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A Comedian's Voyage To 'The Membrane Between Life And Death'

NPR | Nov. 2, 2013 3:15 p.m.

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NPR Staff

Stand-up comedian Rob Delaney has been called the funniest person on Twitter. He’s known for his zany observations and for condensing pithy, often vulgar commentary on politics and pop culture into 140 characters or less.

In his memoir, Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage., Delaney takes a walk on the more serious side. He delves into struggles with alcoholism and depression, which eventually led him to comedy.

“I lived my life in a way where I could have died at any moment, and that was OK with me,” he tells NPR’s Arun Rath.

After trying to quit drinking several times, Delaney hit rock bottom a couple weeks after his 25th birthday. He was driving drunk, blacked out behind the wheel, and drove into an office building of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

“I’m really lucky in the sense that my bottom really took me to the membrane between life and death and I got to poke against it and feel its strength and its fragility,” Delaney says.

He ended up in jail, in a wheelchair, with two arms in casts and both his legs badly damaged.

“Once I realized I could kill other people, that’s when I said, ‘OK, I’m going to stop with this because I like other people,’ ” he says.


Interview Highlights

On the process of writing the book
“Thankfully, for the reader, I had really dealt with all that stuff through therapy and medication and time, as well. So, writing the book for me was not therapeutic in any way. And I’m glad, because that way you sort of, I think, as the reader, feel safe as you’re reading it. You’re not like, ‘Uh oh, this is gonna devolve into sentence fragments and screaming and like the next few pages will be finger-painted blood.’

“You know that I’m talking at it from a position of health, even though I’m certainly describing gnarly things.”

On getting sober and then making it big
“I’m very fortunate that all this stuff happened and was dealt with before I started comedy, before I even met my wife. My wife, who I’ve been married to for seven years, has never seen me drink and that’s cool. And, I’m a dad now.

“So, I’m lucky. And I was 33 before I made my living only through comedy and that’s like 3 1/2 years ago. My appetite for drugs and alcohol probably would have killed me if I had any kind of money or fame. That would have been a very volatile combo.”

On joke stealing
“Stealing jokes is wrong. Period. There’s no getting around that. But when people do it to me, I just don’t stress about it because I would rather go write more jokes. So, other people can stress out about that and they certainly do. If somebody steals a joke of mine online, then 40 people let me know in 10 minutes.

“So, stealing jokes is wrong, but if you do it to me, if you steal a joke from me, I make five more and beat you to death with them. That’s my approach. You think about it, and I’m going to hurt you with more jokes. That’s how I feel.”

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