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13 Questions: comedian Gareth Berliner

by Zoe Breen

15th April 2010

Comedian Gareth Berliner was diagnosed with Crohn's disease at age 13. The condition meant that, due to inflammation of the gut, he was unable absorb to hardly any of the nutrients in food. He experienced drastic weight loss and now takes nutritional feed directly into his blood via a tube in his chest.

After surgery which considerably shortened his intestines, Gareth struggled to adapt to his new lifestyle and found himself in a very dark place.

His new show Cracking Up, with fellow comedian John Ryan, tackles the sensitive subject of young men and suicide. Gareth shares a humorous account of his attempt to take his own life (it's actually quite uplifting).

Gareth joined me in a booth at a comedy club in Soho, where I picked his brains with our 13 Questions.

What do other comedians think of you?

Gareth Berliner
Some of them think "Is he going on about the bloody health again?" and some of them occasionally think "I wish I had a disability" and hopefully the rest of them think "he's alright, he's a nice bloke".

What advice would you pass on to aspiring comedians?

If you fall off the horse, however badly, get straight back on and ride it. And remember that you're only as good as your last gig.

What advice would you pass on to a young person with Crohn's?

Know that it's not the end of the world, take your medication, but don't be afraid to challenge the doctors. I've learnt now they're not God and they make mistakes.

What do you excel at?

Film - I went back and did a degree in film. If you go to a pub quiz you really want me on your table for the movie and entertainment section. So, trivial knowledge of the media industry - I excel.
Stephen Fry
Stephen Fry - "Fascinating mind. Brilliant"     &nbsp

Who would be your ideal dinner guest(s)?

Definitely, Stephen Fry - a fascinating mind and brilliant. Richard Pryor. I listened to him talking about his heart attack, which he made one of the funniest things I've ever heard. And Angelina Jolie - as well as being beautiful she's in the film industry - she's intelligent and interesting and very right on.

What can you not live without?

My nutritional feed, because I would be buggered. I have a line in my chest - a main vein into the heart. Technically I don't need to eat, because I'm only taking in 10% nutrition from food, so everything I get comes from my fluids. Psychologically you've got to eat, but I can go without food.

Every other night I do two and a half litres for about six hours. Sometimes when I come home I can't be bothered to hook it up before I go to sleep, so I carry it around the next day. I've got a special back pack, and unless people see the wires coming out of it, they don't have a clue that there's anything going on.

If you didn't live in the UK, where would you like to live?

Australia, without even a moment's hesitation. The problem is that I'm only allowed to travel with six weeks supply of nutritional fluid. Normally, my feed needs to be refrigerated, but when I'm travelling I can't get fridge space for 90 litres. Instead I take a generic mix - it's not as good for me so the doctors only let me go for a month and a half. It frustrates me that I can't get my feed in Australia.
Her Majesty The Queen
The Queen didn't reply to Gareth in person     &nbsp

Most people don’t know that I...

Sent a picture of a Buckingham Palace guard to the Queen when I was six years old and got in the local paper, The Ilford Recorder. And she replied, but I remember being a little bit upset because it was signed 'on behalf of the Queen' by her lady in waiting and not actually the Queen herself.

What was your first job?

Paperboy. Lasted a week. At the time, I wasn't very well. It was the early days of the Crohn's and my dad came out for the last four days of my run in his car at 6 am, and he helped me, because I was that poorly that I couldn't really manage the bag. I was about 12 or 13 and it was the wrong time to start a paper round.
Ice cream
Gareth can eat as much ice cream as he likes     &nbsp

What are you're favourite food?

I'm in a luxurious position in that everything healthy is bad for me - roughage and salad (things that make you go to the loo). I've got a short gut, so going to the loo is not a problem. So I need stodge and crap. If I want KFC five times a day and ice-cream cakes I can have it. So I have a wonderful diet.

My favourite dish is oysters Kilpatrick - hot oysters with Worcester sauce and bacon bits. They come from Australia, where oysters are really cheap.

What are you're favourite drink ?

Jameson Irish Whiskey. One of the advantages of my condition is that 80% of the alcohol is absorbed in the gut and I've got 55cm of small intestine left.

What would you do if you ruled the world?

There should be a level on which every day, you have to spend a minute thinking about how lucky you are compared to many other people. It's sobering. It's very easy to run away with how bad your world is because the bus has been late.

What does the future hold for you?

Hopefully, a series on mainstream television, and some acting and some film. And also writing and directing a film, which I hope to do before I die.
• Cracking Up gigs are on 19th and 27th April at the Soho Theatre, London.

Gareth is also part of the Abnormally Funny People line up - a group of gifted comedians who perform stand up and (mostly) have disabilities.


    • 1. At 11:56am on 16 Apr 2010, Gravity wrote:

      I've seen Gareth Berliner twice at local comedy events, and he's always been the best person on the bill. Of all the people I've seen, I always feel Gareth should be higher up in the comedy world. He's incredibly entertaining and he has a great attitude to his illness and everything.

      If you get the chance to see him, I'd reccommend it whole heartedly.

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