By, Charlotte Wilson-Langley
Most people knew Ryan Talmo as “Valley Jesus,” thanks to his long hair and friendly disposition and high profile, so to speak, in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. But he doesn’t preach about religion: He’s been a staple in the L.A. comedy scene for close to a decade.
Talmo got started in comedy when he moved to Los Angeles in 2010. After leaving a bad breakup behind and struggling with depression, he decided to fulfill a lifelong dream of becoming a filmmaker in Hollywood. But after arriving in L.A. and seeing the amount of competition, he began to question whether filmmaking was what he really wanted.
“Eight years ago, the stand-up scene in L.A. wasn’t nearly as saturated as it is today, and I was very drawn towards it,” Talmo said. With open mics accessible every night, It didn’t take long before Talmo began to shift his focus from filmmaking to making people laugh.
Photography by, Jeff Snyder
Looking at Talmo, you’d think one of two things — this guy definitely looks like Jesus … and this dude has got to be a stoner. But as much as Talmo looks the part of the toker, weed was never his thing; he was more of a drinker. Many of his friends, including his roomate, are 420-friendly. He even ran a popular show called “The Marijuana-thon.”
“We had as many comics as they could fit onto a lineup, but unlike a regular comedy show, “[the comedians]were stoned as hell,” Talmo said .
But despite living a 420 town, in a 420 community with a 420 roommate, Talmo was never interested in weed. His avoidance came from strong — but mixed — messages about the dangers of marijuana.
“I was never against it, but I was never interested in it, because my biggest fear was that it would control my way of thinking,” he said.
So where did Talmo get that sentiment? We D.A.R.E. you to guess.
Talmo said that when he was a kid, his parents lived two different lives: “I was raised Catholic, but that’s not what was going on beneath.”
Turns out, Talmo’s parents were total hippies, but didn’t want to be perceived that way. So they did almost everything they could to stop anyone from knowing that they were into marijuana. It didn’t always work.
“I used to watch my dad roll joints as a kid, but I didn’t know what the hell he was doing. It was in a shoebox in his cabinet in the bedroom. I’d watch him take it down, roll a joint on the bed and then he’d take me to school,” he said.
That secrecy intrigued Talmo.
One day, when Talmo was 10 years old, he saw a D.A.R.E. commercial starring the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It was then that he learned two things: One: His fad was smoking pot. And Two: pot was for “dorks.”
The commercial “had this kid with a weird drug deal going on. Then they showed a picture of joints and I thought, ‘that’s what dad smokes!’ So I was raised in a way that implied that [weed]is bad and you shouldn’t be doing it. Nancy Reagan did a good job on me,” Talmo said.
Even though Talmo was around weed in the L.A. comedy scene, he always stuck to booze.
“I didn’t start drinking until I was 21. So I was playing by the rules with that, too. But for some reason, alcohol seemed way more acceptable,” he said.
Talmo admits that he’d mastered the art of being drunk on stage. As a person who had long suffered with anxiety and depression, he said alcohol softened the blow of the harsh world of stand-up comedy and made him feel more relaxed.
Until recently, you could go to the Valley and there’d be a strong a chance that you’d find Talmo performing, running a show or hosting a mic — and always with a drink in his hand.
A life-changing diagnosis
Comedy as Talmo knew it came to a screeching halt when he became ill and was diagnosed with cancer on Friday the 13th — April 13, 2018.
He’d been feeling unwell for months and there was a strange lump in his neck that randomly appeared in August 2017. Although some friends had pointed it out, he thought it was just a swollen lymph node. Later Talmo chalked it up to his bad diet and thought changing his eating habits would help. But by December, the lump started getting bigger, and this time he’d convinced himself that it was the flu.
At the time, Talmo was working seven days at week at a deli in Hollywood. Under pressure from family and friends, Talmo used a day off and went to urgent care despite his dislike for hospitals and doctor visits. It didn’t take long before Talmo was diagnosed: stage III non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Photography by, Steve Robles
Doctors were unable to remove his lymph nodes and immediately recommended chemotherapy. After his diagnosis, Talmo was flooded with fear and anxiety. His roomate at the time, who battled anxiety herself, suggested that he try weed because it helped her find relief from anxiety and insomnia. Prior to this, Talmo’s attitude toward marijuana had slowly been softening over the years. Many of Talmo’s pro-marijuana friends often challenged his position with conversations about perceptions of weed versus alcohol — even caffeine. After his diagnosis, Talmo had already made the decision to cut back on drinking and strongly considered his roommate’s suggestion, but he still felt unsure.
When Talmo went back to the doctor, the first thing he asked his oncologist was if he was allowed to drink. The answer was a hard no, but his doctor did tell him that he was allowed to smoke weed, eat edibles and use topical products. Talmo had already been experimenting with edibles per his roommate’s suggestion, and found that consuming them helped him to relax and make it through the day. But once his doctor recommended he try marijuana, Talmo was all the way in.
Then came the hard part — chemotherapy.
Chemo caused Talmo to lose his hair, have major nausea and one unexpected symptom: severe depression with suicidal thoughts. Talmo soon went back to his doctor and asked for antidepressants. The doctor’s response was that Talmo’s body was already bogged down with medication and he didn’t want to add anymore.
His advice: Smoke some weed. Hang out with friends. Relax your brain.
His doctor also said that he wanted Talmo to get immediate relief from marijuana that wouldn’t be possible with typical antidepressants, which take weeks or sometimes months to kick in.
Talmo said the depression that comes from cancer and chemo is the darkest he’s ever experienced in his life, and weed has been the only thing to help him get through the day.
Talmo also struggles with physical pain and was prescribed pain medication, but he doesn’t like it because it cause drowsiness and gives him a hangover the next day. So he uses a marijuana-infused balm that his father gave him instead. He rubs it on his chest and back before he goes to bed and said it helps him with his anxiety as well. He also used a CBD-infused soap that he says gives him a perfect relaxing feeling especially in his chest and back.
Talmo said he is extremely grateful to his friends in the comedy scene who created several fundraiser shows and provided him with an endless supply of edibles.
Cannabis helps ease the pain, stress of chemo
Lymphoma is a curable cancer, but it’s also difficult to treat.
Talmo said that chemo just wears him out, and when you add the steroids that he’s required to take, “it feels like the chemicals are playing tug-o-war with my body.”
“Two days before chemo comes around, my anxiety builds up,” he added. “When the doctor tells you, you have a 70 to 80 percent chance of living, no matter what… and someone gives you a percentage of a life rate, it’s kind of eerie to know that you might not make it out.”
Talmo was with his parents when he was diagnosed, and his dad wrote a powerful message on a piece of paper. “To beat this, it’s going to be 90 percent you and 10 percent of the drugs [chemo].”
That message stuck with Talmo, and has been his approach to this entire situation. For people going through an illness or life-changing circumstances, Talmo shares three words that have helped him: “Mind over matter.”
Change in Perception
Talmo’s diagnosis with cancer changed how he sees everything. Even his comedy has become less about the self-deprecating dick and fart jokes of yore and more about finding humor in what he’s been going through.
“I was at a bar the other night to watch a comedy show and everyone was pretty hammered. I started seeing everyone act differently,” he said.
Talmo also said that he noticed how childish people would act depending on how much they’d had to drink and he realized, “Wow, this is a lifestyle that I can’t do anymore.”
Talmo was a comic who never got on stage without a drink. Now he’s doing it with nothing in his hand except for water. Transitioning to a “dry” comic wasn’t easy — especially with cancer — because his anxiety became more amplified than ever before.
“In the beginning I was freaked out because it was anxiety on top of anxiety,” he said. But now he says his comedy is free flowing and fearless. “Really, what do you have to lose? If you’re fighting for your life, what do you have to lose on stage?”
Talmo said he now sees weed as a healthful alternative to drinking, particularly as he realized that with weed, he wasn’t going to end up with terrible hangovers and alcohol’s negative long-term effects. He also found that with marijuana, he’d wake up with his brain feeling more refreshed.
Talmo admits that he’s not the type of person who finds creativity while stoned. It really just helps him to feel relaxed. Through a lot of trial and error, such as eating an entire weed Rice Krispies treat followed by two weed-infused espresso beans, Talmo figured out that he does best stopping at 10 mg of THC.
What’s Next for Talmo?
Talmo plans to make a book out of this experience from the beginning of his journey up until when his doctor tells him that he’s cancer-free.
“Cancer is a chapter of my life and my comedy career. At the end of August, I’m recording a comedy album where I can take my comedy from the last eight years, as well as some of my cancer stuff and turn it into an album,” he said.
Talmo’s goal is to have it completed by the time he goes into remission to signify the end of a chapter. He also wants to get back into producing and writing when he goes into remission.
“Everything in my life has changed. I see things differently, I act differently. I have a lot of baggage from previous relationships and now I’m like, why? What was the point of this?”
Talmo says that he has even reached out to people from his past.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen and life has become really precious,” he said. “Life is beautiful now. I see everything differently. Just going through Facebook, I’ll never judge anyone with what they’re bickering about, but life is gorgeous.
“Don’t be mad about something you have no control over,” he added.
As we were talking, we both realized something that parallelled with his filmmaking background. Before cancer, the camera of his life seemed to be zoomed in and focused on the small stuff, enabling him to get bitter and angry. But after cancer, the camera has pulled back giving him a wider, bigger picture view of life. Talmo agreed and said that he’s enjoying life more and not sweating the small stuff. Something that we could all learn from.
Talmo’s favorite weed:
Edible sour belts, Cheeba Chews and his new favorite, CBD bath bombs. He said they give him the ultimate body high and he says “his body feels like magic.”