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Jewish Journal

Lessening Reality’s Bite

by Naomi Pfefferman

October 16, 2003 | 8:00 pm

After his 1996 arrest on drug-related charges, a handcuffed John Lehr sat in the back of a squad car, tripping on LSD. "This kid just stopped and stared at me, and suddenly I saw myself through his eyes," said the actor, who hosted the reality show, "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me out of Here."

"I'd thought of myself as a guy who, yes, used drugs, but who also had talent and a career. But to this kid, I was just a criminal. That was a very heavy moment for me."

The story is one of many heavy (and hilarious) moments Lehr, 37, recounts in his "Series of Comedic Lectures," six monologues that "use elements of my life to prove or disprove various theses," he said. In a style reminiscent of Spaulding Gray, Lehr describes his "hillbilly white trash" Kansas roots, his battle with addiction and the spiritual path that culminated in his conversion to Judaism in 2000.

Along the way, he completed a University of Judaism class, studied Jewish meditation at Metivta and had a surreal mohel moment -- at his ritual circumcision, Lehr's pants were around his ankles when the rabbi chattily asked if he'd read his son's script.

"Only in L.A. does your mohel pitch you a screenplay," the actor-improv comedian said.

The former atheist's real-life journey proved more outlandish than his TV reality show. During 10 years of drug and alcohol abuse, his outrageous behavior included a ménage-à-trois with three obese women in a Missouri trailer. Even when the actor got sober after his 1996 arrest, "I went from being this laid-back druggie-hippie to this intense mother----," he said.

Recovery proved elusive until he began exploring spirituality, prompted by his therapist, his 12-step sponsor and his Jewish wife-to-be, Jennifer Schlosberg. Sponsored by her rabbi, Harold Schulweis, he embarked upon a course of study and fell in love with the "diversity and flexibility" of Judaism. His Metivta meditations "provided the first nanoseconds of relief I'd felt from my 'sober alcoholic' insanity," he said.

The spiritual peace gave Lehr the confidence to create his "Lecture" series.

"I'm married, I'm sober, I believe in God and I'm a Jew," he said. "And for the first time in my life, I'm happy."

Each "Lecture" runs for one week from Oct. 21-Nov. 26, at the Powerhouse Theatre in Santa Monica, (800) 413-8669. The show describing Lehr's conversion plays Oct. 28 and 29.

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