If you follow modern stand-up comedy even casually, youʼre probably aware that booze and drugs arenʼt celebrated today like they once were. Humor superstars like Chris Hardwick, Marc Maron and Russell Brand have all become disciples of sobriety, bemoaning their dark years wasted as cross-eyed drunks.
And it would be easy to dismiss Denver comic Ben Roy as just another addition to the Live, From The Wagon! comedy generation, if he didnʼt spend half his career reminding everyone how bad the wagon smells, as he does in his newest comedy album (available April 15), No Enlightenment In Sobriety. “Iʼve been sober for three years, and Iʼm not any happier or a better person,” Roy says on the new record. “Quitting drinking just takes the liquid earmuffs off your head, and now your demons are way fucking louder than they were before.”
If youʼre unfamiliar with Ben Roy, then No Enlightenment is a great album with which to begin. But for anyone whose been following this Grawlix comedy team member for a few years, the excessive self-branding Roy does as the teetotaling time-bomb of misery is beginning to wear thin. In both this release and 2012ʼs I Got Demons, he reminds us of his sobriety anniversary date; each are filled with nefarious tales of blackout revelry, and hyper monologues on why he stopped drinking. Sobriety may have saved Ben Royʼs life, but itʼs threatening to eclipse his creative identity.
At the same time, this thoroughly tapped well hasnʼt run so dry for Roy that heʼs stopped being interesting. When explaining why sobriety is a good option, he clarifies that itʼs not because life is so great, but because clarity is awful. And sometimes awful is just the ticket. “A little bit of misery is really fucking motivating,” says Roy, going on to explain thatʼs why artistic revolutions come out of economically depressed Detroit, or socially repressed gay neighborhoods– and why nothing good comes from West Palm Beach, Florida. So donʼt numb yourself to the fuel of ugly truth with drugs and booze, because “sometimes the voices in your head are right.”
While the new album may be packaged in the theme of temperance, thereʼs also no shortage of delightfully long-winded rants about social issues that have nothing to do with booze. This misanthropic Tony Robbins will take you down some long roads with his pretzel logic, but thereʼs usually a hearty meal at the end of that rabbit hole.
On his previous album, I Got Demons, Roy won over crowds by dissecting the low-hanging fruit of reality TV icons like Snooki and Honey Boo Boo, or pointing out how Americans are gluttonous slobs that should be ashamed of themselves. Itʼs easy to get people on board with these types of rage-inducing topics, but on No Enlightenment In Sobriety, Ben Roy actively plays the villain by taking on an institution even more universally treasured than feminism, civil rights and gay marriage combined. Pet ownership.
“Dogs and cats are parasitic creatures,” he says, laughing maniacally and proudly noting the tension in the room. “I see no difference between a dog and a giant bedbug… This is just my idea, and you donʼt have to believe it. But I think the reason people own little dogs and carry them around in purses, is because you canʼt own a retard. If you could own a retarded person the mall would be a way different place.”
At times Ben Royʼs patronizing and condemning tone can be a little exhausting, but overall he reveals just enough vulnerability to avoid any Nick Di Paolo antagonism or Bill Maher preachiness. Even when you strongly disagree with him, his dizzying explanations and animated hysteria are charming enough to carry you along for the ride. With No Enlightenment In Sobriety, Ben Roy uses biology to explain why families are bad for you, and quotes the Bible to explain why the homeless are a superior species. Though somehow he never comes off as a sociopath, but a genuinely curious person who knows how to state things in a jarring, vivid way.
Sobriety may not have delivered enlightenment to Ben Roy, but itʼs certainly given him the courage to try and make people laugh at things they actively disagree with. Around the Denver comedy scene heʼs been delivering a bit that aggressively questions whether monogamy is a realistic institution. Audiences often laugh ferociously at this, even though probably very few of them go home and consider polyamory. Just as they continue to toast their beers and cocktails to him while heʼs listing the ways booze nearly ruined his life. And, for the fucking love of all things holy, they will continue to see their dogs and cats as unimpeachable little angels