‘How Long Gone’ Co-Host Chris Black on Sobriety and Fitness

FALSE IMAGES; ALEJANDRO BORTZ; ILLUSTRATION BY CHLOE KRAMMEL/MH

LATELY, CHRIS BLACK and Jason Stewart, the co-hosts of the hit podcast How long has it been?, have started asking their celebrity guests a recurring question: rate and rank your three favorite prescription pills. Comedian Joe Mande included Vicodin and an over-the-counter endorsement of Imodium. Rapper Fivio Foreign used the ad as an opportunity to expose his love for Percocet. But for Black, there would arguably be no need to be in the top three. Oxycontin would erase everything else.

The 39-year-old is now five years sober from Oxy after battling an addiction that led to self-destruction. He replaced the pills with an intense exercise regimen, something he insists helped push his way through his own recovery. But his fascination with drug use has never diminished, and in How long has it been?, the two-year-old program that it says receives 500,000 monthly downloads, that theme is common. Whether he’s talking to artist Snail Mail about her decision to smoke pot after getting out of rehab, or learning about the therapeutic benefits of ketamine from musician Alex Cameron.

“We approach it pretty lightly, but if you want to take it seriously, I can take it seriously, too,” Black tells me from a Mediterranean cafe in New York’s East Village. The point is not to vilify drugs, or the people who use them. It’s an attempt at radical transparency, his way of normalizing our conversations about substances that alter the mind, mood, or even the digestive tract. “Because that’s the thing, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

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Jason and Chris backstage in Philadelphia before How Long Gone Live.

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Before launch How long has it been?, which takes its name from the Brooks & Dunn song, the old friends had already garnered relative acclaim. Black, as a creative consultant behind brands like Thom Browne, Stussy and some scathing takes on pop culture to his more than 41,000 followers on Twitter. And Stewart, as a leading DJ of the nostalgic new era of indie sleaze, performing under the name Them Jeans. Their show was initially conceived as a place for these two hipster brothers to meet and discuss their frequently dichotomous and highly sarcastic opinions on everything from Emily in Paris to Kendrick Lamar’s latest album. But their friendship runs deeper than that, and in turn, so does the podcast.

While Stewart himself isn’t sober — his propensity to record the podcast while high on groceries is another one of its recurring parts — it was instrumental in Black’s recovery. Take him on long walks through Griffith Park; gently joking for not being more fun. (Asar is his love language.) “That’s my man. He has been there through the whole thing. So we can joke about it,” says Black.

Although humor is often his entry point into the conversation, the responsibility Black feels to share his story is no joke. “Our listeners, a lot of them are young guys who have some money and could easily be in the same position or close to being in the same position. [as I was]. So I can be the example, or even the sounding board.” And for Stewart, his comedic approach isn’t just a means to an end. It is the point itself. “There are a lot of people who have used comedy to talk about serious things, so we tried to find a way to make that emotionally powerful and really produce some results,” says Stewart.

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Perhaps Black’s comfort with the subject can be credited to the fact that his own relationship with drugs and alcohol has run such a wide spectrum. She started out with a total dodge during her straight-style days in suburban Atlanta. As a teenager in the ’90s, Black gained a foothold in the hardcore punk scene. Although music was his initiation (bands like The Smiths and Oasis), he stayed with the liberal ideology of the movement. The focus on anti-religion and animal rights inspired him to give up meat and substances.

“Being a vegan in Atlanta in the ’90s is crazy,” says Black, who now identifies as a pescetarian. “I was quite overweight at the time. I wore a lot of beaded necklaces, shorts, Vans or Wallabees. Let me put it this way, it was a Look.”

But his early sobriety did not exclude Black from debauchery. He developed a “fuck the man” attitude, dropped out of high school and moved in with a group of musicians. At 19, his resolve faded and Black took his first line of cocaine before taking a drink. “It’s the reason someone uses drugs. It’s like, ‘Oh wait, can you stay up late, there are women and you can have sex? This is on,’” he says with his trademark laugh. He soon turned to alcohol, along with a stint fronting the pop punk band Cartel. Despite Black’s twenty years, his cocaine use was still of that social variety: something he did three or four nights a week, always with the intention of partying.

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Black during training in Los Angeles.

Alexander Bortz

However, by age 30, Black’s drug use had made him a relative recluse. Having switched from coke to Oxy, along with Xanax, muscle relaxants, and other forms of painkillers, Black partook in the nightlife, but spent her days hiding the habit from him. He met a distributor who would FedEx him 100 or more vacuum-sealed Oxys between two editions of ANNOYED magazine, and Black would haunt the Tribeca apartment he shared with his then-wife, depleting his supply.

“I probably spent $100,000 on OxyContin in a couple of years,” Black says with the same endearing candor for which he’s known as How long has it been?The most imposing co-host.

But just as he has me captivated, the pendulum swings back to Black’s more serious approach to talking about addiction. “It’s total denial for so long, then you overdose,” he says, recalling one incident. “It was like ten in the morning and I woke up in the hospital and I had no idea what happened. My ex-wife says, ‘I thought you were dead. They had to come like 10 firemen’”. He recovered enough to show that he had not learned from the experience. “Then you overdose again,” he says.

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When Black finally quit, after multiple overdoses and a split from his ex-wife, he did so cold turkey. Giving up a 12-step program or rehab, fitness became his salvation. He obtained a membership to the YMCA on the Lower East Side where he “went nuts,” allowing the blood, sweat and endorphins of exercise to take the form of his higher power. Now that he spends most of his time in Los Angeles, Black works out with celebrity trainer Hunter Seagroves.

“I was throwing crazy things at him that most people would feel silly about, but he never resisted or flinched. He had just walked in,” says Seagroves of mobility and the movement-based work they do together, which includes handstands and hanging upside down. “Chris is not afraid to be bad at something. [He has this] coastal elite façade, but at the end of the day, Chris is real. He is transparent, he doesn’t mince words about his flaws and he is involved in his process”.

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Black trains hard every day.

Alexander Bortz

Now Black approaches his life with the mindset of an athlete. And with the success of How long has it been?—which he sees as a tennis match— Black is seeing results. His intense focus also means making a level of commitment with no days off to work out. “I have traveled through Germany. I will go to the ends of the earth to find a place wherever it is,” he says.

However, Stewart is still there when needed, offering advice, including suggesting that Black continue to evolve in slightly looser ways. “Now that he’s moving forward in life, career and relationship, he’s learning to have some kind of backup plan or control of the situation when his routine changes. [is important]Stewart says. “He is very proud of his routine. Every day he drinks a gallon of water and goes to the gym, but life isn’t always like that.”

Black says he’s still working on identifying other ways to calm himself down. Socializing is one; acknowledging the fact that it is still a work in progress is another. Paying for it through the podcast is also becoming essential. “When you know you could have died and you know the shit was a little crooked, most people in my position are happy to help,” he says. “It’s the good, the bad, and the ugly, baby!”

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