A comedian, a musician, an emcee and a rapper/magician walk into a bar and order sparkling water. There is no punchline. This is a true story based on four of our local performers from different parts of the entertainment scene who have one thing in common: sobriety.
Staying sober may mean different things for different people, but for these individuals, it has meant life or death and finding a healthy balance between their vices and their careers. The music and club scene is particularly dangerous territory for those who can't handle liquor. Some venues offer performers big tabs as part of the payment — or just as a bonus — and patrons often "tip" performers in the form of shots and drinks sent to the stage. While not all performers are pursuing 12 steps toward a sober life, most do have to drive themselves home when they come with a lot of gear. Here is how these four experienced local performers manage to stay sober in a drinker's world.
Dan Danzy is a Dallas comedian whose comedy has been a hit all over, making crowds laugh for 13 years. His struggle with alcohol was never a secret and went hand-in-hand with his pursuit of a career in comedy.
“I always drank in my teen years after my mom passed away, but it wasn’t high school parties," Dansy says. "I would just drink alone in my teens, and then when 21 hit I had freedom, and that is when it went off the rails.”
As his career began to take off, Danzy's drinking and “bad nights” increased. “A lot of these bars pay in booze, then I’m two drinks in and I wanted to keep going," he recalls. "I would drink if the show was great to celebrate and drink if it bombed.” Like many people who struggle with alcohol, Danzy's addiction intensified, and he found himself waking up to immediate thoughts about how to get his next drink.
“I surrounded myself with drinkers, so no one said anything when it was getting out of hand," he says. "Looking back now that I’ve been sober, I see now why people would kick me out. I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, I was being a drunken idiot, so they kicked me out.’”
Almost four years ago everything changed for Danzy while in Austin. “I woke up in a jail cell and had no idea why I was there. I spent the next five hours thinking, ‘Did I kill someone?’ and was pleading with myself that if I hadn’t hurt anyone, I would stop drinking, this would be the end.” Danzy didn’t kill anyone, but he did find himself on probation and decided he'd hit his lowest point, that he would use this forced time to get sober and stay that way. His choice was met with support, short of one headlining comic he doesn't name.
Danzy puts his story into his stand-up routine and talks about the journey. “After every show there is a person who is sober that comes up to me and tells me that hearing my story has made them feel comfortable and that they know what I went through," he says. "Others come up and think it is just a bit and offer me a drink and when I turn it down they respect it more because I’m serious.”
These days Danzy is happily engaged, streams on Twitch and is part of a podcast called The Crowd’s Fault with Jacob Pinkerton. He's also a resident comedian at Hyena’s Comedy Club and was the runner-up in the Funniest Comic in Texas competition. It isn’t all positive though; Danzy says that alcohol was suppressing anxiety and now he has to learn to deal with it while sober.
Pinkerton has known Danzy for over 10 years and has seen him at his most destructive and finds him now to be at his most vibrant and creative. “Dan is criminally underrated," Pinkerton says. "He was a cocky a-hole and has made amends, cares about the scene and is more at peace with himself than ever before. He knows what he is doing and gets up there and it seems effortless.”
Says Danzy, “If I can say one thing to anyone who wants to be sober it's, Is it worth the fight?" Danzy says. "Don’t worry if it isn’t overnight, I still have that little demon in my mind tempting me, but it's worth it.”
Veronica Young has made her mark on the DFW scene as the powerhouse host of radio show Hungover With V and is a sought-out emcee for events. From hosting the Dallas Observer Music Awards to main stages at the Deep Ellum Arts Fests, V is always promoting musicians.
“I was a drinker prior socially because I was a young mom, but when I hit 30 my kids were older, I got a taste of freedom and created Hungover With V," Young says. "This show is a show for people to unwind while they’re hungover and listen as I and a co-host discuss politics, booze, current events and, of course, local music.”
Young's drinking was amplified, she says, by the show and being booked at events and festivals. She found herself not only drinking socially anymore, but day-drinking at these events. The concept of her show revolved around being hungover, which made it especially hard to escape the habit.
“In the darker drunk moments, I would lash out at sound guys if I didn’t like something," she admits with a laugh. "So, if you’re a sound guy that I have yelled at in the last nine years, I’m sorry.
"In the fall of 2018 I was told I would be starting a medicine in 2019 that doesn’t mix well with alcohol so I decided that since I was already feeling like crap all the time from drinking this would be my reason to finally quit. I had a big New Year's Eve drinking party and then Jan. 1, 2019, that was my very last hangover.”
Not everyone was supportive of her decision to achieve sobriety, Young says, and those people have phased out of her life.
“I was at a party and when offered a drink I just said, 'No thanks, I’m not drinking anymore,' and they called me some awful things but told me I was being weak and were throwing in my face past behaviors from when I was drunk all the time,” Young says. “Like yeah that story is exactly why I don’t want to drink anymore. Why is telling it to me going to make me drink? It was so weird. I realize those friendships were based on drinking and now that we don’t have that in common anymore, they’re just over.” Young instead relies on her husband and family for support.
“I have spent more time with my family, my daughter, granddaughters and sons," Young says. "My relationship is just better. I spent so much time out drinking and then being miserable the next day, I am making up for lost time.” Young says she feels an increase in her creativity and is able to contribute to the scene much more efficiently while sober. “Hungover With V is heading to a cable network soon. I’m launching a podcast with Nil Arsala and am getting back into the emcee scene. I want to start booking shows for artists again and continue to create.” Young says sobriety doesn't stop her from going to shows. She can be found in the front of a venue with her Topo Chico and lime, swaying to the music and loving life.
Trees Marie is the front woman of Trees Marie and The Heavy Hearts, a local Americana-Southern rock-country fusion band. Her killer lyrics paired with insanely potent pipes are two of the reasons she has been a successful musician since the age of 14. Marie was performing in Dallas at paid gigs at that tender age, which gave her an early look into the world of alcohol. She dived right into the rock and roll persona she wanted and that included the drinking life.
“There is a certain amount of anxiety as a musician, and it can turn into self-loathing," Marie says. "I felt like I couldn’t be a monster rock star or write good music without suffering. I thought no one writes anything good while being sober.” As her musical career grew, so did Marie's drunken nights and increasingly regrettable experiences. On the outside, she appeared as a beautiful, rockin’ woman entertaining crowds, but she numbed her self-loathing with whiskey.
“I can remember falling off the stage at shows, stumbling back into the drums and even not remembering shows at all. Then I’d be offered more drinks by fans and have to drive all the way back home,” Marie says. Nine months ago, she decided to stop drinking for good. This decision was brought on by a cycle of unfortunate circumstances that served as the catalyst she needed to stop.
“I work the (sobriety) program and am surrounded by people young and old that give me encouragement and hope,” Marie says. She found a clever way to segue the awkwardness of being offered drinks at shows, usually a bona fide sign of appreciation. “When fans come offer me a drink at shows now, I use that as the time to introduce my song ‘Black Out Drunk,’ and I get to tell my story through that,” the singer says. She believes her effort to stay sober has actually made her a better performer. “Being sober has allowed me to connect more with my audience,” Marie says. Ultimately, for a lifelong performer like Trees Marie, that is the most important thing — her music and her connection with fans — and nothing will stand in her way.
Ritchy Flo has put audiences under a trance through his beats, rap and magic for the last 10 years. Like most 18-year-olds, Flo got into the drinking scene along with his friends and other artists back at that age.
“I definitely drank more when I was doing hella rap shows and always around everybody doing the party thing,” Flo says. His drinking never got out of control and he didn’t experience alcohol-fueled regrets, but his imbibing did steadily increase along with his rising notoriety. Flo stopped drinking, however, because of health concerns.
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“When I turned 21, I got pancreatitis, and the doctor told me I couldn’t drink anymore," he recalls. "I tried that for a while, but my friends were always out having tons of fun and drinking; I wanted this same stuff, I wanted to be part of the party. Now I realize (sobriety) was one of the greatest gifts that has ever been granted for me. I quit again three years ago and never looked back.”
Flo didn't give up on his passion of producing beats and rapping, but also ended up becoming one of the most impressive magicians in the area. He kept going despite the temptations that arise when alcohol is ever-present at every show and every venue. “People always want to buy me drinks," Flo says of making the nightlife one's place of business. "Sometimes to troll I just act hella pompous and say ’twahh.. nah, I don’t drink.’” Since Flo decided to stop drinking, he says his creativity became limitless.
“I’m 100 percent the best at what I do and that’s because my focus is all there," he says. "My creativity starts early in the a.m. and doesn’t stop until I’ve exhausted myself. There is no time for hangovers and there is no time to not be 100 percent on point. Not with the goals in this life I have," Flo explained.
He concludes with one promise: “You can look forward to seeing me all the time as I become the biggest entertainer in history. Be astounded by my magic or get slapped in the face by my music, either way just watch while I become a household million-dollar name.”