Matt Billon is one of Canada’s finest stand-up comics. Last year, he placed runner-up at our Top Comic finale and earned himself bookings at Montreal’s Just for Laughs festival and Toronto’s JFL42. He was scheduled to do a TV taping for the fest in Montreal, but that didn’t happen.
This is a story struggle and triumph.
I was living with another comic in 2003, Casey Corbin, and he was pals with Matt from having gigged together out west. Some guy I had never met was coming to stay with us for a whole month, I wasn’t looking forward to how awkward and uncomfortable that was bound to be. Matt’s been a brother to me ever since.
I had just moved to Toronto with dreams of working in film and tv, and that’s when SARS hit the city. I couldn’t find work anywhere, it was awful. If you knew me back in 2003 then you also knew a lot more of me, I was well over a hundred pounds heavier. So I’m fat and sad and broke and now this guy I don’t know is going to be staying on my couch for how long? C’mon, no fair. When I look back at that time, I think I was most likely depressed. And if it hadn’t been for Matty instantly becoming this positive force in my life at that time, I don’t know if everything plays out the way it has. Maybe I don’t wind up at SiriusXM, maybe I move back to Ottawa and get a government job.
I had always wanted to lose weight but it wasn’t until Matt showed up that I started going to the gym and eating right. It was easier going through all that with a friend. This was going to be a lifestyle change, not a cosmetic one. That spring and summer I went from a 44 waist to to a 34 and Matty was there every step.
This past spring I got a call from Matt, which in of itself was not out of the norm – we talk all the time. This wasn’t an easy call to make though,.My best buddy was calling to tell me he’s struggling with substance abuse issues, he’s checking himself into a treatment facility and that he may have to miss his TV taping at Just for Laughs in Montreal. Holy shit. This summer, Matt checked himself into a 3 month program and in fact missed his TV taping at Just for Laughs. It was the best decision he ever made.
To be honest, I felt like a shitty friend at first. How could I have not picked up on any of this? How could I not have realized my brother was so thoroughly struggling? The fact is, people dealing with these issues get good at hiding it. It’s not something you just casually bring up mid conversation when you’re talking hockey and how much I think the Flames are going to suck.
“I was cutting myself off from the world and stopped growing as a person. My addictions and depression had taken over. No career accomplishment or outside source could make me happy anymore. Simply put I was lost and didn’t know what to do. I had kept it well enough hid that it didn’t force anyone to intervene.” – Matt Billon, from his Facebook
Just for Laughs is by far the world’s biggest and most respected comedy festival, it’s one of the few things we have to work towards in Canada and this was something Matt was very much looking forward to. For him to miss this booking required an enormous amount of conviction and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone take stock quite like that before. Yes, the TV taping at Just for Laughs would have been great for his career. But sometimes, the career has to take a step back.
Believe it or not, there are more important things than comedy.
That’s something that’s hard to accept as a comic because our entire existence is dedicated to this thing. We starve for it, sleep on couches for it, travel hours to work for free for it – the notion that something could be more important than comedy is absurd to a lot of comics, but it’s the truth. I can’t get over how goddamn strong Matt is. He accepted a lot of hard truths, faced them head on and absolutely fucking conquered. So when he steps on stage at JFL42 in a couple weeks, it’ll be in victory. In celebration. In triumph.
As comics and artists, we ride so many highs and lows. Emotional ones, career ones, financial ones, personal ones – its all peaks and valleys. We’re not always the best self-evaluators, and some times things get so dark and heavy that we lose sight of the good things. Some of my comic friends didn’t get out from under that weight and they’re not here today.
I can’t get over how tough my buddy Matt is, good lord. He walked away from a Just for Laughs TV taping so he could get right and healthy. I know a lot of people who would have lied to themselves and say they’ll do the show hoping that everything will work out when they know the opposite to be the more likely outcome. I’m so proud of Matt for seeing the truth and doing everything he could to right the ship.
“Although I missed performing at Just For Laughs in Montreal and the long awaited Guns n Roses reunion concerts (if you know me that’s a big deal lol) it was the best experience and truly a life saver. I met some great friends and dealt with all that was holding me back from enjoying my life. I’d like to thank all that supported me and all that are in my life today. If anyone is reading this and battling addiction don’t be afraid to get help, it’s the smartest thing I’ve ever done, not the easiest but definitely the smartest. Now back to the jokes!!”
That festival tv spot is back in the crosshairs and a goal yet again. Any other goals? What’s the next thing that he wants to accomplish?
“I want to write for TV, that’s the goal. I’m moving back to Toronto in the fall and I want to write for TV.”
Matt Billion is talented, motivated, inspired and one of the funniest people anywhere. My buddy is about to blow the roof off of JFL42. Well done, brother.