Comedians don’t tend to be as level-headed as Jeremiah Coughlan. The 35-year-old Portlander is so pragmatic and humble about his place in the stand-up scene that, as we talked about his career over breakfast recently, I kept bracing myself for a streak of frustration or disgust to color his outlook, maybe while discussing his upcoming show at a casino in his former hometown of Richland, Washington. It never arrived.
“You hear people on podcasts tell these terrible stories about casino gigs,” says Coughlan. “They’re not awful, though. It’s what you make of it. I think it’s awesome. I like hotel rooms. Obviously some are better than others. The last three hotels I stayed in had ants in them. That’s life on the road.”
It’s an impressively mature attitude, which shouldn’t be terribly surprising considering his age and the fact that he came to comedy later than most (he was 30 when he started doing local open mics). But underneath it all is the heart of a permanently puerile goofball. That’s the side of him that’s most apparent on his recently released stand-up album Seamus McGravy: the kind of guy who tries to convince his girlfriend that The Eagles’ “Take It Easy” was about butt sex and relishes the anecdote of listening to an ex-roommate try to have a quiet orgy.
The dark side Coughlan does have is one he’s been studiously trying to tame over the past four years. It was back in 2013 when his abuse of alcohol reached its terrifying nadir. As he says on his album, rock bottom came when he woke up from a multi-day bender on the lawn of his apartment building.
As in the best recovery stories, Coughlan isn’t the same person anymore. The energy he poured into getting fucked up is now directed toward getting healthy and becoming a better comic. And it’s helped him find some much needed patience with regard to the slow arc of his still young career.
“You can’t cheat the timeline,” he says. “There’s no way around it. It might take years but when it’s supposed to happen it’s going to happen. Everything that has brought me this far has been like that. When I think I have the answer, it doesn’t take long for the universe to go, ‘No, you don’t know. You’re a big dummy,’ and push me to do the next thing that comes up.”