Truth be told, I'd rather have narcolepsy than not have it. When I get on a flight to Vegas, I'll fall asleep before the plane takes off and wake up after it's landed. I'm always very close to sleep. [Yawns.]
I had no idea I had it until recently. All I knew about narcolepsy was a character on Hill Street Blues, Vic Hitler the Narcoleptic Comic, who would fall asleep in the middle of his act. But I did know that every afternoon between about three and six, I would get very tired for no reason. I would doze off in meetings, watching TV, even driving. You know how when you're regular tired, your whole body is tired? With narcolepsy, just the inside of your head is tired. It's like somebody's gently sitting on your brain. You have almost no focus. All you're thinking about is not falling asleep.
When I was emceeing Win Ben Stein's Money, I actually fell asleep during the show a few times. I would sit on the safe over to the side and just sort of doze off. But that was probably a combination of the narcolepsy and Ben's voice. Another time I was on the freeway in bumper-to-bumper traffic. My head was diving, then jerking back up. All of a sudden, this loud voice over a megaphone says, "Are you awake enough to drive that vehicle?" And I practically jumped out of my skin. It was the police, one lane over.
Anyway, I just always figured I wasn't getting enough sleep, so I would drink gallons of iced tea to get me through the afternoon. Finally I went to a doctor. When I told him how much iced tea I drank, he said, "What?!" He decided I was self-medicating, and he prescribed these pills called Provigil.
I have a pretty mild case with no other symptoms. Some narcoleptics experience cataplexy, which is a limpness in the arms and legs. I don't have that. I'd like to, though. It sounds great.
I've never used my narcolepsy in my work, though I do have a dream to someday use up an entire hour of television time by sleeping. Have I been approached to be the public face of narcolepsy? No, nobody wants me associated with their groups. I hope that changes, though. I would like to be to narcolepsy what Camille Grammer is to irritable-bowel syndrome.
-As told to Brendan Vaughan
*The interview for this article was scheduled for 11:00 A.M., April 23, 2003. It was postponed until 2:30 P.M. because Jimmy was napping.