Unbelievable: Bobby Lee’s Rehab Story
Bobby Lee is an American comedian and former addict. He starred on “Mad TV”, a sketch show for 8 seasons and has been a paid regular at the most famous comedy club in the world, “The Comedy Store” for over 15 years. More recently, he’s starred in “Love”, a Judd Apatow Netflix production. He also hosts a weekly podcast with his girlfriend called “Tiger Belly”.
Bobby Lee’s Addiction
Bobby Lee first starting drinking alcohol when he was 12 years old. His father had a fridge full of alcohol in the garage and he would often go in there before school and drink. He would also start doing marijuana and did his first line of crystal meth around this time. Bobby said on a podcast episode of “Grown Ass Men”
“At the age of 12 I snorted meth. I went through three rehab programs by the end of high school. I was homicidal. I don’t know why…”
Bobby often says his parents thought he had down syndrome as he was the only family member who would get extremely poor grades. They would later take him to specialist doctors to determine that this wasn’t the case. He was eventually kicked out of two schools because of his addictive tendencies.
At 17 he eventually got sober after going to three separate rehabilitation centres.
Lee’s Traumatic Childhood
Like a lot of people profiled on this site, and in the recovery community in general, Bobby had very a traumatic childhood. He was beaten by his father on a regular basis and was sexually abused at 9 years of age by someone living close to his home. Bobby doesn’t believe this abuse necessarily caused the drug and alcohol addiction.
His father didn’t talk to him for years as Bobby pursued a career as a stand up comic. It was only until Bobby performed on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show that his father realised he hadn’t been supportive and apologized to Bobby.
Bobby believes he was born with alcoholism. His view on this is shaped by the knowledge that “everyone on dad’s side is an alcoholic.” He acknowledges his traumatic childhood probably added to the addiction. He also says he is “ultra sensitive – a trait which is said to be common amongst those that suffer from addiction.
He remarks that there’s about 20 incidents in his life that he constantly thinks and ruminates about that to this day, he has to block out if he wants to sleep at night. He’ll just relentless punish himself unnecessarily otherwise and stay awake.
Getting Mad TV and Relapsing
Bobby remained sober for 12 years until he got on Mad TV when he was 29. One of the producers of the show told him in the first week that the executives didn’t think he was all that funny and that they likely weren’t going to use him often. Bobby would say later he just couldn’t handle that feedback and broke down emotionally. The show would prove to be ‘brutal’ and he would cry everyday. He said the first 2 years on the show were the hardest period of his life. It would soon cause him to relapse.
He started doing pills and became known as the “pill guy” after relapsing. In the beginning he would take 3 to 4 pills and after awhile it would eventually reach up to 60 a day. He would go travel to Tijuana with friends to purchase pills such as Vicodin. On some nights he’d head into the Comedy Store with a pill box and hand them out like candy to fellow comedians such as Joey Diaz.
During his second year on Mad TV, the owner of the Comedy Store, Mitzi called Bobby and said he wasn’t allowed perform because he was giving drugs to fellow comedians. This also coincided with an intervention with people from Mad TV, friends and Fox executives.
A fellow comedian by the name of Duncan Trussell came by his house, cooked him dinner and took all of his remaining drugs. The following day, whilst detoxing unsupervised, he turned up for work at Mad TV, the final day of season 2 shooting. It was on this day’s production that he shit himself in front of fellow cast members and a studio audience of 300 whilst performing a sketch. He was fired and went to rehab the next day. This was his rock bottom.
“My career gone. 10 years of hard work gone. But I was fine with it because I wanted to get sober.”
His Unbelievable Recovery Story
He went to Optimum Health Institute, a rehab in San Diego. On one night at 3AM in the morning he decided to leave. He jumped the fence and ran inside a convenience store nearby. In an uncanny coincidence, a sponsor from his previous rehab experience (as a 17 year old) was inside the store. Bobby asked him why he was there at that time and he didn’t know why. Bobby today believes his rehabilitation was meant to be as the sponsor would help Bobby get sober.
Months after getting clean he scored a role in the movie “Harold and Kumar”. The news that Bobby was doing well reached the Mad TV team and he was offered his role back on trial basis. Upon success of the trial, he would be offered a permanent position again. He stayed on the show for 6 more years before the show was eventually retired.
Bobby has been sober since. He credits the behaviour change to going to AA meetings, being completely honest with people and helping others. Bobby regularly talks about his previous issues with alcohol, drugs and addiction on his podcast TigerBelly.
- Bobby Lee starting drinking and doing drugs at 12
- He had a traumatic childhood
- He relapsed but found his way back
- He believes that helping people builds self esteem and prevents relapse.