“I was looking at serious time in jail. My lawyer told me to get in a program, and I have been sober ever since.”
While it’s been 15 years since the first GEICO caveman commercial aired in 2004—offending cavemen with the slogan “so easy a caveman could do it”—comedian John Lehr, who played the original GEICO caveman, is still performing, writing and producing comedy. And he’s using his personal recovery to inspire and entertain as well.
While Lehr, 52, has stayed busy working on a multitude of projects including the comedy western Quickdraw on Hulu and 10 Items or Less on TBS, his comedy has a personal side, too. For his performances, Lehr gets his material from real life. Sobriety is a recurring theme.
As a young comedian from Chicago, Lehr arrived in Los Angeles to pursue bigger dreams. He admitted to Forbes that he was “really unhappy” early on and was later diagnosed with depression.
His moment of clarity came from behind the wheel, and then a jail cell, on LSD. “I was driving on acid and I got pulled over in Ventura County. I spent the night in jail on acid. I was looking at serious time in jail. My lawyer told me to get in a program, and I have been sober ever since.”
That was 23 years ago. Now on the other side, he’s in a position to use his personal history to entertain and inspire audiences. Lehr created his brand Cold Sober Comedy to do just that. He performs and MCs at events under Cold Sober Comedy, including the Annual Sober St. Paddy’s Day Comedy Night for the Atlanta Caron Treatment Center in March.
“Quitting drugs and alcohol—as hard as it is—is the easy part,” he said to Forbes. “What’s really hard is living without the drugs and the alcohol. I didn’t know how to be sober. What people don’t realize about addicts and alcoholics, it makes it easier to live with them. Take it away and then the real dragon comes out.”
He also made a live show about making it in Hollywood and getting sober. “It’s a live show about all of it. I call it Three Harsh Tokes,” he said. “Number one: I’m not God. I may not know who or what God is, but I know it’s not me. Number two: I’m never going to fully recover, but as long as I’m seeking God or a higher power in others’ views, I’m okay. I don’t have to find it. I just have to seek it. And number three: I can’t fix myself.”
Lehr’s upcoming projects include a marijuana comedy featuring Tommy Chong (of the iconic stoner duo Cheech & Chong) and a July 1st appearance at the Association of Recovery in Higher Education (ARHE) 10th National Collegiate Recovery Conference at Boston University.
“I will be speaking to the people who run the program at colleges all over the country,” Lehr said. “What I talk about is how to stay sober. [Addicts] just don’t know how to live life on life’s terms. I tell them, ‘If you’re not having fun, you’re not going to stay sober. If you can’t find the sweetness and light to life, you’re screwed.’”