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Laughing About Addiction With Liz Grant

"Clean and sober" comedy finds a home at The Marsh Berkeley.

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Liz Grant has this bit. It's about meth. Specifically, the comedian's very personal experience tweaking on Muni. She does an impression of her former self — eyes moving wildly, jaw popping, whole face twitching perceptibly — and lets it hang for a couple beats, really lets it sink in: This woman has been there. It kills every time.

Addiction is about the furthest thing from ha-ha funny, but Grant, who was raised in the East Bay and now lives in San Francisco, insists it's okay to laugh. "The thing is, I survived it — I've been sober for eighteen years." She said. "When you're in the middle of it, it's not funny, but generally, addicts and alcoholics laugh really hard about the tragedy we survived."

So hard, in fact, that so-called "clean and sober" comedy has become a cottage industry in and of itself: The company Recovery Comedy — which books comics for Narcotics and Alcoholics Anonymous conventions, as well as jails, halfway houses, and treatment facilities — has spun a business model out of the idea. As the stigma surrounding addiction continues to lessen, and those in recovery continue to seek evening entertainment that doesn't necessarily revolve around drinking, mainstream comedy outlets are featuring more and more recovering addicts and alcoholics. To wit: The folks at The Marsh Berkeley's weekly show Comedy Brains, who chose for their first-ever theme night to feature Grant, Julia Jackson, and Bucky Sinister — all clean and sober, and all willing to talk about it.

According to booker Marga Gomez, the recovery theme dovetails with Comedy Brains' larger aim of presenting comedy that's more narrative, more personal, more, well, brainy than what you might find at a standard comedy club. There's no brick wall, no headliner, no emcee, no lockstep setup-punchline-setup-punchline structure. And there are no idle did-you-ever-notice observations about the grocery store or the doctor's office — or if there is, it's part of a bigger, deeper story.

Gomez, herself a popular local comedian, has travelled between the worlds of comedy and storytelling since the start of her career. The way she sees it, the old stand-up model is losing its currency. "I know for me personally, I want to laugh, but I don't want to feel dirty," she said. "For a long time, the thing was to hide behind that cool, detached, television-ready persona, but there's this whole world of comedy that's not defined by comedy clubs — of comedy that comes from real life, that reveals stuff most people would hide."

All of this could very easily fly off the rails and into reality-TV-confessional territory, so Gomez is careful to find comics that are sufficiently self-contained: "If they go off on a tangent, they know how to bring it back." Comedy Brains happens every Saturday, including Saturday, February 19. 8:30 p.m., $15-$50. 510-704-8291 or TheMarsh.org

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