One day many of us will arrive at a crossroad. Some of us will choose the right way and some of us will not. For those of us that choose wrong, it most likely means a one-way street filled with bad decisions, poor judgment, many regrets and many times, death. I’m talking about addiction, one of the worst best friends you could ever have. If your life is not lost to the disease, you are one of the lucky ones with a message for others, to resist and walk away. For survivors of addiction, you are beacons of hope for those that have lost their way and need a guiding light/friend to find the road back.
The documentary Never Be Done: The Richard Glen Lett Story was directed and produced by Roy Tighe. It’s very much a 10 year journal of a man that seems to have the worlds oyster in his hand until it slowly slips through his fingers. It will take him years to find the strength and the help to scoop it back up. That man is standup comic Richard Lett. This story follows his spiral downward into drug and alcohol addiction while his career takes a dive much like a fiery plane crash. His road back to sobriety is an inspiring underdog story. It sheds light on the purpose of life and reinventing the wheel of comedy. Many of us will have people in our lives with addictions. Be a friend and the voice of reason before it’s too late for them. They will be forever grateful.
I recently had the opportunity to watch the documentary before it heads up to the Whistler Film Festival. I was also lucky enough to speak with Richard Lett about his metamorphoses in the film and how he did it.
“I recently watched the film and wanted to offer my congratulations in making it through sobriety. Have you seen the film yet?”
“I haven’t seen the film yet. Roy wanted me to wait until the premiere in Whistler and film my reaction upon watching it. This story started when I had contacted Roy to tape a show for me. I was hoping a taped show might help boost my career. When Roy had come to my show and we met, he wanted to start taping right away and went back to his car to grab his camera. My life went down the drain shortly after we met. I struggled big time. In the course of following me around, I had gotten so accustom to Roy and Graham (cameraman) and the rest of the crew to the point that I stopped paying attention to them. I suppose that’s key in making a documentary, having the camera become invisible.”
“I’ve watched the film and love your redemption story. Seeing you hit rock bottom but then climb back up to find sobriety will stand to help so many others struggling with their own addiction issues.”
“I actually feel bad for poor Roy. The hundreds of hours he must’ve spent putting it together had to be so time consuming. It’s one thing to shoot but its another to go through it all to find the narrative.”
“How often do you reflect on your past?”
“That’s actually part of the recovery, to try and remember what it was like. One of the cruelest parts of addiction is that it tries to convince you that you don’t have it. One of the things I do remember is the sense of hopelessness and being sad and lonely; feeling like I failed. I now realize how many people really cared and championed for me to get better and continue with my performance art. While in addiction, there was such a sense of arrogance and entitlement that showed itself. I thought I was gifted. I would say terrible things and not care about other people or about myself. One thing alcoholism does is make you lose that natural sense of preservation and that’s where I ended up. Through dumb luck I never ended up dying, possibly due to a higher power having plans for me. I guess to better answer your question, I do reflect on the past in a general way regularly. I’m able to use that in helping other people in recovery. In having a story to tell, it helps other people to care about themselves and reignite that sense of self preservation, much like a drowning man clinging to his life preserver instead of just letting go.”
“If you could go back and talk to your younger self, what would that sound like?”
“I guess I would tell that guy that there is help and to ask for it and take it. That’s one of the keys to recovery, it’s to be able to ask for the help and take it when it’s offered.”
“Do you think you would’ve listened?”
“Probably not. One of the things that I’ve discovered about myself as I go through the steps is the defects in my character. The two that are most relevant are entitlement and arrogance. Arrogance is a thin mask for low self- esteem. Entitlement is a mask for low self worth. They might sound similar but are quite different. The more arrogant I was, the less I felt good about myself. The more I looked down my nose at others the less I felt like I was abused, accepted and valued as a person in the world. The drugs and alcohol would also numb that self-awareness, so I would probably have told myself to go piss up a rope. The thing about addictions is, you have to run out of resources. You know you’re partying too much when you’re losing jobs as a standup comedian.”
“What would you say was the final straw in your addiction that led you to seeking help?”
“It was somewhat of a perfect storm. My father died, my girlfriend cheated and I was diagnosed with cancer, all after succumbing to addiction. The real straw though had come one night outside of a comedy club. A man had been killed in a targeted shooting. The cops had showed up and gathered their witnesses shortly before the media arrived. I was outside, drunk and laughing when a reporter had approached me to ask what happened. I replied, ‘obviously he’s dead; don’t you hear the ambulances coming?’ I had begun to invite darkness in, is how I viewed it. For some reason, at that point I cared so little about that poor dying man or anything else. Saying something so cavalier as that meant that I was inviting that darkness in… and it came in. After that it was a blur of psychosis, withdrawal, fear, sleep deprivation, malnourishment and driving 6000 km’s in one month. I was running away from the shooting. In my mind I thought they were looking for me. That’s when I knew I had snapped and spiritually had embraced the devil within me. Addiction really is scary and when you see it in someone’s eyes, you see that darkness in their soul that brings out corruption. It’s sad when we lose them.”
“I had a friend that we lost yesterday. They had to unplug him. It was in his system and it’s so heartbreaking. It’s happening all the time and we don’t know how to stop it. With this film, I have no illusions or aspirations with fame or getting high paying gigs. I really hope that Roy can get his money back because he did it all, I just had to show up.”
“I think that it’s wonderful that your example can aspire others to seek out help with their own addictions. Your story is a very inspirational one.”
“That to me would be my biggest wish. Maybe the film can be shown at some addiction centers and other audiences so that people can have more understanding and more compassion for those dealing with addictions.”
“They say that most addiction is due to running away from something. Now that you’ve found sobriety, are you now running toward something?”
“It’s funny, cause I want to do something that has meaning. When I was younger I wanted to be a lawyer cause I wanted to be a politician and fix the world. I actually went to the United Nations with a bunch of young people and was fired up about world hunger and other world issues. As I got older I got into partying and attended university but still wanted to be a game changer and a rebel rouser. When people asked which comedians I was inspired by, George Carlin came to mind as well as Richard Pryor, but what really lit the fire was the story of Lenny Bruce and his fight against the status quo. He had said some amazing things and challenged the way we viewed the world. I wanted to do that but I got lost in the ambition of it. Once I got into recovery and had a sponsor they told me how much talent I had and that is was God given and I shouldn’t waste it. To be able to use my capacity to be able to communicate, to entertain, to make people think and laugh and rhyme. It’s no longer about how much I’m getting paid for this but more about taking that experience and using it to improve the world and having a purpose. I think most people are pursuing a similar purpose.”
“I had a man approach me after a show in Whistler. He went through a breakup and said it was the first time he was able to laugh. Another time a woman had come up to buy a CD after my show. She was in town spending time with her dad who had terminal cancer and wasn’t expected to live much longer. She wanted to thank me for making her laugh. When someone tells you that, it’s a real gift.”
“Earlier in the documentary, there’s a scene between a heckler and yourself where you get pretty upset and defensive. Do you see yourself reacting the same way if you get heckled again?”
“People don’t heckle me anymore. I used to go looking for it before, but that being said, I have a lot more finesse now. The joy of hurting people left me and is one of the reasons I started doing solo shows. Carney is the new edgy. Being a badass, dismissive and having a road warrior identity really grossed me out after I got into recovery. Now I enjoy entertaining them rather than hurting them. I told my daughter that it’s unlovable people that need love the most. It’s really about connecting with people. Standup comedy really lost its charm for me once I got into recovery. It felt like people wanted me to be mean, dismissive and negative. When I started doing my show about recovery, I knew my sponsor and my mom would be there but it also turned out to be popular. I’ve gotten tired of negative comedy and in a poem I recite, Swipe Right, there’s a message in which the love that you’re seeking is in yourself. To be able to say that at a comedy shop has sometimes resulted in a standing ovation.”
“I think it’s a great way to end a show on such a positive note. That’s a valuable message.”
“You know, everyone carries a burden. We see rock stars and celebrities and think these people have it going on but it’s not true. They’re also carrying a burden. When you see someone that’s full of themselves, you afford them a certain amount of compassion because they’re fighting so hard just to feel okay. When you see someone down on their luck on the street, you don’t have to give them money but you can have compassion for them and see them. They’re not that far from you and share the same sidewalk.”
In closing, Richard adds,
“I’m very proud of Roy for his efforts in the film. As far as what it does for my career, well one day at a time. I’m still sober and its not about a guy that needs to do something, it’s about a guy that does something.”
If you’re heading up to Whistler for the festival, I highly recommend this film if you want to leave the theatre feeling good about hope and adversity. You can thank me later.
Never Be Done: The Richard Glenn Lett Story will be airing at WFF on November 29th at Village 8 and November 30th at the Squamish Lil’ Wat Cultural Centre.