From jail to the stage: why an ex-con is performing stand-up comedy

A former heroin addict and bank robber, Mark Hughes is now using comedy to shed light on his time spent in jail.

'It's like coming from a country that's radically different,' says former addict, bank robber

A former addict who served two jail sentences, Mark Hughes now uses comedy to shed light on his experiences behind bars. (The Fringe Festival)

Mark Hughes is an ex-convict and former drug addict who used to live on the streets.

Now, he draws on those life experiences as fodder for "Tragedy + Time Served = Comedy" — a stand-up comedy show that premiered at the Vancouver Fringe Festival and will now run at the Dusty Flower Pot Cabaret in Vancouver.

"I cheated, because it's my life story," Hughes joked about his writing process.

A self-described "weird misfit kid," Hughes said what started out as typical school mischief eventually escalated into drug use and criminality.

At 21, he received an eight-year prison sentence after a two-month crime spree involving home invasions, a high-speed chase and convenience store robberies.

He was let out on parole five years later, but struggled with reintegration, and was eventually sent back to prison after robbing a bank.

Hughes says he got sober in 2006 and was again released from jail. 

"My first five years out of prison, I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy," he said.

"It's like coming from a country that's radically different from this one, but you're not allowed to tell people how you adopted those customs."

Comedy as catharsis

Hughes said he turned to comedy after his life began to stabilize.

"Once I didn't feel like I was struggling to survive anymore, life was really boring," he joked.

"I always said if you can't shoot heroin and you can't rob banks anymore, what do you do for fun?"

Hughes said because he was often told that he was funny, he signed up for a stand-up comedy class and was surprised that he found the process cathartic.

"The high I got out of it was something I hadn't gotten in a long time," he said.

Before performing at the Vancouver Fringe Festival, Hughes practiced by "doing dry runs performing in people's living rooms."

He's now working on a sequel to his show, which he eventually hopes will become a three-part series.

Hughes is performing his one-man show "Tragedy + Time Served = Comedy" at the Dusty Flower Pot Cabaret on Nov. 25 and 26. 

With files from On the Coast

To listen to the interview, click on the audio labelled Why an ex-con now performs stand-up comedy