Laughing Through Recovery: The Addicts Comedy Tour

By Kelly Burch 03/07/17

“People say it’s the first time I laughed in 20 years. It’s the first time I can look at my shame without lowering my face. It’s the first time I can understand my husband’s situation."

Kurtis Matthews and Mark Lundholm sitting on a staircase, black and white
The Addicts Comedy Tour gives the audience members a new coping mechanism. Photo via

Mark Lundholm and Kurtis Matthews get lots of feedback about their Addicts Comedy Tour, whether it’s people coming up after the show to thank them for providing another 120 minutes of sobriety, or family members saying that the show helped them relate better to their loved one in recovery. But one of the most significant pieces of fan feedback came in an email.

“These parents said they knew their daughter was using drugs, but she wouldn’t talk about it with them. They bought tickets to a show, and it provided this soft way to talk about it,” Matthews says. “After the show, she admitted she was using and they put her in rehab.”

Opening up honest conversations about recovery is exactly what Lundholm and Matthews had in mind when they started The Addicts Comedy Tour in 2015. Both of them used humor to cope with addiction and have had successful stand-up careers after getting sober 30 years ago. Now they consistently get feedback from audience members who are touched by their unique brand of “clean and sober” recovery-focused comedy.

“People say it’s the first time I laughed in 20 years. It’s the first time I can look at my shame without lowering my face. It’s the first time I can understand my husband’s situation,” Lundholm says.

The duo described themselves as an odd couple—Matthews the alcoholic who occasionally used drugs, and Lundholm the drug addict who occasionally turned to alcohol.

“Mark is a little more criminal than me,” Matthews jokes. “We’re two different sides of recovery and addiction.”

Matthews started drinking hard when he was 16. When he hit a brick wall and narrowly missed a car full of teens during his second DUI at 22, he knew it was time to stop.

Lundholm’s rock bottom was even more dramatic. He was 29 years old and living under a bridge when he put a gun into his mouth and pulled the trigger. The gun jammed.

“It’s a pretty typical story,” he says. “We’re all suicide on layaway.”

Rather than feeling relieved or saved, Lundholm remembers feeling devastated. 

“I thought I am truly unsuccessful,” he recalls. “I can’t kill myself and I don’t know how to live with myself.”

He wound up in the psych ward, followed by thirty days of drug treatment and six months at a halfway house. Along the way he transformed his comedy from harmful to helpful.

“I come from a big family: big trouble, big issues, big problems, big dysfunction,” he says. “Humor was a weapon you had to have. It was pointed, sarcastic, vicious and sharp. It didn’t become healing until I got out of the hospital. Then this hammer became a tool to remodel, rebuild, protect and construct.”

Now, he and Matthews use surgical precision in their comedy to handle the tough issues around addiction and recovery.

“Humor has a way of inviting people to stop hurting,” he says.

Throughout their independent comedy careers that have included gigs on Comedy Central, Showtime, A&E and VH1, the duo have learned to not just point out their flaws in their routine, but to move through the pain into healing.

“Mark and I have enough recovery experience to say here’s our issue, let’s take a look at it and heal from that,” Matthews explained. Many comedians don’t move to that healthier place. “People would say Robin Williams was so funny, but he’s dying. John Benette, look how funny he is about eating, but he’s dying. Greg Giraldo, Chris Farley, they were funny but they were dying. For me, it’s about being able to see beyond that.”

The Addicts Comedy Tour gives the audience members a new coping mechanism. 

“People have a go-to remedy, and that used to be opiates, alcohol or relationships, but that stuff works for a while,” Lundholm says. “But humor and laughter is always, always a full bag of repair. It never runs out.”

The tour started in 2015, as the national opioid epidemic was gaining momentum, and they’ve managed to bring laughter into some of the most devastated parts of the country. Lundholm and Matthews say that one of their favorite towns to perform in is Dayton, Ohio, an area that has some of the highest overdose rates in the country.

“When you go to those towns, the people who have seen death, the hardcore NA types, are an amazing audience,” Matthews says. “All we can do is show up and say there’s hope. We’re part of your balanced diet of recovery.”

However, it isn’t always easy focusing on laughs through the tough times on a personal level.

“I’ve had phases where I’ve lost the core of humor and healing and gone to work some nights in front of an audience, saying this one's for the money, or this is because I made a commitment,” Lundholm says. “If I’m really hurting or going through stuff I don’t want to look at, I’ve done that many times. I’ve always bounced back, but sometimes it’s really slow.”

In those moments, Lundholm looks at everything recovery has brought him.

“I was a shake and bake restrained mental patient. I didn’t have anything. I didn’t have shoes,” he says. “Today I had to pick out which pair of Adidas I wanted to wear. It makes me giggle at how silly my sad is.”

For Matthews, getting through comes down to gratitude, and his quirky sense of humor. 

“My higher power has been good for me,” he says. When he lost both parents within five years, Matthews never got close to relapse. “None of that was enough to make me want to use. It made me want to feel,” he says. And to laugh. When his brother called to tell him that their mother had died, Matthews had an unexpected response.

“I thought, ‘I have no one to disappoint, now I can do porn.’ That’s just the way I’m wired: find something goofy that makes me laugh. It’s my go-to.”

Lundholm and Matthews hope to keep The Addicts Comedy Tour going forever. It’s become their way to be of service, helping others laugh through the realities of recovery.

“Mark and I are stubborn enough to stay clean and sober for the rest of our lives,” Matthews says. “If we can do it—not gracefully, sometimes—you can too. That message is under the comedy.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.