” It’s the “9TH STEP PROMISES.” It’s very clear: we must be painstaking and take the suggestions. But if we DO...some amazing stuff will happen before we know it.

Image: 
Jake Fogelnest
No one’s life has ever gotten worse because they decided to stop drinking.

Comedy Central, VH1, MTV, Netflix. Jake Fogelnest’s TV writing/producing credits are too long to list - and he wouldn’t want me to. I know Jake as a kind, funny, and humble man I met outside of the Hollywood Improv last summer, who treats everyone he meets with the same consideration. I was thrilled when he agreed to be part of this interview series.

The Fix: What is your favorite thing about being sober in comedy?

Jake Fogelnest: My favorite thing about being sober in comedy is that I’m ready to work WHENEVER. Whether it’s late nights or early mornings, I’m ready to show up. If I’m writing alone, there’s nothing better than going to bed at 10pm, waking up at 6:00am and just starting to write as the sun comes up. If I’m in a writers’ room, I love being able to come in fresh and ready to go until we need to stop (hopefully at a reasonable hour - usually we do). Or if I’m shooting something, I love that I can make a 4:30am call-time and be relatively alert. Adding a hangover into any of those situations? NO THANKS.

I even have friends who can drink “normally.” Maybe they’ll overdo it once a year and then have to show up for work hungover and just suffer through it. I always feel SO bad for them! My sobriety ensures I never have a day like that! It’s such freedom! The worst thing I’ve had to endure in sobriety are days where I didn’t get enough sleep or if I have a minor (not contagious) cold. 

This may sound really simple. I’m basically saying, “My favorite thing about being sober in comedy is that I can show up to work like every normal person on the planet does for their job every day.” I know there’s gotta be some Al-Anon people reading this right now going: “Oh, he’s all proud that shows up for work on time? Let’s throw this little asshole a parade.” Sorry. I know it’s small, but even after all these years of recovery, I'm grateful I can show up. I could be dead! 

What is the most challenging thing?

The most challenging thing is recognizing where alcoholism shows up in other areas of my life. Just because I stopped drinking and using drugs 12 years ago doesn’t mean that I don't have the disease of alcoholism. I’m in recovery, but the alcoholic thinking is still there. It has been HUMBLING to recognize how my character defects can still show up. They find new creative ways to do so all the time!

If there was an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Achievement in Holding onto Resentment,” I’m afraid I would be at least eligible for a nomination. I might not win, but I think I’d be a strong contender. I could list who I think some of the other nominees might be. It would give you a hell of a headline! Sadly, through recovery I’ve learned restraint of pen and tongue... which really fucks up clickbait! 

Seriously, it’s all challenging, you know? It really depends on the day. You get some time under your belt and you think, “I got this.” And yeah, maybe I do “got this” in the sense that I’m probably not going to go out and drink tonight. However the underlying stuff that made me reach for a drink in the first place? That comes up all the time. Most people would never know. Or maybe everyone knows! Truth is, I don’t care anymore. As long as I'm taking the night right action and not being a jerk. 

I can say I’ve been a LOT better this year about practicing self-care, reaching out for help and making sure I stay in touch with my higher power. It sneaks up on me, but I do get reminded: this journey is never done. I think I’ve only recently come into TRUE acceptance of that. I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with the concept of uncertainty. I had to because I realized IT WAS NEVER GOING AWAY. They say this disease is cunning, baffling and powerful. What I have found challenging is how cunning, baffling and powerful it can be... and it has NOTHING to do with drinking. Now it’s just about living. 

How has your career evolved since you committed to recovery?

I wouldn’t have a career if I didn’t have recovery. Recovery has to come before everything else. There are times in my sobriety and my career where I didn’t put it first and WOW did that always come back to bite me in the ass. Recovery first, everything else second. Always. 

I also think accepting that things don’t happen on MY timetable has been a huge blessing in making my way through career stuff. It’s show business. There are so many ups and downs. There is also so much waiting. You also need to self-motivate. All things that can totally activate an alcoholic. 

Today I am grateful for a fantastic career. Is it exactly where I want it to be in this moment? NOPE! But I don’t think it ever will be. I think that has less to do with alcoholism and more about being any type of creative! Even for the most successful people in the world, there’s always going to be SOMETHING unfinished or unrealized. Some script you can’t quite crack, some project you can’t find financing for, some scheduling that doesn’t work out. Who's a big successful person? Steven Spielberg? He’s big, right? I bet even Mr. Steven Spielberg himself has at least ONE thing he just can’t get made. Maybe it's a sequel to E.T. where E.T. comes back to teach Elliott about SPACE JAZZ! I just made that up, if Steven likes the idea, he can call WME. But bringing it back to recovery (sorry I brought it to SPACE JAZZ), I truly believe that everything happens when it is supposed to. Some days do I get a LITTLE impatient with that stuff? FUCK YES. But that’s when I turn it over… or call a friend and complain. 

No compare and despair shit though. Someone else's success is NOT my failure. Others might be able to do that. For me, it's bad for my brain and recovery. 

I’m just incredibly grateful that nothing has come to me a SECOND before I was truly ready to handle it. If it were up to me and things were operating entirely on my timeline, I bet “my best thinking” would lead me straight into a brick wall. Having a spiritual connection and knowing that more will be revealed is essential to me. But yeah, at the same time, I really should have an overall deal somewhere. I mean, fucking come on. (It’s good to have a HEALTHY bit of ego.)

In the Big Book of AA, the 9th step promises say: “If we are painstaking about this phase of our recovery, we will be amazed before we are halfway through.” Are you amazed?

I love the promises so much. It’s probably my favorite thing in the big book. 

Am I amazed? CONSTANTLY. Where my life was before sobriety and where it is today? They say “beyond your wildest dreams” and they aren’t kidding. I could sit here and rattle off all the ways the promises have come true in my life. I could even throw in some stuff about the “cash and prizes.” But I don’t want to speak from a place of ego. I think it’s more valuable to share about the promises and how important they are to show to newcomers! 

Whenever I find myself talking with people early in their sobriety, I point them straight to the 9th step promises. I think it’s a BIG thing to make a promise. Think about how cruel it would be to promise all that stuff to someone and not deliver on it? Notice they don’t call it the “9th Step Maybes.” It’s not the “9th Step Possibilities.” It’s the “9TH STEP PROMISES.” It’s made very clear: we must be painstaking and take the suggestions. But if we DO... some amazing stuff will happen before we know it. 

Here’s another way I’m amazed — and this one isn’t so cheery. Even though I have felt the promises first hand and I've seen them come true for others, as I continue to deepen my recovery— I still battle with willingness! I have a lot of fear of fear that holds me back. Not so much with career stuff anymore, but in other areas of my life. That being said, it feels really GOOD to talk about this knowing that I am back at being painstaking as I continue to look at this new stuff. For example (and this is a lame small one), after 12 years of sobriety, today is one month and 24 days without smoking a cigarette. It feels great. I hate it.

How did you handle your first 30 days in relation to your comedy / writing career?

For my first 30 days I didn’t worry about my comedy/writing career. I worried about getting sober. It’s not like anyone was knocking down my door at that time, but even if they were — I still had to put recovery first. There is no career if I’m sick. 

I did what I had to do to make a living and that’s about it. I was VERY lucky that my employers at the time were actually directly responsible for getting me to a place of acceptance that I needed recovery. The “wildest dreams” took a backseat. I think there’s this misconception people have in early sobriety that they’re going to “miss out” on something, particularly “momentum in show business.” Guess what? Show business keeps moving without you. If you’re talented and you work your program, show business will be waiting for you when you’re healthy and ready. Whatever big opportunity you think you’re missing out on is NOTHING compared to what could come your way in sobriety. 

What do you think it is about comedy and the entertainment industry in general that attracts so many addicts? Or the addicts that are attracted to comedy?

Addicts are sensitive people. So are creatives. It makes sense that sensitive creatives would seek to self-medicate. That’s all creatives, not just comedians! But let’s talk about people who do comedy for a second. The job of a comic is to be hyper aware of the world and reflect it back to people in a funny way. That can be a painful process filled with sensory overload. You’re gonna want to numb out. Shut your brain off. In fact, it’s essential that you do so, otherwise you're gonna go insane. There’s just a healthy way to do that and an unhealthy way to do it. Ugh, I remember sitting in a meeting early in sobriety listening to some asshole saying something like, “Just breathe” and I wanted to punch his fucking lights out. 

The guy was right by the way. Breathing is good. Sorry.

What advice would you give a comedian who struggles with chronic relapse?

Relapse is part of recovery. I've relapsed. I'm very grateful to have 12 years now, but it took a few rounds to get there. The biggest piece of advice I could give? That SHAME you have around relapsing? Yeah, that’s fucking useless. I’m not saying don’t take it seriously. I’m not saying there’s not consequences to your actions. I just find addicts and alcoholics put this tremendous extra layer of ULTRA-SHAME and SUPER-GUILT on top of everything that really serves us NO purpose. It's bullshit self-loathing. Believe me, I’ve been sober a long time and I’m a fucking expert at doing it. I could teach a masterclass on that website. 

Here's the thing though: FUCK THAT SHAME. Just come back. No one gives a shit. No one is judging you harder than you are judging yourself. I guarantee, you’re your own worst critic when it comes to relapsing. Just fucking come back. 

Anything I missed?

No one’s life has ever gotten worse because they decided to stop drinking. No one. Ever.  


Jake’s story shows that it’s possible to stay fully grounded despite achievements, never forgetting what recovery has always been about: one addict helping another.

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