Updated 11:42 a.m.
Looking for a laugh? You might find it next month at Helium Comedy Club, which will host an evening show featuring some big names, including comedians who’ve performed for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and MTV’s Girl Code.
Looking to do some good? The same event might suit.
Willie Rodriguez, Fresh Start’s director, admits the idea is… different. Humor isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you brainstorm how to treat substance use disorder.
“But I have to look past that,” Rodriguez said, “and look at the fact that we have people who are willing to share their talent in order to help other people.”
The whole idea was thought up by Beth Eisenberg, a strategy consultant at a behavioral health organization called the Merakey Foundation. She’s a Philly comedian, and she entered her own recovery from addiction 17 years ago.
“I think about those early days, I was out of my mind,” Eisenberg said. “I couldn’t imagine if I didn’t have a place to live. I wouldn’t have stayed sober.”
Fresh Start has a handful of housing programs in Philly: two men’s programs, a women’s program, a Spanish-speaking program and a veteran’s program. In total, they’ve got more than 100 beds — and 28 of them are scholarship beds for people who can’t afford recovery housing. Those beds are what this event aims to help pay for.
“There’s a lot of folks out there dying, falling between the cracks, because there’s not enough city-funded beds,” Rodriguez said. “There are all these hoops that people have to jump through. We like to be able to scholarship folks that meet certain criteria.”
At $12.18 per day, Helium staff hopes to sponsor as much time as they can for people in recovery.
And the extra cash couldn’t come soon enough for Rodriguez, who says addiction is as bad in Philly as it has been in his two decades at Fresh Start. In 2017, 1,200 people suffered fatal overdoses in Philadelphia.
“For somebody who’s been doing this for as long as I’ve been doing it, the stuff that I’ve seen…. There’s no words,” Rodriguez said. “People are dying.”
Chip Chantry is a comedian based out of Philly. He calls Helium his “home club” — it’s where he recorded his first album. Since his first album, Chantry has written for NBC’s Crazy Talk and Whacked Out Sports. He’s eager to return to Helium — this time, to raise some money.
“Comedy can be kind of cathartic and healing,” Chantry said. “If somebody is going through something, why not take a night off and laugh?”
Rodriguez entered his own recovery from addiction more than 20 years ago. Comedy, he said, isn’t as far off topic as people might think.
“Part of recovery is being able to laugh,” Rodriguez said. “If this is making people laugh, that’s beautiful, because we need that.”