The Hilarity of Heroin

By Ruth Fowler 10/19/11
Amy Dresner survived private girls’ schools and drug addiction before discovering her calling: finding the funny in psych wards, meds, and sobriety.
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Dresner's Dope Comedy

Amy Dresner’s byline on her Twitter account reads, “Good comic, bad wife, recovered drug addict, actively crazy.” Add Jewish, tiny, hot, hilarious and breathtakingly honest, and you start to get a picture of the former meth head and the kind of stand up she performs. Despite developing a show called “Laughs Without Liquor” with two other comedians in recovery (a portion of their proceeds go to drug and alcohol charities and the triumvirate are launching their new show, “We Are Not Saints” soon), Dresner doesn’t necessarily like to describe herself as a sober comedian. “I’m more a comedian who’s sober—not a sober comedian, you know?”  

A lot of your stand-up deals with alcoholism and addiction though.

A lot of my comedy comes from the fact that I was such a golden girl. I grew up in Hollywood, came from money—there was no way anyone thought I’d be shooting coke or smoking meth or ending up in rehab or being in the psych ward, all this stuff I never thought would happen. That’s where my comedy comes from. 

How did you get involved with “Laughs Without Liquor”?

I was performing at the Downtown Comedy Club and was talking onstage about being sober, the psych ward, and that kind of shit. The two other guys—Ian Harvey is the transgender standup and Felon O’Reilly is the felon—had done a couple shows in Seattle and when they saw me onstage, they were like, “We need her! We need her! She’s like the missing link!”

"I make fun of all the different people on the psych wards. Sober people get it."

What’s your routine like?

I make fun of all the different people on the psych wards. Sober people get it. Shit which is too dark for a mainstream audience sober people love. We had this group [on the psych ward] called a goal group where they’d ask, what are our goals for the day? And it was like, come on! We don’t have many options! What are we gonna do? Eat a bagel? Make an ashtray? Take a nap? What are the options? Then the black, blind lesbian says, “My goal for the day is to make a friend. Because it’s cold, and dark, and lonely, and gay in here.” Is this a Morrissey song? Let’s move on, c’mon! My goal for the day is to get the fuck out of here, and I can’t believe I’m the only one to say that! My roommate was like this woman who kept saying, “I don’t know why I’m in here. I did not try to kill myself. I’m 33, I just had one glass of wine and four Valium to relax. I have six children, why would I try to kill myself?” I’m like, that’s six reasons right there, bitch. Everything sounds crazy in a green gown. 

Are you crazy?

I have psychiatric issues, and I talk about ‘em onstage. And one of my problems with AA is that there are a lot of people in it who are like, “You can’t be on meds.” If someone tells you not to take your fucking meds, don’t listen to them. It’s ridiculous. My husband [who owns and operates Klean Treatment Center in West Hollywood] comes from a very strong mental health background. He works with a lot of great psychiatrists who ask, “What’s underlying that shit? What are you self-medicating?” Very few people are “pure” alcoholics. There’s always something underlying that—depression, anxiety, whatever. I talk about it onstage. Anti-depressants don’t make you happy. They don’t make you high. They make you un-depressed, and people don’t seem to realize that. 

It sounds like you have experience with getting off meds at the wrong time.

I developed epilepsy when I was in Paris. I was five years clean, in my thirties, and I got epilepsy. I started having grand mal seizures. I went to see a neurologist and he looked at all my scans and was like, “Did you do a lot of drugs when you were younger? A lot of cocaine?” I was like, “Uhhhh. I did a lot of meth,” and he said, “Yeah, you have hyperactive spots on your brain now. Lesions. That’s causing you to have epilepsy.” Great! So they put me on a billion epilepsy meds, and finally I found one that controlled the seizures, and then you get to AA and some people are saying, “Don’t take any meds. Get off all the fucking meds.” So I got out of this rehab, got off the meds, and relapsed. I’d shoot myself full of coke, then go to this detox in Mexico where they pump you full off amino acids. I’d come out, get loaded again and have another grand mal. Instead of thinking, “I shouldn’t do coke,” I was like, “Well, I’ll put some pillows here.” Total drug addict thinking. “If I put my bike helmet on, maybe we’ll be okay.” Shooting coke in a fucking helmet! Anyone can have a seizure, smoking crack or shooting coke. But obviously if you have epilepsy, you’re more prone to that. 

Now you’re sober and married. What’s that like?

I said to my husband recently, “You could have done better.” He was thinking about it, and I was like, “No, no, you haven’t read the script, you’re supposed to disagree with me” and he said, “I could have had another girl but you—you’re... an alien. You’re so fucking weird. You’re like no one I’ve ever met. There’s no one else like you.”

What’s your goal with comedy?

I want people to leave a comedy show thinking differently than how they came in. I want them to go, “Oh, I never thought of it like that before. That’s interesting.” I want them to have lived a part of my life they might never have experienced before. “Oh! That’s what it’s like to be a drug addict and in the psych ward! Anyone could end up in the psych ward!” This kid came up to me after one show and was like, “I was in the psych ward and tried to commit suicide—I felt so ashamed of it, and you made me feel okay.” That’s kind of what it’s all about.

How has comedy helped you in your sobriety?

People who haven’t seen me for a while are blown away by how grounded I am. You know what grounded is? Getting on the proper psych meds, getting married, and finding my calling in life.

Ruth Fowler is a journalist and screenwriter from the UK living in West Hollywood who has written about Burning Man and alcoholic thinking, among many other topics, for The Fix.

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