The Evolution of Dopey: How a Podcast Is Showing Us How to Live and Laugh While Sober

By David Konow 06/03/19

We wanted to do something that gave addicts a feeling that they weren’t alone, that they were in the company of people who had been through what they had been through, and also have a few laughs.

Dopey Podcast poster, recovery podcast
The show must go on.

Dopey podcast has been around since early 2016, and it has a steadily growing audience of people from all across the spectrum of addiction. In addition to appealing to people in recovery, it draws in people who need help, and those who have family members suffering from addiction.

As Dr. Drew told The Fix last year, “If you’re an addict and you listen to Dopey, you will find your people and your story here. Listen to it, and you’ll see what I mean.”

Dopey attracts fascinating guests: recent episodes have featured Artie Lange, Dr. Drew, Marc Maron, Jamie Lee Curtis, gossip columnist AJ Benza, Justin Kreutzmann from the Grateful Dead, Amy Dresner, and others discussing a wide variety of topics such as Game of Thrones, seizures, booze, pills, cocaine, heroin, and more.

These days, it seems that practically everybody has a podcast. But when Dave and Chris created Dopey, they didn’t have a master plan to be the dominant podcast on addiction and recovery. Initially they were big fans of the Howard Stern Show and wanted to create something similar, but with two people who had experienced addiction and recovery at the helm.

Dave met Chris at Connecticut’s Mountainside Treatment Center in 2011. They kept in touch after getting out, eventually launching the podcast. At Dopey’s inception, Chris had a year and a half of sobriety under his belt, and Dave had three months.

Dave and Chris didn’t know where Dopey belonged in the podcast landscape because as Dave explains, “I didn’t even know what a podcast was back then. A friend of mine told me I should do a podcast. I didn’t know anything about them, I just knew I liked radio, I loved the Howard Stern show, and I thought this was an opportunity to do a show like it. I still barely know anything about podcasts!”

People who have struggled with addiction often have hilarious, insane, and unbelievable stories of the misadventures they get into when they’re high, and Dave and Chris wanted to share those stories on their podcast.

“Originally the show wasn’t going to be about recovery at all,” Dave explains. “At first I thought it would be funny to do a podcast about the dumbest stuff that we had done in our addiction. That was the idea, and we stuck with that until we recorded an episode where we talked about some of the dumb things we had done, and I realized that we had to say we were in recovery, otherwise we’d be championing drug use. It was never supposed to be a recovery podcast; it became one and the recovery had to be part of the show to keep our conscience clear.”

Dave adds that with the Dopey podcast, “We wanted to do something that gave addicts a feeling that they weren’t alone, that they were in the company of people who had been through what they had been through, and also have a few laughs. That was the idea…The show was mostly about the ridiculous stuff we had done, all the money it cost us, the life it cost us, and it was our pain and ridiculous decisions that were helping other people from making (the same) decisions.”

It turns out that humor was a powerful draw, bringing listeners to the show. “Chris had a great phrase for that called the ‘rope-a-dope,’ where you’d rope-a-dope people into recovery through the debauchery. We wound up helping people as a byproduct of the show.”

Dave is happy that Dopey is giving the world a realistic portrait of people suffering from addiction. “When you watch TV and see addiction commercials, it doesn’t really portray it in a real way. I’m very proud that Dopey did that. If you listen to the show, you hear about real people, and you really get to know what addicts are like. And when I say that, [I mean] they’re like everybody, they’re just unfortunately dependent on drugs and make terrible decisions. I do feel very, very good in playing a part in de-stigmatizing addiction and showing the world what addicts are really like.”

You don’t usually hear about humor as a treatment for addiction, but Dave realized it was an important tool in his recovery arsenal.

“For me, humor is just a tremendous part of my life, and I like to see the dark, funny side of things. I don’t think a sense of humor is required to get sober, but I think it’s an amazingly helpful tool if humor makes you feel good. There’s a lot of weirdos out there who don’t have a sense of humor. They can still get sober, but I think if you have a sense of humor, it’s a great tool in recovery. Chris and I discovered that to take away the stigma, there’s nothing better than to laugh at yourself. If you can laugh at yourself, chances are you can get better.”

The Dopey audience grew larger in response to a recent episode of This American Life that featured the podcast in-depth. But as this new and larger group of listeners began to tune in, Dopey suffered a tremendous blow. Chris relapsed and died on July 24, 2018 at the age of 33. (Chris had nearly five years of sobriety and was working on becoming a clinical psychologist at the time of his death.) Then Dave took another hit when he lost Todd, a close friend.

“I think the show really started to change when Todd died,” Dave says. “Todd was somebody I had known since I was 19, and I used more drugs with him than anyone else. He died six or seven weeks before Chris died, and it was in those six or seven weeks that I started to change the way I wanted the show to be. I just couldn’t laugh with a clear conscience in the same way because my friend had just died.”

The show revolved around Chris’ death “for a good five or six weeks. It was a very sober, very sad, freaked-out time to try and get some sort of vibe back. In a way, it was like, the show must go on. We had an audience, and we had an audience of people who benefitted from the show. I did not want the show to fall apart because Chris had died.”

Dave didn’t realize it at the time, but by pushing forward with the show after the deaths of Chris and Todd, he unintentionally showed his audience how to keep moving forward after a tragedy without using drugs or drinking.

“When Chris died, I was torn apart. I’m still incredibly upset about it. [But] I think in the end, his death carried a message of recovery. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but I heard a lot of feedback over this, and continuing the show after Chris died made people understand that they can stay sober through adversity, heartache and loss.”

When Chris was alive, he and Dave often talked about their ambitions for the show, and Dave still feels Dopey could be “a monster. I still think it can be bigger because there are so many people that are affected by addiction. That’s just one piece of it. The other piece of it is stories around drug addiction are so entertaining, and if you put those two things together, the audience could just be gigantic.”

As Dopey continues to grow, reaching an ever-widening and changing listenership, Dave’s hopes for the podcast’s future don’t seem so outlandish:

“I want it to be the biggest thing in the world, I want it to cross over in a major way where Robert Downey Jr.’s on it, where Eric Clapton’s playing “Layla” on the show, I want it to be as big as it can be.”

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.