South Jersey comedy show raising money to fight drug addiction is no joke

 Comedian Jimmy Graham fights addiction with laughter, ''God's Prozac.'' He is helping raise money for struggling addicts and their families with a standup comedy night in Pitman, New Jersey. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Comedian Jimmy Graham fights addiction with laughter, ''God's Prozac.'' He is helping raise money for struggling addicts and their families with a standup comedy night in Pitman, New Jersey. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

To most people, drug addiction is no laughing matter.

But a comedy show taking place in South Jersey Friday will poke fun at the disease.

The nonprofit Stand Up To Addiction is hosting the show at the Broadway Theatre in Pitman Friday evening. Proceeds will go to the budding charity, which offers financial help to families putting loved ones through drug addiction treatment.

“I’ve purchased food. I’ve paid utility bills,” said Pitman resident Jimmy Graham, who founded the nonprofit.

He’s helped “some people that I know but [also] other people that just heard about this. Strangers — but they’re not strangers, because they’re parents that are in the same situation that I am.”

Both of Graham’s sons struggled with drug use, starting with opioids and transitioning to heroin. Graham and his wife were so overcome with despair and embarrassment when they found out about their sons’ habits that they remained silent about the problem for a long time.

“We started going food shopping at 11 o’clock at night,” said Graham, who was a fixture in the small town as the high school’s former wrestling and football coach. “Instead of sitting there and telling the story in the soup aisle, we said, ‘Let’s do this later when there’s not so many people.'”

But then Graham started to notice something out of the ordinary. “It was incredible, because I started seeing people I knew. They were doing the same thing. And I was like, ‘Wait a minute, this is a bigger problem than we’re aware of.'”

Now, Graham is an advocate. He speaks about drug addiction at schools, runs the charity, and does community service work with one of his sons, both of whom are now in recovery.

At one point Graham got so fed up with the drug trade in Pitman that he started placing lawn signs that read “Not in our town. Stop or leave” in front of the homes of the drug dealers. (“The sad part was some of them were kids I had coached.”)

Graham’s newest venture to raise awareness and financial support is the comedy show, which he thinks will serve as a unique way to shed light on the issue.

“I want to bring it out that, yes, we can laugh at this,” said Graham. “We can laugh in the face of addiction, take its power, and turn it on itself and say ‘No. No more. Enough is enough.'”

Headlining the show is Graham’s friend Artie Lange, famous for his time on the Howard Stern Show and the sketch comedy show MADtv. A recovering drug addict, Lange has been vocal about his recovery and wrote about it in his book.

Also on the bill with Graham are radio personality Steve Trevelise and comedian Tim Grill.

Graham said he hopes to hold the comedy show benefit every three to six months.

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