Comedian, Troy Meeks, spent time on the comedy circuit in the ‘90s and 2000s and still performs today. He’s toured with big acts from Saturday Night Live, done stand-up comedy, and appeared on MTV and HBO. Meeks who is also an Alumni coordinator at Transformations Treatment Center, recently sat down for an interview to discuss how the creative process is much like the recovery process. Meeks opens up about his experiences in the entertainment industry, addiction, life stories, and how it all relates to the recovery process.
What got you interested in comedy?
I was fourteen and I saw Robin Williams open up. He was filming The Mork and Mindy Show in Boulder, Colorado. I’m from that area. I watched him and I saw him do it and I was like I love this, I want to do this. Robin Williams was just getting his start as a comedian at that point and he had been doing standup for a while and had been mainstream at that point. And I was like I want to do that and I started doing it, you know. I found out I had a proclivity to being very comfortable with being on stage. Being in front of people has never made me nervous like that, more excited. I just learned to write jokes and work on my craft for several years.
Was there a particular moment that sparked your career?
I think my comedy didn’t start becoming personal to me until I had lived a little bit. By that, I mean I was in my early 20s when I was in college. I had some heartbreaks and those things always generate part of that creative process for me. My outlet then was doing stand up and making fun of the situations I put myself into. I don’t know if there was a moment, but certainly it got easier when I was traveling doing colleges. I’ll tell you this, the best moment I had, and this was while I was still sober, was back in 1990. I was on MTV half-hour comedy show. I had done a short clip for HBO. I was doing clubs and everything. I was traveling with Kevin Nealon from Saturday Night Live. I opened up for him at Utah State University in front of 8,900 kids. It was amazing. It was great. Here I was this kid from Wyoming that was doing standup. It was a short time after that, that my first issues with mental illness started to come into play with me. The bipolar started kicking in and huge bouts of depression. It’s real hard to be creative when all that’s going on.
Gotcha. Do you think that snowballed from the pressures of success?
Yeah, absolutely. You know, there was a time I was doing clubs and doing colleges and I was traveling. I think part of the problem is we creative people and people who put themselves open like that – being on stage, putting a painting on a wall, sharing a poem – you know, you put yourself out there, that fear of rejection is very large. And I’ve noticed with creative people that have mental illnesses and/or addiction, they’re extremely hard on themselves. I definitely fall in that category. I’m my own worst critic and I always was.
So do you think the creative process plays a role in mental illness or is it just the pressures from the entertainment industry?
I think creative people have a way of expressing themselves and they feel things deeper. And I think for me at least, I felt relationships and love, hurt and anger, all those things at a different level. And the hard part with that is when you feel like you can’t express yourself, and you’re not good enough, then you feel like a failure. Just sharing on stage is never going to be enough and that’s when I started picking up. That’s when the addiction piece of me started kicking in. I picked up, I started drinking heavy in my mid-twenties and I was still doing standup sporadically. And then I’d go and I’d quit creating for awhile. I always had this stuff in my head, but I just wasn’t getting it out.
So those mental blocks get in the way. You have this passion burning in you to release that creative energy, but certain situations may pop-up that prevent you from doing that…
That’s a great way to put it. You have all this in you and you’re trying to get it out. There are people that can just sit down and they’ve got this vision of what they want. They can put it on a mural or on a painting or they can sing and make a song and do it. My talent was obviously telling jokes about it, you know. The problem with it it is that the catalyst – the thing that teaches you how to be creative – if that is alcohol, drugs, or any kind of addiction, then you’re not comfortable any other way. For example, if I only learned to express myself on stage when I’ve been drinking, the only way I know how to be on stage is while I’m drinking. So by being creative and adding alcohol and cocaine and whatever else in my past that I’ve thrown in there, that became how I did performances instead. And so then I fool myself saying that I can only do it when I have this, and that becomes the only way you can express yourself.
And so drugs and alcohol become your support system in a way. That’s all you know at that point…
Absolutely. Yeah and you’re like ‘I can only draw when I’m high, when I’m drinking, I can only be on stage.’ Those things become part of your self-talk. And getting out of that, was one of the biggest things I did this go around when I got sober, which was creating that self-esteem that was positive enough for me to where I felt comfortable enough in my own skin to share my story in a humorous way.
Everyone has that one reason why they decide to change. So what got you to that point where you were challenging the negative self-talk and back to doing comedy sober again?
In the program I worked, they called it surrender, but I was tired. I was exhausted. Having all this in me that I wanted to get out is these jokes, this energy. I don’t think it was all just stand up for me. I just have this positive energy that kind of comes out of me. Not being able to share that and have that is exhausting. I finally got to the point where I’m tired of being this tired and I need to change. So the best thing they say is to change people, places, and things; so when I was offered an opportunity to come to Transformations here in Florida, I got on the plane with the understanding that I can never drink again.
I gotta learn how to do these things sober. So I got here and that’s the first thing that changed was I started believing in myself again and I started seeing myself through those sober eyes. Instead of saying, ‘you have to be drunk to get on stage,’ or ‘you have to drink to get on stage,’ you have to just go have fun. And that’s what being on stage for me is, is fun. I have no aspirations of being on The Jimmy Kimmel Show or having my own special, if that were to happen, it happens, but I just like the fact that I wake up every day and laugh again. If I can share some of my tragic stories and turn them into funny stories for other people to relate, then there’s great power in that.
Definitely. You get more intrinsic value out of it. So how do you think the creative process is similar to the recovery process?
In the recovery at Transformations, it’s about the step work. Even if you don’t work steps just being in recovery, you first have to understand that you have this problem. On the flipside of that, if you are a creative person, you have to understand that you’ve been given this gift that other people don’t get. Like I said, I watch people who paint, and it amazes me. I’m like ‘how do you do that?’ And people see me in front of other people and are like, ‘How do you just speak so casually?’ I was at the improv three weeks ago and there was 600 people.
I like it when there’s more people, it fuels me. Having that confidence and an understanding you’ve been given a gift and then being able to share that gift is just like recovery. You have to understand you have a problem and that you have to address your problem and then being able to share your recovery path, whatever that is. My story is my jokes. There are two types of comedians; there are joke tellers and storytellers. Joke tellers have those zingers, those one liners, the knock-knock kind of stuff; mine is more of a story. And being able to find the humor in that and the lightness in my story is what came from recovery.
What has been your most empowering moment as an Alumni coordinator?
I think with the Alumni department, the great power we have is that we are alumni. I didn’t get a degree to come work in treatment. I earned my place here by messing my life up just like the clients that came through here. I mean, I’m a client that came through here and everyone in the alumni department did. And the fact that we have that common thread, knowing that there’s someone in the community who can help is empowering. When they call in and people understand that they’ve got a voice at Transformations that can hear what they’re saying and help them, it’s comforting. I mean some people call me and just want to talk. Some people call me with tragic stories of their relapse, and some call to tell me the story of the baby they just had. I don’t know if there’s one moment, I think every day there’s validation that I get.
What do you love about being an Alumni coordinator?
Just the fact that I’m asked to come teach groups and when you’re calling a client week after week and you’re talking to him and they turn around and say, ‘how are you doing,’… seeing that light go on in them, that it’s not just about them, that this world isn’t just about them, that’s amazing, especially when I watch these young kids. You watch a young kid that’s 22 put together 6 months clean and he’s been using since he was 13, all of a sudden he’s starting to see things clearer and process things better and make better choices and better decisions. You watch them and they’re recovering. Just the hope I have for them, that’s what I love. I think, man if you can do this now and not do what I did and wait four years or 30 years to try to put some recovery time in, that’s great.
Is there anything you would like to say to anyone who may be considering a career in the entertainment industry, whether it’s music or comedy, who is in recovery?
Whether in recovery or not, I would say find you. The process of discovering yourself, you fine tune your art, whether it’s painting, it’s singing or maybe it’s gardening. In the process of discovering you, sometimes you find yourself in that piece. I can put together all my favorite jokes that’s made up my past. I can look back on my past and say that’s who I was. That’s what happened to me. Instead of being shameful of that past now, I can embrace it and say, ‘You know what, that’s kind of messed up, but it’s kind of funny now because I don’t have to be that person anymore.’
So finding your voice and sharing that with others is challenging. It’s scary to go out on a stage and share a story with someone because we all have that fear of rejection and that’s just human nature. It’s not specific to people in recovery or people who are creative, but creative people take those steps backwards a lot harder, and that’s cause for relapse. And that was some of mine too. I used to think that I gotta have a little bit of drink before I go on stage to calm myself down so I’m not nervous. I didn’t realize until I started doing standup that if I meditate, that I focus or better yet, if I make sure I’m prepared beforehand, then I don’t have those pressures.
On continuing to push forward in recovery and do what works for him…
The encouragement I would say is practice. It’s not about practicing to succeed; it’s about practicing to fail as well. I learned that by failing, I’d throw myself out there all the time. There are times it doesn’t go great, but I know it was that moment. I learn from that and move forward. It’s the same thing with my recovery. There are days where I don’t have great days, but I do what I know how to do and I work my recovery and I go about the next day. I don’t hold yesterday hostage. In other words, I don’t hold it hostage and bring it with me into the next day. What happened yesterday, happened yesterday. I ask myself what’s great that’s going to happen today. And I found for myself, that meditation and the ocean and having a life that’s worth living has really helped me to be more creative. I don’t hinge everything on just one moment of a day.
Yeah, you did mention that you surf in the mornings and that’s been an integral part of your recovery in terms of being present, right?
Oh absolutely. I think it goes along the lines of what Soundpath Recovery is creating here at Transformations, which is creating a life worth living. You know, it’s not just about getting sober because I can go get locked up in prison for two years and have two years of sobriety. You say, ‘Oh I was sober for two years while I was in prison.’ Does that mean you had a great life? Absolutely not. Getting sober is only part of it. Creating a life that’s worth living for me is the biggest part because that’s what’s going to maintain me, what’s gonna keep me motivated and moving in the right direction. Whether I’m just doing standup, just telling jokes or whether I’m just sharing funny stories with friends, I’m able to do that because I like who I am now… and I haven’t liked this guy in a couple of decades. It’s been 20-something years since I really woke up and said, ‘Hey I like that guy, he’s a good guy, he does good things.’
Sober Eyes: The Road to Recovery
The Soundpath Recovery program aims to help clients discover themselves through the power of music and live a life worth living in recovery. The program merges a therapeutic approach with creative expression. Soundpath is integrated throughout the partial hospitalization (PHP), intensive outpatient (IOP), and outpatient programs. To learn more about any of the programs at Transformations Treatment Center, contact our admissions team today at 800-270-4315.