Jeff Allen has undoubtedly lived a life.
The funnyman opened up to Fox News about his long run as a headlining comic in an industry with a penchant for being unforgiving. In fact, Allen’s life nearly took a turn for the worst and he was forced to evaluate what was important or risk losing it all.
“I started comedy in 1978 and by 1980 there were more comedy clubs than comedians in the country — so I was able to travel, make money and be bad at it," Allen told Fox News. “And I think I moved back home with my folks for about three months — that was because of alcohol and drugs. I just had gotten so bad, that I needed to clean up and I called my dad one day and said, ‘I can’t stop, so you need to come and get me.’ And he drove out to where I was and brought me home. I got clean and sober for a while and I’ve been sober for 31 years now.”
The 62-year-old is hailed as one of the best clean comedians working today and in over three decades in the business he has graced the stages of over 1,000 churches, fundraisers and the Grand Ole Opry. Allen openly discussed his battle with alcohol and drug addiction, which nearly ruined his marriage to Tami Mishler, whom he has been married to for 32 years and shares two children.
“I remember one time we went to a fundraiser I was performing at and there were all kinds of liquor – I was probably six months sober or something – and Tami was with me,” recalled the “Happy Wife, Happy Life” comedian. “And she looked at me and said, ‘You look like you want a drink,’ and I said, ‘I’d suck it from your veins.’”
Allen said he joked with his wife that their evening would indubitably be cut short considering the amount of mental fortitude he needed to possess and intense pressure he was under to stay clean every day.
“I said, ‘this is going to be a quick night, babe. I’m gonna do my little dog and pony and we’re gonna get out of here.”
With specials on Comedy Central, Showtime and VH1 – and film credits such as “Thou Shalt Laugh,” “My Heart, My Comedy” and the “Apostles of Comedy” series to his name – the Nashville, Tenn., native said he doesn’t harbor many regrets from his life as a traveling joke-teller, but notes that his career could have taken a completely different route if not for his addiction.
“If I have any regrets, it’s that we left New York because I was in a [good] position and a number of the guys that I had started with have taken jobs as writers and performers at the Comedy Channel and I had done some auditions for an HBO special,” Allen explained. “I had just been sober a year or two and I was a walking scab, that’s the best way to describe it. I was functional, I wasn’t going to go to prison, but I’ll tell you what — if you picked at that scab, I got angry and I got pissed off and I remember telling my manager at the time or my agent at the time, I’ve gotta get out of this city before I burn a bridge — a big bridge.”
Allen admitted to unknowingly getting “snotty” with a talent coordinator on “Letterman” and maintains that he should have stuck around in the Big Apple for a couple more years. “But God had other plans for me and we went to Arizona, of all places,” he said.
The “Make Comedy Great Again” Tour performer described being in Los Angeles, Calif., and crossing paths with a New York comedy club owner he used to work for. Because Allen had been so far removed from the bustling comedy scene of New York City, many people thought he had moved on from telling jokes altogether.
“We were in LA at the Improv one night and the New York club owner goes, ‘Jeff Allen, I thought you got out of the business.’ So anyway, I told Tami we’ve gotta move — apparently Arizona wasn’t a great move,” Allen said.
For years, Allen was in search of stability not only as a comedian, but in his personal life. His spirit was shot, his anger uncontrollable and not only were he and Tami on the verge of losing their home — but their marriage was in need of serious work. In his quest for answers, Allen found solace in reading self-care books and researching philosophies. Ultimately he found the Bible.
“Well, when I went into the 12-step program, they said pray – it’s the only thing that’s gonna save you. I said, [pray] ‘To what?’ I didn’t believe in God, so that kind of started me on the ‘OK, does God exist – and if he does, what is that – what does that look like?’ he explained. “They called it a ‘Higher Power,’ and I said, 'Well, if I’m making up a deity, I think that makes me delusional, so, I’m not going to make God.'"
The two-time National Prayer Breakfast performer continued: “So, I started reading a bunch of self-help books, and then I went into New Age and eventually I read a lot about Buddhism. I sought something, I didn’t know what I was looking for and eventually I ended up turning to Ayn Rand and everything imploded,” Allen lamented. “Tami and I had filled out divorce papers 20 years ago and went and had gotten them notarized, and we were going to the courthouse in Arizona to file them – and she changed her mind about 10 minutes from the courthouse – and said, ‘This is wrong, let’s go home.’”
In our extended conversation, Allen took accountability for all of his wrongdoings that led up to the very real and eye-opening moment in which he and his wife were en route to dissolving their marriage. Allen’s spending habits threw his family into financial ruin and there was nothing that could help him — except making the conscientious decision to becoming selfless and altruistic.
“When you don’t feel connected to life, you look for something externally, and when your internal is messed up, you look externally,” said Allen. “I was buying things I couldn’t afford, and we were living hand-to-mouth. I was robbing Peter to pay Paul, and eventually, it all just kind of came crashing down.”
“I couldn’t do comedy anymore — I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. At this point, I had been doing clubs for 17 years, five days a week — really just going from one club to the next. And, I heard about a guy — a multimillionaire businessman who was doing comedy for $100 bucks a week out on the road,”
Allen pressed on: “I always said I traded in my cocaine addiction for golf. And they’re very similar — they’re just as expensive and just as annoying, but one of them is legal. So I figured, this guy with all his money could get me onto some of these golf courses, we could work together on the road and I could play some nice golf.”
Allen credits the bond he created with this gentleman for allowing him the opportunity to deeply search within himself to cultivate his faith.
“He was a Bible-believing Christian and I was reading Ayn Rand. I thought that just by working with him, he could teach me how to accumulate wealth because I figured after the bankruptcy, if it’s about money and material things, then I need to make money and provide material things — if that’s where happiness and peace of mind come from. He put the Bible in my hands and I think it was about a year-and-a-half, he signed me up for some Bible study tapes from a church in Texas and I never listened to them, but they just kept coming. Anyway, Tami was leaving and taking the kids for the summer — she said, ‘You’re draining me.’”
“We were losing the house — that was like the last thing to go and I had to figure out what I wanted to do with my adult life.”
With a mounting burden of financial uncertainty and his home on the line, Allen needed to decide quickly if he’d continue making his living performing comedy or let go of the profession for good. Allen said it was during this summer of separation from his wife and children that he decided to watch the stacks of accumulating Bible study tapes, and almost immediately took hold of his longing to find the most unprepossessing solution to his problems.
“I popped in one of the tapes and it was on the “Book of Ecclesiastes,” said Allen. “And it’s right in the center of the Bible – and it’s probably the most cynical book in the Bible. It starts out meaningless – all is meaningless. And I found it exhilarating.”
“What I really got out of that first sermon that I heard was life without God will have no meaning, and without meaning, there’s no purpose – and in a life without purpose, you might as well kill yourself. And that summed up my eight-year search. I personally really couldn’t find anything that gave me any lasting peace or joy.
He continued: “I thought if it’s God, then I’ll seek God. I found him through the Bible and eventually I got to “Genesis 1:1,” which was in the beginning, God created… and I realized that I believe that. I knew there was a God, I just didn’t know what his nature was. Then, I got to Christ and like a child, I eventually got on my knees and said, ‘If you truly are who you claim to be – and he made some audacious claims – then my life is yours.’ And I honestly can tell you, 24 hours later – whatever it was, that lightness of beam or whatever that burden was – it was lifted.”
“And I’ve since spent the past 20 years trying to live up – I’m nowhere near it, but I’ve tried to live up to what that means as a child of Christ. I’m way short. I fall short every day. It’s like Blaise Pascal’s wager, where he says as a Christian, what have I lost? At the end of my life, if it turns out to be false — I was a better husband, a better father, a better citizen and certainly a better comedian.”