You wouldn’t think that you would find a piece of genuine truth on a show on Comedy Central called This is Not Happening. Created by comedian Ari Shaffir, it features different comedians telling real stories about their lives at a strip club in Los Angeles. Because many of the stories are more or less unfiltered and unpracticed, they don’t have the polish and timing of the comedians’ great bits. Yet precisely because of this it is incredibly fun to watch them try to work through the insane things that have happened to them. The show is hilarious, but it’s not the place where you’d expect to find pearls of wisdom. That is, until Joey Diaz gets up onto the stage.
Joey Diaz is an interesting man, to say the least. I first learned of him on Joe Rogan’s podcast the Joe Rogan Experience, where he was a frequent guest. Even when he was not on the show half of the visitors to Rogan’s studio would light up when he mentioned this larger than life character. Diaz is a 54-year-old Cuban man who weighs at least 250 pounds, and seems to lose ten pounds of water weight every time he performs. Onstage he is a glistening mountain of a man who commands the room, hurling obscenities left and right and regaling crowds with stories of his remarkable experiences. Perhaps the best way to describe Joey Diaz is to say that he went to prison for kidnapping a man using a machine gun, and that he and this man still talk on the phone sometimes.
Diaz is hilarious, but as someone who has been through enough for ten lifetimes he also has a strange wisdom about him, and it came out in his story for This Is Not Happening. He tells the story of his mother’s death and of her best friend “Z,” who helped look after him after she passed. The story is equal parts touching and hilarious, and Diaz lights up talking about this person who was such a large part of his life. It takes a turn however, when Diaz remembers beating up Z’s friends for cocaine and not calling her for months after the fact. When he finally spoke to her she had lost everything and had been busted by the police. After being berated over the phone, Diaz dropped the receiver and never spoke to Z again, and the look on his face remembering the shameful thing that he did over thirty years ago is haunting. But then he dropped what remains my favorite mantra:
“I swore to God that if I ever had the chance to be a friend to somebody- Because you don’t need 20 friends… You just need three motherfuckers and you can take over a country… You give me three bad motherfuckers and you’re finished. You understand me? You’re fucking finished. Because we got each other.”
Everyone wants to have a lot of friends, to be loved and admired by people, but that’s bullshit. Those aren’t friends, those are sycophants. Friends should be people who are willing to tell you when you’re being an idiot and help you come to your senses. When I was fifteen I was being an insensitive ass and my friend Peter had the balls to tell me so. He made me a better person for it and he earned my loyalty, forever. When certain other “friends” started lying about him behind his back and to his face I backed him up. Because Peter is my friend, and that is the most sacred bond that I know. I’m officiating his wedding next year and I couldn’t be happier for him.
“Friend” is the most overused word in the English language. Social media has robbed it of its real meaning. As a kid I didn’t have a lot of friends because I was shy and a little standoffish. When I finally made some friends I promised myself that I would take care of them as best I could. If I call you my friend then I am making you a promise to always be there for you and to have your back no matter what. As Shakespeare said, “Those friends thou hast and their adoption tried, grapple them to thy heart with hoops of steel.” If I call you my friend, that means something to me. I don’t know that I do a lot of things well, but I know that I am a good friend.
Your friends make you who you are, and if they are treating you wrong or making you worse then you should cut them out. That might sound rude, or even heartless, but you can only maintain so many real friendships at once and you must be judicious about them. Dunbar’s number states that you can only really maintain about 150 relationships with people that you view as fully fleshed out human beings. I think the number of those people that you can view as your friends is less then a tenth.
Over the years I’ve tried to cut the fat out of my friend group. It’s not the nicest thing to do, but I’m willing to do it. The people that I didn’t weed out are wonderful, remarkable people who make me a better person. Even if I don’t go a few months without talking to them because of distance or work, I’m always energized and delighted when I get to see them again. I love them dearly, and they’re the best part of me. So if you want to mess with them, you’d better watch the fuck out.