‘Dopey’: A Druggie Podcast Tackles Addiction With Bravery and Humor
Two recovering addicts built a fan base through a frank discussion of America's painkiller crisis.
From stories about former football players turning to heroin when they can’t get their Vicodin after knee surgery to Aunt Mae getting Oxycontin and nodding out behind the wheel of her car, not a day goes by when you don’t hear tragic and heartbreaking stories about the opiate epidemic. But what if you could see the dark humor in drug addiction? This is exactly what a podcast called Dopey does. While the hosts claim it is about “Drugs, addiction and dumb shit,” there is a lot more to it.
While many addiction podcasts take inspiration from Twelve Step meetings, the only thing Dopey has in common with one is the fact that the hosts, Dave and Chris don’t use their last names. After hearing their stories, which will remind you of the second twenty minutes of A&E’s hit show Intervention, you can understand why. In the first episode, Chris shares a hilarious story about how he got arrested after trying to steal phenobarbital from a veterinarian’s office. But that’s just the beginning. A kid from a wealthy family, over the years, he has been in and out of fifteen rehabs and had a stint in jail as a result of Catgate. With his pretty boy looks and slightly spacey demeanor, Chris is more than meets the eye. With nearly four years sobriety, he is currently working on his Ph.D. in clinical psychology.
On the other hand, if Dave weren’t a heroin addict, he might be a character on Seinfeld. Now sober for over two and a half years, he is a former television producer turned waiter. Scrappy and enthusiastic, he is the kind of guy that folks from the Midwest describe when you ask them what a “New Yawker” is like.
After meeting over seven years ago in rehab, the two men remained friends. While Dave’s drug stories are slightly more run of the mill, at least for a heroin addict, it was Chris’ epic drug adventures that really inspired Dave, “Chris had the best drugs stories. I’ve been to a billion detoxes and rehabs and nobody’s stories came close to Chris’ stories. They were just so f-cking crazy,” he explained.
It was their exchange of “war stories,” that ultimately lead to the creation of Dopey, “I was always very jealous of the idea of doing a podcast because I’ve always wanted to have a radio show. Just shoot the shit. It became obvious to me we could do a show that would be a talk show about recovery. People who are dope fiends or currently in recovery don’t have them. We have a lot of fun talking about recovery and drugs.”
The format of the podcast is similar to a talk show, but for people who think instant gratification takes too long. Every segment is flanked by the hosts bantering about topics such as shooting heroin with puddle water much in same way Kelly Ripa would talk about SoulCycle. Their sense of humor will remind you of those guys who lived down the hall from you in college whose room you could smell three floors up. Whether it’s Chris talking about the time he used a tanning bed to dry off his pants after urinating on himself, or Dave sharing about getting so dope sick at SXSW, he made his friends Fedex him drugs—the men have a brilliant way of expressing the most sordid tales of drug porn. But, the show also fearlessly conveys the reality of what serious long-term addiction is like.
Chris revealed, “Our trajectories included periods of sobriety and harm reduction over the course of almost twenty years… so addiction has been a major part of our lives, probably the defining feature. I still can get really into a story, and I will always look for a silver lining or funny aspect. It has actually been a consistent source of discord in my personal life. I have a very dark sense of humor and will laugh at things that most people won’t.” Dopey has given him a home to let his freak flag fly, “In school and work, I often have to bite my tongue or someone might think I’m insensitive, which is far from the truth.”
But even if you’ve never misfired a needle, you can still learn or at the very least laugh, according to Chris, “A large percentage of people whether they are in recovery, or need to be in recovery, or not, have those stories about drinking too much or smoking pot. We do those and take it a bit further because we were junkies and cokeheads too. The silver living for us is that it helps people get sober if they need it. Or others, it’s just a guilty pleasure.”
The listeners, dubbed the “Dopey Nation” by the hosts, have become an integral part of the show. They share their own drug misadventures either by leaving voice memos, calling in or sending emails for the hosts to read. As debauched as the hosts are, they are sometimes even outdone from a girl who smoked crack with her parents to the semi-regular “Hot Wheels,” a paraplegic who lost his mobility as the result of getting drunk and jumping into a pond. The podcast receives approximately 20-40 emails per week. While there is an intimacy between any podcast audience and the hosts, that relationship usually exists in a vacuum. And while listeners would say the hosts are, “The friends in their head,” Dopey has managed to take it a step further.
Dave explained, “We love to be engaged with our audience and try to let them participate in the show. Recovery and addiction are incredibly private, and personal things, because in many ways they are secrets needed to be kept from the world. Dopey allows our audience to share their secrets without shame or repercussions, for the most part.”
Furthermore, because Dopey has a dirty, public access vibe, Dave and Chris really respect the feedback of the audience, shaping the show to what their community wants it to be. Dave explained, “The audience gives us a true litmus test for what they like and what they don’t. Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, we tend to like the same stuff. The real unbridled truth about most any entertainment or at least my experience is that if we have fun making it, it should be fun to listen to.”
They’ve also managed to have celebrities and other public figures come on to confess their craziest drug moments. Some of their most noteworthy guests include Nick Reiner, who is the son of Rob Reiner, Grateful Dead and Rolling Stones tour manager Sam Cutler, former Pretty Wild star, Alexis Neiers, Brandon Novak of Jackass, A Bronx Tale star Lilo Brancato, Danny Boy O’Connor from House of Pain, and Bob Forrest of Celebrity Rehab. While they’ve found it’s been challenging to get bigger names to appear (Jamie Lee Curtis once agreed and then declined), Dave is still working on getting his dream guest, recovery anti-hero Artie Lange. “I just love Artie, his voice and vibe. His comedy is total New York City scrubby debauchery. I can totally feel this pain.”
With over 115 episodes over two years and counting, Dopey has also had an impact on the hosts themselves. Chris says they have become better friends and it has strengthened their own recovery, “Such relationships are crucial to recovery and a fulfilling life in general. Further, a huge aspect of sobriety is helping others. Dopey is a chance to do that, which is part of the reason I get down on myself for not engaging more with the audience, particularly when/if someone is struggling.”
Despite their faults, Dopey also tries to erase the stigma against drug addicts. Listening to Dave and Chris, they sound like they could be your brother, boyfriend or anyone you know. They champion recovery sans sanctimony, showing how far they fell and how far they’ve come. And while a large part of the podcast’s charm is in its shock value, Chris thinks that isn’t really the point. “I think we help more people than anticipated, but my favorite listener is the person who tunes in for the debauchery and ends up hearing the recovery. If we move someone from a pre-contemplative state of change to a contemplative state then I think we’ve done something absolutely amazing.” As the show always closes out with Dave’s crooning what has become the show’s unofficial theme song, “Good So Bad,” it drives home the point of what so many people listening want.