Mark Hughes’ weekly calendar looks something like this: sell fire alarms, attend support groups, read about friends dying and tell dick jokes in a room full of people.
When you run in disparate circles like that, people will inevitably ask questions. Hughes is now answering those questions with the debut of his podcast, Pulling the Trigger.
In four episodes this month, the Vancouver comic has interviewed a sex trade worker, a prison guard, a convicted murderer and a fentanyl dealer. The hour-long conversations are simultaneously macabre, hilarious and surreal.
“I don’t want to sound patronizing or condescending by simply saying, ‘These are people, too,’ because it’s about not that,” Hughes said. “I know they’re looked at as ‘weirdos.’ But I’m hoping through the interviews people can look at them and say, ‘I didn’t know about that kind of thing.’”
Released in mid-November, Hughes’ second interview is with Mission resident Glenn Flett. Soft-spoken, yet frank, Flett was convicted of second-degree murder and handed a life sentence after killing a Hudson’s Bay employee during a robbery in Toronto in the late 1970s. Paroled in 1992, Flett has since become an advocate for restorative justice and is the founder of LINC (Long-term Inmates Now in the Community).
His conversation with Hughes sounds like old pen pals catching up. They talk about life in institutional settings and other nastiness that few others have experienced. Hughes bridges that gap because he’s also been “in the joint.”
Hughes spent roughly a decade in and out of prison, addicted and living on the Downtown Eastside.
“A lot of this stuff is nothing new to me. Knowing a convicted murderer is not weird to me. It’s pretty normal,” Hughes said.
Hughes has been sober for 11 years and now performs weekly stand-up bits across Metro Vancouver. Since his story was first featured in the Courier, he’s been profiled by the CBC, Vancouver Sun and Vice.
Being in the gutter, on stage, or at recovery meetings is how he’s cast such a wide social net. In turn, he’s got access to people and stories that most don’t. He chooses interview subjects based on how candid they’ll be and the interest found in their backstory.
Though he’s still in active recovery, Hughes says he’s well enough equipped emotionally not to fall off the wagon when hearing about the pain others have experienced.
“I’ve been in prison with rapists, I’ve been in prison with killers, I’ve been in prison with child molesters,” he said. “I’m not saying I approve of any of those things and if I heard the graphic details it would gross me out. But I can understand for the most part how people get into situations.”
Released today (Thursday, Nov. 23), Hughes’ latest podcast hits close to home. “Kyle” — not his real name – is a fentanyl dealer in Vancouver. He admits to killing people during their conversation. Hughes estimates at least 60 people he’s known have died from drug overdoses attributed to fentanyl in the last three years.
Despite that, he relates to Kyle over their shared experiences in prison and the conversation never veers into the realm of judgment.
“My role is not to be confrontational — this isn’t Geraldo or Maury Povich,” Hughes said. “This is where the listeners can draw their own conclusions if they want. I don’t want to be judgemental because I know that sometimes getting out of the [criminal lifestyle] is really hard. It’s hard for me to say ‘I got a suit and a tie, cut my hair and got my shit together, why didn’t you?’”
Pulling the Trigger can be heard online HERE.