Arts & Culture

Comedy lifted from horror

Eric Trundy, Greensboro comedian playing the “Laugh Loud, Sing Proud” benefit for mental health Aug. 1.
Eric Trundy, Greensboro comedian playing the “Laugh Loud, Sing Proud” benefit for mental health Aug. 1. Rachael Wallace-Johansson

About a year ago, Eric Trundy took the stage at a full-house Raleigh comedy club and announced that he’d been molested as a child.

He further explained that he suffered from depression and anxiety so profound that often he couldn’t leave his house, and that if fans in the audience found him after the show, he wouldn’t be able to make eye contact unless they bought him a drink.

Here’s the funny thing: People laughed.

Trundy, 38, shared the most terrible details of his life for a crowd at Charlie Goodnight’s and, despite many uncomfortable silences, he managed to mine humor out of the horror. At the funniest moment of his set, he wades into the crowd to mockingly scold the woman laughing loudest.

“We need to have a talk,” he said. “I don’t like that you like that my life is in shambles. Look at you! You’re dying right now. ... I love that we can laugh that I got molested as a kid because, if I can’t laugh, it’s like I had sex with an old dude for nothing.”

This transplant from New Bedford, Mass., sometimes described as “the sad, potato-shaped face of comedy in Greensboro,” turns the comedic eye on his own trauma as a form of therapy, and on Aug. 1, he lends his intimate humor to “Laugh Loud, Sing Proud,” a benefit for mental health.

At an event designed to throw light on a dark topic – one seldom discussed out loud, let alone on a stage – Trundy joins a group of comics and musicians who come toting a 1,000-watt bulb. The first of what is expected to be an annual fund-raiser, all proceeds go to the Lucy Daniels Center, the largest regional nonprofit that provides mental health service for children.

“The driving idea is to take an important but often grim issue and create a space around it that’s all about inspiration and joy,” said Billy Warden, Raleigh communications strategist and one of the organizers.

On the phone this week, Trundy told me he repressed all memories of his own abuse until 23, and by that age, he’d already had children. “You can’t really stop and lick your wounds when you’re raising a couple of kids,” he said.

He managed life as a normal, functioning adult: moving out of New Bedford, getting promoted, making good money in Greensboro. Four years ago, he told his wife he needed to quit. He felt dishonest doing the work, being around the people, masquerading as somebody else.

And he chose comedy, full-time.

“I started listening to it before I can remember,” he told me. “It was the one consistent thing in my life. I had a little eight-track player and would listen to Rodney Dangerfield, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin. Even when my house was tumultuous and violent, that was my respite. The only thing me and my dad ever did together that we enjoyed was watching comedy on Fridays and Saturdays on HBO, and I’d sit at the foot of his bed.”

Trundy ended up getting divorced. But he got lucky in comedy, slowing getting better gigs. Then one night last year, he opened up for Doug Stanhope, who ranks among the most world’s most cynical and honest-to-the-point-of-being ugly comedians – a personal favorite of mine.

On the way to the show, Trundy wrote two new jokes, giving his work a truer edge that has become a staple of his comedy. Here’s a sample from that set:

“I’m so poor I’m can’t afford to commit suicide. ... I can’t afford razor blades so I go into the sink where my girlfriend used to leave her razors. Turns out I just have smooth wrists now.”

And:

“I had a lot of concussions as a kid because my parents didn’t love me. They used to be like, ‘Hey, Eric. Show my friends that thing you do,’ and that thing was ride my bike down a twisty slide and go get stitches.”

Onstage at Charlie Goodnight’s, not long afterward, he named the man who assaulted him as a child, saying “sorry about those seven years in prison.” I looked up the name, and sure enough, there’s a man by that name on the sex offender registry in Massachusetts, living in Trundy’s hometown.

The more he talked about his pain, the more people felt it. Fans would approach him after a show and tell him about their own abuse. One promised to go straight home and tell his wife for the first time. Trundy’s phone is full of numbers from people he’s met like this, and he keeps in touch.

But it’s hard. Trundy said his openness has led to personal growth. Painful, personal growth. But for the first time, he gets to figure out who he really is and help other people walk the same rocky path, laughing at their demons.

jshaffer@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4818

Want to go?

The “Laugh Loud, Sing Proud” benefit for mental health happens at 8 p.m. on Aug. 1 at Kings Barcade at 14 W. Martin St. in downtown Raleigh.

Other performers include: Adam Cohen, Kenyon Adamcik, Ryan Higgins, Dex Romweber, Daniel Chavis of the Veldt, Peter’s Lambs (Peter Lamb trio), James Olin Oden, Caroline Mamoulides & Steve Howell and Hank Sinatra.

Admission is $10 and doors open at 7:30 p.m. All ages are invited. Benefits go to the Lucy Daniels Center.

For more information, see www.kingsbarcade.com

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