Marion Grodin, comedian/author, and Ben Freeberg, venture capital funny man (both are co-hosts for TEDxAsburyPark 2021 JOY conference), talk about surviving difficulties through connection and community.
Ben Freeberg: Hey everyone. Welcome to the TEDxAsburyPark podcast series. I am excited to be here today with my co-host Marion Grodin. Welcome Marion. We’re excited to have you and I’m glad we were able to do this. This is being recorded for our listeners during, I think this is probably right in the heart of the coronavirus scare. So we just decided as a team to push back TEDxAsburyPark this year (to Spring 2021). But, we’re excited that Marion and our other 22 speakers and performers are sticking.
Marion Grodin: I’m so excited. That’s what’s happening everywhere. And it’s funny because you just asked me if there was anything I wanted to plug and of course I said I would love to plug something, but everything’s been canceled.
Ben Freeberg: Exactly.
Marion Grodin: And it’s just a new abnormal normal.
Ben Freeberg: Yes, it is. It’s quite crazy. But we’re excited to share some more about what you’ll be speaking about at TEDxAsburyPark. So first, can you give the audience just a quick 10 second background? Maybe some highlights from your history performing standup?
Marion Grodin: Sure. So I’ve been a standup for about 20 years. I would say the highlights were opening for Linda Ronstadt at the Beacon.
Ben Freeberg: Amazing.
Marion Grodin: Opening for Lewis Black at his alma mater with all the writers from the Daily Show. I regularly share the stage with Jerry Seinfeld because my home club is Gotham, and that’s where he comes and works out everything. I’ve opened for other people that are amazing, like Colin Quinn, Robert Klein. I’m trying to think of who else. Oh, Roseanne. Dave Chappelle, I actually worked with back in the day. And just amazing people that I’m in awe of. Mainly Chappelle, just amazing. And when I worked with Linda Ronstadt, she said, “You’re really funny. Can you do more time?” And I said, “What song are you going to cut? You can’t not do Blue Bayou.”
Ben Freeberg: Exactly.
Marion Grodin: So I was like, “I’ll take the time, but don’t cut the song.”
Ben Freeberg: Yes, totally fair. That’s awesome. I’m excited to share the stage with you as well. Add to that list of big names.
Marion Grodin: Yeah, it’ll be awesome.
Ben Freeberg: Awesome. So can you share a little bit about what the big idea is you’re talking about next year?
Marion Grodin: Yeah, thanks. And it’s really relevant to this time. So the name of my talk is “Joy is an Inside Job” and it’s basically…
Ben Freeberg: Amazing.
Marion Grodin: Yeah. So I’m a recovering addict, alcoholic, I’ve been sober 31 years. And I’m basically talking about looking for joy in all the wrong places, and looking forward externally, and looking for it chemically, and looking for it in the wrong people, and how ultimately it’s something that you really have to find in yourself.
Ben Freeberg: Right, right. That’s amazing. For the listeners, any surprising fun facts you learned by doing that research?
Marion Grodin: It just cemented what I already knew. Again, being sober a long time that, there’s the saying, “a man is a cookie as a drug.” You can look for it in so many places and it’s not outside of you. It’s something that’s inside of you. And I also, in the talk, just discuss how it’s easy to feel joy when everything’s going your way. That’s easy joy. But what about now? Like now, when we’re challenged and there are obstacles, and there’s adversity, can you still feel joy? And for me the answer is yes, but it’s something within me and it’s spiritual, and it has to do with the way that I connect with other human beings. And knowing that I’m part of something much larger than myself, and knowing that I’m much more than the sum of the worst things that have ever happened to me, including this coronavirus.
Ben Freeberg: Amazing. And is this the first time you’re going to be sharing this story with an audience?
Marion Grodin: Yes. Well, I wrote a book called Standing Up: A Memoir of a Funny (Not Always) Life, and I went on a 22 city tour. I went to Canada and I did standup, and I talked about adversity in my own life, being a cancer survivor, a divorce survivor, and a recovering addict, and all of that. And basically coming out a pretty happy person and understanding that there is a way to connect with good feelings, no matter what.
Ben Freeberg: Right. And that’s what we were starting to chat a little bit before we pressed record on this. But for the audience, I’m also a co-cancer survivor, and it’s just amazing how once you share the story, and you open up, just how people will react to it is amazing.
Marion Grodin: Yeah. And I think even if people haven’t had cancer, everybody has had stuff that is daunting and overwhelming, and how do we come through that? And for me it’s definitely spiritual, it definitely has to do with a higher power, connecting with a higher power, connecting with other people through that higher power. And just knowing that there’s so much more than meets the eye going on.
Ben Freeberg: Amazing. Where has this journey taken you? Unexpectedly, as you dove into more of your spiritual side?
Marion Grodin: Well, I got sober in a community, and that is like my spiritual house. And I think that I was always looking. As a kid, I actually went to the synagogue and to the church and I asked everybody, like the head people, “What does your religion have over the next guy?” And nobody could really answer that, right?
Ben Freeberg: That’s amazing.
Marion Grodin: I was like, show me why Judaism is better than Christianity or Christianity is better than Judaism. And what I came to really discover was that I had to find my own higher power. And it doesn’t have to be yours, it doesn’t have to be what you call it. But it works for me and it connects me to other people in a profound and meaningful way. So I think that I was always a seeker, and I don’t think I knew that coming into the rooms of recovery was going to deliver me to that which I’d been looking for in my whole life.
Ben Freeberg: For maybe some of the folks listening who are going through potential difficult times right now, and are overwhelmed to get started on the journey that you so boldly embrace, any advice for them on how they could get started doing that today, or this week?
Marion Grodin: I think the biggest thing for me was I had to surrender. I had to surrender to get help and admit for me that it was drugs and alcohol. I was beat, and that I needed another way, and I needed to admit powerlessness and unmanageability, and I needed to connect with other people. I think that’s part of why this coronavirus is so challenging, because I think a lot of the lifeline for many of us is community and other people. And now all of a sudden we’re plunged into like you’re supposed to stay home, which I’m not really doing, and I’m taking precautions. But I just feel like connection to other people and community in any form that you find it is so profound in terms of wellbeing and mental health.
Ben Freeberg: Are there any resources for groups or specific activities that folks could engage with, that you have off the top of your head?
Marion Grodin: I think just community. I’m going to a friend’s house this evening.
Ben Freeberg: Just getting out there.
Marion Grodin: Yeah. And just to connect, and whether because of the crazy times we’re in, you do it on the phone, like what we’re doing now, or you do it in person, I just think strict isolation is very bad for the human spirit.
Ben Freeberg: Yes.
Marion Grodin: So I’m being careful, but I’m leading my life.
Ben Freeberg: That’s awesome. And I know we started to talk about it before, but the comedy world is definitely slowing down with people not being able to go to clubs. How else are you getting your creative outlet?
Marion Grodin: I wish that it was slowing down. It’s come to a grinding halt. Slowing down would be great, but I just had every single gig, and every comic I know has had every single gig, cancel. And it’s thousands and thousands of dollars. So, I don’t know. The government’s saying they’re going to mail checks out, that would be nice. But it’s crazy because myself and everyone I know, everyone’s going to be behind.
Ben Freeberg: Right, right.
Marion Grodin: I think also I’ll mention when you say where did it lead me…when I was going through cancer, I was extremely depressed and really had trouble getting out of bed. And I heard that there was a group at Sloan Kettering, and I was supposed to call this social worker. And I remember thinking, this is so weird. I don’t want to call this social worker. This is so weird, I don’t know these people, they don’t know me. Best thing I ever did.
Ben Freeberg: Right.
Marion Grodin: And I joined a community of people, a recovery community. All different stages of the disease and the recovery. And it was life-changing, because I think that to feel alone is probably the worst thing.
Ben Freeberg: I certainly agree.
Marion Grodin: So that was life-changing. I don’t know if you joined a support group, but for me it was life changing.
Ben Freeberg: Yes, mine was called the Imerman Angels. It’s amazing. It’s a peer-to-peer cancer support group that does such an incredible job of matching folks to someone that had your exact thing.
Marion Grodin: Amazing.
Ben Freeberg: So whatever it is, your age group type, and it really did help. So, that’s great to hear. And Marion, we are coming up on time. That flew by. I cannot wait to share the stage with you soon. Everything will be back to normal soon. So again, this is your co-host, Ben Freeberg, here with Marion Grodin and excited for you to come and share some potentially dark subjects and turn it into comedy. So thank you again, Marion.
Marion Grodin: That’s it, that’s the goal.
Ben Freeberg: Awesome. Thanks everyone. We’ll see you soon.