Lessons and laughs from beyond the grave: Comedian Dave Maher shares his story of being presumed dead

Comedian Dave Maher is coming to Iowa City on his “Coma Show” tour. After going into a coma and being presumed dead, Maher turned his experience into a comedy show about addiction, attention, and second chances.

Jenna Post, Arts Reporter

Five years ago, Chicago comedian Dave Maher went into a month-long coma and was presumed dead. Now, he’s traveling the world to tell his story through comedy, including at the Yacht Club in Iowa City on Nov. 15 at 8 p.m.

The origin of Maher’s comedy does not come from light subject matter. After a decade of struggling with drug abuse and mismanagement of his Type 1 diabetes, the comedian went into a coma and was nearly taken off life-support. Hundreds of people posted eulogies for him on Facebook.

“Then I woke up,” Maher said in an email to The Daily Iowan.

Afterwards, Maher turned his second chance at life into a topic in his comedy sets.

“I couldn’t really talk about anything else,” Maher said. “I think I was pretty used to the idea that in comedy you’re supposed to be personal and vulnerable, so I was like, ‘Well, this is what I’ve been doing, so it’s time to attack that.’ ”

Maher said that he believes that the show’s success can be partially attributed to the vulnerability that it took to share his story.

“Obviously, there’s not a big audience of people who have been through the same experience,” Maher said. “But what I think people can relate to is a story about a f— up.”

Maher said that while screwing up may be relatable, some people can’t truly wrap their heads around what it’s like to have everyone they know believe they’ve died. Despite having experienced it himself, it took him some time to fully process his situation.

“My first reaction was that it f—ing ruled,” Maher said. “It’s like the ultimate fantasy. Who wouldn’t want to know what people have to say about them after they’re dead? It’s like collecting nice cards people have written for you but in the most extreme situation.”

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Maher said the realization that he wasn’t the only one who had been affected by his coma made him a more empathetic person. After reading the eulogies written about him, he took some time to consider not only who his real friends were, but what friendship means.

Maher’s new perspective wasn’t the only change that came with coming out of the coma. Maher stopped abusing drugs, and incorporated his journey from addiction to sobriety into the show.

“It’s given a different direction to my career, and kind of gave me permission to become a serious, pretentious comedian,” he said.

Although Maher had reached the point where he could use his story to evolve his comedy, he said some people struggled to find the humor in his situation.

“A lot of people congratulate me for being alive, which is an interesting thing to be congratulated for,” Maher said. “Especially five years on when I’ve kind of processed it. I forget that people just hearing about it for the first time are kind of going through the thoughts and emotions I went through when I was first processing it.”

Maher’s show gives unique insight into the unimaginable, which he believes is part of what makes it worth watching.

“A lot of people wonder what people think of them. And a lot of people feel like they’re screwing up, and I screwed up in a really extreme way. So I think it’s a glimpse from the edge.”