Not many folks out there embody the tortured spirit of the modern troubadour more than Mishka Shubaly. After leaving the punk scene behind in his earlier years, the recovering alcoholic has made quite the name for himself as a best-selling memoirist who has spent the past few years offering up painfully funny tales ripped from the recesses of his memory, both through song and eBooks. With a number of top-selling Amazon Kindle singles to his name, Shubaly has laid bare the ugliest aspects of his addiction and past inability to function in what many consider to be “normal” everyday life. For Shubaly, “normal” might be healthy, but it’s deathly boring.
With the recent release of I Swear I’ll Make It Up To You, his debut full-length (and physical) memoir, Shubaly has reached an even higher level of notoriety. Though he’s an accomplished ultra-marathon runner and a promising comedian who often shares a stage with notable comics including the sad genius Doug Stanhope, Shubaly’s ability to convey the most off-putting aspects of his personal history remains the star of his multi-faceted show. After finishing up this current U.S. tour, Shubaly will head to Europe for a bit, then take his gift for digging into personal depths to the lecture halls of Yale University, where fresh young writing minds will learn how to drink screwdrivers made with rubbing alcohol and live to write about it.
For now, Shubaly is rolling through Texas with his "Garbagehearts" tour, which stops at Warehouse Live's Greenroom this Sunday. The Houston Press recently spoke to him about how the sad can be funny, using the hurtful for creative fuel and some other cool shit.
Houston Press: Given that most of your work is based upon true personal experiences, the people at your shows must feel like they know you well, yet you do not know them at all. That’s got to be an odd dynamic.
Mishka Shubaly: I deal with that a lot, but I remind myself that I have created that kind of situation. I’ve been really forthright about putting the details about my private life out there for the world to see. I’m emotionally naked for strangers to listen to or read about. One night I was at the merch table and a woman came up to me and asked, “In your writing, you never really talk about your father, and when you were 17 and working at the Sonic Burger, he didn’t do anything to help or support you, so how did you deal with that? And what’s your relationship with him like now?” I was like, “I don’t even know your name!”So that weirded me out a little bit.
But things like that prove people really care and are paying close attention.
I’m just incredibly grateful that anybody reads or listens to my stuff at all. I can’t hit that hard enough. It can be weird sitting in a room full of strangers that usually know something about me, but that is so much better than bleeding my life away in some cubicle in some call center.
Have you found that many comedians are even more depressing than dark songwriters?
Yes, definitely. My favorite comics and the ones I’ve been around are people with bits about the darkness in their lives. Their comedy is about alcoholism and things like that. Comedy is more depressing than most depressing songwriters, except for maybe Vic Chesnutt. He was so smart, and dark but funny too. I like chile lime mango slices because they’re sweet, salty and spicy. That’s what I want art to be. I don’t want it to be one single emotion. I want it to be complex where you feel like you shouldn’t be laughing at something that’s depressing.
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Since you have been sober, you’ve taken to running ultra-marathons. Do you actually enjoy running?
Dorothy Parker has this great quote about how she doesn’t enjoy writing, but she enjoys having written, and that kind of describes how I feel about running. The thing that feels the best about running is when you’re done and you stop. But when you go on long runs by yourself, it’s like going on a fucking epic drunk. You are on an adventure and you see shit you wouldn’t see otherwise, and you get exhausted, disheartened and even giddy. You feel a whole range of emotions. People think I substituted drinking with running, but that’s not it at all. I stopped drinking, then I felt empty and didn’t know what else to do so I started running and using that as the tool to make my head better. Running allows me to venture out and have some wild times.
Do you have to feel troubled in order to write?
Oh, absolutely. When I’m in a good mood, I don’t feel the need to write. I can do productive things when I’m in a good mood. When I’m in a lousy mood, that’s when I feel the need to write. That’s how I make sense of the darkness and the chaos in my life. When I write I can sustain a dialogue with myself that I really can’t if I only think about what’s bothering me.
Do you plan on writing any songs or books based in fiction?
I’ve been touring as a musician with comics a lot lately, which has worked because many of my songs are so depressing they’re funny. But I realized I needed some jokes so I started working really hard to write some, and some of them are taken directly from my life, because it’s not difficult to write jokes about your life when you’re 39 years old and living in a camper in your sister’s backyard. I mean, that shit’s ripe for jokes. But there is some fiction in those jokes too. I’ve also been writing songs that have one foot in reality and another in fiction. I’m working on a new Kindle single that’s straight nonfiction, but I want to write something that’s fiction, too. I’m just going to keep making shit until someone forces me to stop.
Mishka Shubaly performs with Star Anna and the Grizzly Band this Sunday, April 17 at the Greenroom at Warehouse Live, 813 St. Emanuel. Doors open at 8 p.m.