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The Urge to Leave Society is Strong with this One: Recovery Comedian Matthew Zerilli
Recovery Comedians, Comics Anonymous, Recovery Comedy, Recovery Comic, Clean and Sober Comedy
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Matthew Zerilli is a stand-up comedian based in Traverse City, MI.
Having been raised between Michigan’s rural Upper Peninsula and the suburbs of Detroit, he has developed an outsider style of comedy that is part social commentary and part absurd report on the human condition. Matthew is a recovering alcoholic, relapsed Catholic, and aspiring narcissist. He has been called the Barry White of Comedy due to the raw, baby-making power of his jokes.

Recovery Comedy:  What were you like as a kid?

Matthew Zerilli: I was a goofy, oddball kid that was in my own head a lot. I was always a little misfit. One of my favorite stories my parents tell was how they dropped me off at the first day of pre-school and apparently I just left. They had to come pick me up a couple miles away later that day. The urge to leave society hasn’t really changed much, but making people laugh has always made life more tolerable.

Recovery Comedy:  What made you decide to become a stand-up comedian and how long have you been performing?

Matthew Zerilli:  I have been obsessed with stand up my whole life. When other kids were practicing sports, I was watching old Stand Up specials and listening to my parents George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Steve Martin albums. I have always had the urge to try it, but couldn’t realize that it was possible until I had been sober for some time.  I had to “give myself permission” to take the risk (if that makes any sense). I have been writing comedy for years, and just started performing a little over a year ago. Since I got that first laugh on stage, I have been hooked and haven’t looked back.

Recovery Comedy:  Were you performing stand-up comedy before you got into recovery?

Matthew Zerilli:  No. Even though I started a little later in life, I am often grateful for the fact that I waited. There is something to be said for being able to approach things with a clear head.

Recovery Comedy:  Does your comedy have a message and if so what is it?

Matthew Zerilli:  The cardinal rule is “try to be funny,” but the more I write and develop, the more I see patterns of questioning absurd social structures, trying to find ways that we are all similar, and basically just talking about what it is like to be a human. At its best, I think comedy is a powerful tool for equality and I do my best to honor that.

Recovery Comedy:  Who are your comedy idols?

Matthew Zerilli:  Wow, so many! The “Top 5” for me are Dave Chappelle, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Brian Regan, and Mitch Hedberg. Comedy is cool, though, in that I can hear a brilliant joke at an open mic and it can totally light up my brain just like any of the greats. It is really hard to pick just a few, but those are some good ones.

Recovery Comedy:  Where does your inspiration for material come from?

Matthew Zerilli:  Well, I think most comedians are pretty empathic. My material comes from my struggles, or observing others struggles, and trying to make those things funny and relatable.

Recovery Comedy:  What is your joke writing process?

Matthew Zerilli:  I am always thinking of premises to develop and writing them down all over the place (which can drive my wife crazy), and then setting aside time to develop things by writing them out long form. Lately, I am doing more “writing on stage” by working things out onstage and recording them to develop later.

Recovery Comedy:  What is your kryptonite?

Matthew Zerilli:  Excellent question. I have a couple of rescue dogs (Sully and Monkey) that are a huge part of my life. I have a real soft spot for animals and try to always find time to get them out for a walk or a hike. They keep me grounded and are a great audience to practice my jokes on!

Recovery Comedy:  Is your family supportive of your comedy career?

Matthew Zerilli:  For the most part (laughs). I think it was a difficult adjustment at first because it is a non-traditional path and they want me to be secure. Now that they have seen how serious I am about it and the joy it brings, they are pretty supportive. However, there is still the occasional joke or two that don’t exactly get the most enthusiastic support.

Recovery Comedy:  Is comedy part of your healing process?

Matthew Zerilli:  Absolutely. I remember the first time I talked about being sober and how anxious I was to get into that on stage. Getting laughs around something so sensitive really helped me feel more like a normal, healthy person. It Is a really valuable piece of my healing that I can’t imagine not doing. Comedy is total freedom for me.

Recovery Comedy:  What was your worst experience performing comedy?

Matthew Zerilli:  Well, I have certainly bombed plenty and had a few hecklers here and there. I would say the one that really stands out is the first time I tried a “Stand up Improv” show early in my career. This is where you get handed a topic on your way onstage and have to make it funny on the spot. It went horribly. I mean, it was profoundly awful. It was an important experience that made me look at my limitations and forced me to work on improvisation skills. I have since tried it again and survived!

Recovery Comedy:  What was your best experience performing comedy?

Matthew Zerilli:  My first feature show was my most memorable so far. Lots of family and friends were there and the room was packed. It was the longest time I had ever done onstage at that point (30 mins), and I had worked really hard to prepare and deliver a strong set. It was just one of those special nights where everything came together, I will remember it for a long time.

Recovery Comedy:  What is your favorite joke?

Matthew Zerilli:  There are so many, but I always come back to this Mitch Hedberg joke:

“I wanna hang a map of the world in my house. Then I'm gonna put pins into all the locations that I've traveled to. But first, I'm gonna have to travel to the top two corners of the map so it won't fall down.”

Recovery Comedy:  What is your comedy dream?

Matthew Zerilli:  I am so grateful to be part of the Comedy tradition in any way. To have the opportunity to make a living doing it in different places is really special. My ultimate dream is just to make as many people laugh as I can, as often as I can, for as long as I can.

To find out more information about Matthew Zerilli or to book him for your next Recovery Event just click here!
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