Fred Toucher Gary Gulman is a friend of the show, he’s one of the best comedians in the world, his special on HBO, “The Great Depresh” was a phenomenon, and I’m not saying that lightly. It was literally a phenomenon. It was something that was talked about in corners of the world where you don’t expect things to be talked about. And I follow Gary on Twitter. And all of a sudden, I see he was on This American Life on PBS. And everyone knows this show steals most of its material from National Public Broadcasting.
Rich Shertenlieb That’s where we got Fart Court from.
Fred Toucher Absolutely.
Fred Toucher I mean, we are one in the same. And I go “Ira Glass, I said, My Lord! I mean, this guy is a huge fan of mine!” But he’s like, “What are they up to?”
Fred Toucher So as I listen to This American Life and Gary’s been in studio and Gary’s done stuff with us and he’s always been great. But Gary is 6’6″, he’s this good-looking guy. He’s in really good shape, but he won’t have sex with me, you know, but he’s in very good shape and he has, like, thrown it out there like we’re like, oh, you played at BC football. And he’s like, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And never really had gotten into it and we never really wanted to, we were just like, fine whatever. It was not a big deal in his life.
But then I heard you on This American Life, Gary. And I think for a sports talk audience who, you know, like a lot of people that were like, if you had a chance to play ACC football or you had a chance to be this, you know, athletic star, you know, it’s this dream for people. But it is interesting and brave in a way what you were able to do.
Rich Shertenlieb Basically they’re better interviewers than we are. We never got this out of you. So just say what you did on their show, on our show.
Fred Toucher Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m getting at. No, but I explained it to Gary, like, I think for a sports talk audience, this is interesting because, and I’m not going to be as tough on you as Ira was. He was very mean to at the end of that interview.
Fred Toucher But, Gary, first of all, thank you for joining us.
Gary Gulman Oh, it’s a pleasure. I miss you guys.
Fred Toucher Now, are you back in New York now or are you still down in Georgia?
Gary Gulman Yeah, I’ve been I’ve been back since last summer. So, I was out of here during the worst of it, but still have experienced a lot of the anxiety. So. So that’s helpful.
Fred Toucher Yes, exactly. You want to add that and everything else. Well, I had a complete breakdown so we can confab about that later.
Gary Gulman I feel like you haven’t lived hard until you’ve had a breakdown. So, I think it was just a matter of time for somebody who is really living to have one. So, Mazel Tov!
Fred Toucher Yes, exactly. I looked at it the same way I said this is this is proof, concrete proof that I am something else.
Rich Shertenlieb It’s like it’s almost like a Catholic. There’s your confirmation or like, you know, it’s your second bar mitzvah. It’s when you have your breakdown, it’s when you finally get to grow as a person.
Fred Toucher Yeah. It’s your bar mitzvah. You become a man. When you have your breakdown, you become a broken man. It’s the circle of life. Now I’m ready to die! Yeah, it’s when you have your bar mitzvah, you’re ready to live when you have your breakdown, you’re ready to die.
Gary Gulman Oh, that is that is that must be written down because broken man, versus just becoming a man. I mean, that’s beautiful. That’s poetic.
Fred Toucher Well thank you. Ira Glass didn’t give you that. All right. So, Gary, you, you know, you’re a big guy, you’re in good shape. And you went you went to school in Peabody?
Gary Gulman Yeah, I went to Peabody High School. I graduated in 1989. And there were these two twins and I think they came off so great. And the interview with Ira Glass, they were their last name is Cachet. There are still Cachets living in Salem and they’re a well-regarded family and they called themselves The Jetsons because they were they were out of this world and not of this time.
Gary Gulman And they were ripped. I mean, they were these really muscular guys, but they had the personality. The closest I can compare it to is if you’ve ever seen interviews with Steven Tyler, just this charisma and incompetence and charm. And they were just so impressive to me as a 17-year-old because they had, I remember one thing was, they had a 300ZX, which I thought was like the coolest car you could have, and they were very comfortable with themselves. And they approached me in a gym class.
Fred Toucher So these guys are like the kings of the school and you’re a junior. And up to this point, these are guys that normally you wouldn’t have any interactions with, right?
Gary Gulman No, because they were they were coaches on the football team, which was straight out of, like Archie and Jughead. I mean, girls used to wear their boyfriends coats no matter what the temperature could be 80 degrees out. And they’d be sitting in these Letterman’s jackets that were straight out of Happy Days, that were just these enormous wool coats. And so, it was it was everything revolved around this football team.
Gary Gulman They had made it to the Super Bowl two years prior. I mean, it was straight out of the 50s. I didn’t really know these guys, but I would look at them and I was like, these guys are so, so cool. They had long hair and they were friends with all the football players. And they saw me. I mean, the reality of it is they were just regular guys who were coaching a team. But to me they were the the height of coolness.
Gary Gulman And then they saw me in a gym class, we were playing basketball. And I could I was very tall and didn’t weigh much like a dunk pretty easily. And they said, we want you to play tight end. And I said, you don’t know me. If you knew me, you would know that I have no ability to really be aggressive and dominate and things like that. So, I assure you that I will let you down. if you were to give me a football at 15 years old, I would have decorated it.
Gary Gulman I wasn’t an aggressive kid, but I loved basketball because you could just shoot jump shots from twenty feet and nobody would really molest you. So, it was the perfect sport for me. And then they just kept pushing it and selling me on it and telling me that they would be there would be newspaper articles. They get me a scholarship; they would get me a girlfriend. I mean, it just seemed like an exciting opportunity. But I kept dismissing it until the first day of summer vacation before my senior year.
Gary Gulman They called me on the phone, which back then you would just look for somebody’s last name in the phone book and you could call them. They called me at like 6:30 in the morning. They said, meet us at this gym in Salem that was called the Universe Gym, it was on Derby Street. And they said, meet us there. We’re going to train you this summer. We’re going to get you a scholarship.
Gary Gulman I hadn’t applied to any schools. I didn’t really know what was involved in that. And in the fog of being awake at 6:30 on the first day of vacation, I agreed to it. And six weeks later or less, I had put on thirty pounds of muscle. And I was in a training camp, having never played football outside of some Nerf tosses during recess. I mean, they were they were really efficient at how quickly they trained me to be able to make catches and make really awkward tackles.
Fred Toucher Okay, so you go in. You’ve never played football before. You had no intention of playing football before you put on all this weight. You get out there and now you’re one of the bigger kids out there. You’re one of the faster kids and immediate success for you out there.
Gary Gulman Well, I would say like the first five games of the season, I outdid myself in that I never expected to even get in the games, I felt there was just too much to learn. But I was so much bigger than the opponent’s backfield. So, they would just throw the ball very high. And I didn’t really have any tackling techniques, but I was 50 pounds heavier than anybody who is coming out of the backfield that was an outside linebacker. And I could just wrestle them to the ground. It was it was silly how much bigger I was than all these kids. And I was athletic, but I stood out just for sheer size and potential.
Gary Gulman Then the fifth game of the season comes and all of a sudden, it’s 20 degrees every day. And that’s what really separates the men from the boys, as it were, because I was having a hard time catching the ball after it got really cold. And also, the muscle that I had put on started to diminish because we didn’t have the sort of maintenance program like they do in the pros and in college where you would actually exercise during the season. I was also a full-time student, so there wasn’t that much time to really maintain the body that I had developed.
Fred Toucher So now you think and now you’re getting depressed because you think I’ve let The Jetsons down, you know, it’s cold, I’m not doing well, and these guys have built you up again. Gary is this person who is largely ignored by people like The Jetsons, is someone who never considered playing football. All of a sudden, he’s getting attention. They’re writing articles about you in the newspaper, and you feel like you’re failing. And then all of a sudden, lo and behold, other people don’t think that you’re failing. They think that you’re doing just fine.
Gary Gulman Yeah, I mean, it’s classic depressive thinking where you think you’re a complete failure and loser, but you don’t have an objective opinion of it because your brain is telling you that you’re worthless. So, it was dramatic because we finished the season on Thanksgiving against Saugus and we lost and I was at my locker and people would say, “Oh, he’s crying because he’s going to miss football.” But I was crying at my locker because I was so relieved that I had finished this without quitting.
Gary Gulman So somebody comes to console me and it’s a coach from Dartmouth who wants me to visit there. And that was sort of the first inkling that I had that my coach, the head coach of Peabody – and he’s just a legend there – is this guy named Ed Nizwantowski and he had sent out videos of some of my games to colleges. So now they were recruiting this kid who they thought was an excellent prospect.
Gary Gulman That was like the winter of my senior year was being pulled out of class and meeting with coaches and recruiters and ultimately sitting in Jack Bicknell’s office. And this was at a time – Boston College has had their ups and downs over the years – but this was at a time only a couple of years removed from Flutie’s Heisman Trophy in the Cotton Bowl and a ranking of like fourth the in the country. So, I’m sitting in his office. And this is this is the equivalent of meeting with Brad Stevens or Belichick at the time. This was a celebrity at a time when I had never met anybody more famous than Joyce Kulhawik.
Gary Gulman So I was starstruck and in an office overlooking Alumni Field, and there was the Heisman Trophy and a Cotton Bowl trophy. And this man who the entire region revered, was telling me that I had the body of an NFL tight end and that he wanted me to come and that he was going to give me a scholarship. I mean, I was completely intoxicated and it would have to take a stronger man than me to say, no, you’re making a huge mistake, please.
Fred Toucher Okay, because the interesting thing is now Gary’s living this dream that a lot of people would have. Here’s a guy, he didn’t know what was going to do for college. You know, you didn’t know how you were going to pay for college. Now he’s this guy who’s being told by a legendary football coach, you have what it takes to play at this elite program. We’re going to pay for your school. But part of you, Gary, a big part of you is saying, “Oh, crap.”
Gary Gulman Oh, my gosh, yeah, it was like this is a dream come true, but it’s not my dream, it’s somebody else’s. The thing is, is I thought I would have to be crazy to reject it. But the truth is, it would have been a sane move because I was in over my head and I didn’t know how to stop the stop the ride. It was like I was getting to the top of the first hill on the roller coaster and I wanted to jump out, but it was it was too late.
Fred Toucher Okay so, you agree to play at BC. Now, talk about your emotions while you’re there. Again, this is this is so many people’s dreams. A lot of people just would go, “This is handed to you, you’re so fortunate!” But to you, you’re trapped in almost like a ticking hell, like you’re counting down the time until you’re out at BC.
Gary Gulman Right. Yeah, I mean, the thing was, is that I knew that I should at least prepare for this next level and hoping that the preparation would serve me. But at the time, they didn’t include the mental aspect of sports as preparation. So now I would maybe know that I needed to be mentally prepared. I remember the strength and conditioning coach. This guy named Wes Emmert. He sent us this booklet about how we should train for the pre-season. And I would come to find out that nobody ever opened this book but myself and this other kid who went to St. John’s Prep who was from Peabody that I knew actually from JCC basketball. His name is Mike Panos. We would go and train every morning before the sun was too high because it was so hot in the summer and we would do the sprints and all the drills and these jumping and all these things to prepare.
Gary Gulman So by the time I got to BC, I was the most prepared, along with the other kids for the training camp. So, like this thing happened where they make you lift weights and it’s like a combine. But for incoming freshmen and I was second to only like Mark Chmura as far as the lifting weights and the running fast and the jumping high. And so, I’ll never forget this. Jack Bicknell said you tested through the roof on these things. You’re going to have a chance to compete for some playing time as a freshman. And I remember thinking again, “Oh, you’ve got the wrong guy, because I’ve done this against no competition just by myself.” Once there is a person who in many cases is three or four years older than me lined up against me, I’m going to fold and it’s going to be humiliating for everyone.
Gary Gulman And that’s what happened. They gave me all kinds of reps during pre-season and I would catch the ball. And as soon as a defensive back would hit me in the in the ribs, I would drop it. I was just I was so overmatched right away physically, not as much as mentally. Just mentally I was I was overmatched.
Gary Gulman By the end of the training camp, which is like three and a half weeks, I was contemplating either quitting and going home or jumping out of the window. I mean, I was on the brink of suicidal ideation and things. I was lucky because my older brother suggested that I that I talk to somebody and there was a there was a man in the program who was sort of a liaison between the academics and the athletics named Kevin Lyons, and he was sort of an innovator in that area as far as making sure everybody was eligible and had the resources they needed as far as tutoring.
Gary Gulman And I went to him and I told him how I was feeling, and he made an appointment with me to see the counselor at the school. It was still summer, so there was nobody really on campus. But I went to see that guy in this office, this man named Tom McGinnis. And it was I mean; it saved my life because I really don’t know what I would have done under the circumstances because I was just inconsolable because it was all so – and I don’t know if you guys feel this way – but it would also seem to be like a referendum on my manhood and my strength and masculinity. And I was failing at it. And it was and it was just it went so far beyond sports and into just feelings of complete worthlessness.
Fred Toucher Yeah. And ultimately, you did have the balls, as it turns out, to quit the team. They let you keep the scholarship and then you go out and you start doing comedy and here you are today. And so, I’m wondering how many people out there, because, I mean, we want the acceptance of, you know, older people. We want the acceptance of our fathers or any like, you know, fatherly authority figure. And I wonder how many guys are out there and just really don’t want to do it. And, you know, it’s easy to point at someone and say, dude, you had it all. I mean, you had an NFL body, and you could have been out there, you were playing D1 football and you’re like, yeah, dude, but I can’t leave my room. Like, I’m thinking about jumping out a window. Yeah, I hate this.
Gary Gulman Yeah, it was I mean, right away it was this thing where I would go through practice every week. And then I would go home to Peabody and sit in my room, and I didn’t really enjoy the college experience and I know there’s a lot of talk now of paying players and things. And I’ve always felt that the commitment hours-wise and health-wise and everything. It’s very nice to get a scholarship and it’s a great reward. But there needs to be something beyond that because they’re giving a lot of their self to this to this program. And I really admire the kids who stick to it. I mean, the main thing that I know is required at every level of sports is you really have to love it. I mean, I recently read that excellent biography or autobiography by Chris Herren, and he seemed to be in a similar situation where he was, he was pushed along in basketball, even though he had stopped enjoying it pretty much after seventh grade. It’s harder than you think to be something that you don’t embrace. Or to be someone that, you know, deep down that you’re not. I just admire him so much because he’s been able to transfer all that sort of fame and admiration into something that he’s helping so many young kids in in similar mindsets.
Fred Toucher All right. Well, Gary, we got to go, but. Well, it turns out, you know, you’ve been able to do Conan and stuff. So, I mean, I guess it worked out it ourselves. I mean, yeah, you’ve done our show, so. All right. Are you getting back out there live this year?
Gary Gulman Yeah. I mean, the one takeaway that I want everybody to be aware of is that I was able to take this misery and this mental illness and finally monetize it. So, yeah.
Fred Toucher So that’s right.
Rich Shertenlieb Cash in on your sadness.
Fred Toucher Yes, exactly. And that’s all the things. I mean, how many how many great hours cut off an ear and mail it to a lady that doesn’t like you. But Gary, listen, I thought it was a good story. I think it’s a good story. And I’m glad a sports talk radio audience got to hear it. And GaryGulman.com. Gary, it’s always great to talk to you. Thank you so much for the time. And that was way better than Ira Glass did. We did a much better job. Thank you so much for that.
Gary Gulman I love you guys. Thanks so much. Have a great week.