Stephen Colbert Shares His Struggle With Anxiety and Why He Stopped Taking Xanax
By Antoinette Bueno
Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via Getty Images
Stephen Colbert is opening up about how he's been able to deal with anxiety.
In a new interview with Rolling Stone, the 54-year-old Late Show host recalls how he needed to be medicated when he was younger, and that he had a "nervous breakdown" after he got married to his wife, Evelyn, in 1993.
"I was actually medicated," he says. "I mean, in the most common, prosaic way. Xanax was just lovely. Y’know, for a while. And then I realized that the gears were still smoking. I just couldn’t hear them anymore. But I could feel them, I could feel the gearbox heating up and smoke pouring out of me, but I was no longer walking around a couch."
"I had a bit of a nervous breakdown after I got married -- kind of panic attacks," he continues. "My wife would go off to work and she’d come home -- because I worked at night -- and I’d be walking around the couch. And she’s like, 'How was your day?' And I’d say, 'You’re looking at it.' Just tight circles around the couch."
Colbert says he was able to deal with his severe anxiety by performing.
"I would go to the show, and I would curl up in a ball on the couch backstage and I would wait to hear my cue lines," he remembers. "Then I would uncurl and go onstage and I’d feel fine. Which occurred to me at the time: Like, 'Oh, you feel fine when you’re out here.' And then as soon as I got offstage, I’d just crumble into a ball again. Nobody ever asked me what was wrong! It went on for months."
The comedian explains his decision to quickly stop taking Xanax, a medication commonly prescribed to treat anxiety disorders.
"I stopped the Xanax after, like, nine days," he reveals. "I went, 'This isn’t helping.' So I just suffered through it. I’d sometimes hold the bottle, to go like, 'I could stop this feeling if I wanted, but I’m not going to. Because I know if I stop the feeling, somehow I’m not working through it, like I have got to go through the tunnel with the spiders in it.' And then one morning I woke up and my skin wasn’t on fire, and it took me a while to figure out what it was. I wake up the next morning, I’m perfectly fine, to the point where my body’s still humming. I’m a bell that’s been rung so hard that I can still feel myself vibrating. But the actual sound was gone [because] I was starting rehearsal that day to create a new show. And then I went, 'Oh, my God, I can never stop performing.'"
"Creating something is what helped me from just spinning apart like an unweighted flywheel," he notes. "And I haven’t stopped since. Even when I was a writer I always had to be in front of a camera a little bit. I have to perform."
During the candid interview, Colbert also came to the defense of fellow late-night host Jimmy Fallon, who faced criticism after interviewing Donald Trump in September 2016 before he became president. Fallon was accused of being too playful with Trump -- at one point, running his hand through his hair -- and not asking him any difficult questions.
"I think that’s a completely unfair critique of Jimmy Fallon’s show," Colbert comments on The Tonight Show host. "You do not go to Jimmy Fallon’s show for political satire or even political discussion. He’s an entertainer and he’s brilliant. People blame his ratings on that. But I think people just have a different appetite right now for political comedy. I think it’s highly overblown, that hair-ruffling thing."
Earlier this month, rapper Nicki Minaj left Colbert speechless during her appearance on CBS' The Late Show With Stephen Colbert thanks to her impromptu flirty rap about him. Watch the viral moment below: