The local comedian is also a recovering heroin addict, who, nearly a decade ago, lived on the DTES, so the cause is something he says he identifies with on many levels.
“It inspired me because there are people who are actually going out and doing something—they’re not just talking or arguing about it online,” Hughes said to the Straight, of those operating the pop-up safe injection tents in the DTES amidst a province-wide fentanyl crisis.
After learning that the tents’ operators require $100 to $150 per day to keep the them up and running, Hughes donated money through the OPS’s GoFundMe account, but wondered if there might be something he could do to contribute to the cause in a bigger way.
“I felt like I could do more,” says Hughes. “I have connections, I know how to produce a show, and I’m a capable comedian, so why not plan a fundraiser for a good cause?”
More than anything, Hughes says, it’s knowing that, had he not recovered years ago, he could be using those very tents.
“People need help, and the people who are willing to go out and do something and have an immediate impact on those ongoing problems, they need help too,” he says of people like Ann Livingston and Sarah Blythe, who founded the OPS back in September.
Hughes, who shared a detailed account of his life on the streets and in prison earlier this year in his one-man Fringe Fest show, Tragedy + Time Served = Comedy, hopes that sharing his experiences with heroin addiction and jail time might lead people to be more open about drug addiction.
“I’ve got no filter, and I don’t like hiding things. It gives me anxiety trying to pretend that I don’t have this past,” says Hughes. “A lot of people who are addicts have come up to me and said ‘don’t tell anyone’.
“If we really live in an age when this is all supposed to be celebrated, why can’t I be open about it? Why should I worry about being judged? People are quick to judge, especially when you use the word, ‘heroin’.”
Asked about his own experience in the DTES ten years ago, Hughes asks how much time he has on the phone with us.
“I’ll try and sum it up for you: violence, abuse, homelessness, disease, overdose, stigma, marginalization, imprisonment, mental illness, loneliness, and isolation,” lists Hughes.
“I was down there at 15, 16, 17, using drugs, and bad heroin used to hit the streets all the time, but it wouldn’t last as long—a tainted supply might last a month—30 or 40 people would die, and no one really gave a shit because it was just ‘junkies’. Now there are so many ODs downtown, people of all classes and ages, and it’s really taxing the emergency medical services.”
Alongside comedian Emma Cooper, Hughes has co-produced Safe Injection Comedy, and will host the showcase at the Rickshaw Theatre (254 East Hastings) this Thursday (December 8).
The show will be headlined by Dylan Rhymer.
With all 10 comedians volunteering their time and Rickshaw owner Mo Tarmohamed donating the space for the evening, 100 percent of the evening’s ticket sales will go to the OPS. Hughes hopes to raise $10,000.
Doors open at 7 p.m., and the show will run from 8 to 10 p.m. For more info and tickets, check out the event website.