BEHIND THE LAUGHTER

Conquering drug abuse and mental illness makes funnyman Cledus T. Judd nobody's fool

Story by M.B. Roberts • Photo by Tim Campbell

W hat you see is not always what you get. Take Cledus T. Judd. On the outside, the comedian whose videos spoof the biggest stars is a laugh a minute. But on the inside, Cledus suffers from manic depression, which was diagnosed when he sought treatment several years ago for a serious cocaine problem.

"Put drugs on top of manic depression," says Cledus, "and you're asking for a lifetime of heartache."

As he settles into a rocking chair on the front porch of his home in Cartersville, Ga., the funnyman seems comfortable talking about his serious problems. Cledus says he's now licked his drug addiction and is managing his illness, also known as bipolar disorder, without medication.

"I've been on Paxil and Prozac," confides Cledus. "But it just made me so numb! I didn't care if I sold a million records or got another tour date. I don't want to have a great career and not be able to experience emotions that go with it."

Surprisingly, Cledus is also coping with his condition by openly discussing it. In fact, he hopes to become a spokesperson for mental illness.

"One out of five people diagnosed as bipolar commits suicide by age 50," he explains. "I'm determined to change that somehow even if it costs me fans or my record deal."

Cledus is full of surprises. So it's no shock that the place he calls home - a quaint country cottage - is not what initially meets the eye.

"Outside you see a little country farmhouse," says Cledus, walking up the freshly painted white steps of his front porch. "When you walk inside you're like, 'Oh my god - what happened?' "

Step inside and it's clear this is no ordinary farmhouse. The living room is an explosion of black-and-white animal prints, bright red upholstery, chain-link curtains, wacky chairs shaped like giant hands and scads of electronic gear.

"Everyone's jealous of my remotes," laughs Cledus as he demonstrates the entertainment center's remote-controlled doors and the couch that converts into a bed with the push of a button. "My battery bill costs more than my house!"

Cledus deserves full credit for turning this cozy but nondescript house into an art deco, high-tech palace.

"When I bought it, this place was really run-down," confides Cledus. "I saw potential in it, though. I thought I'd give it a try."

Cledus did more than try. For two years he spent his downtime pouring manual labor and creativity into the home. Now the fixer-upper is an award winner: Last year his hometown honored him with a Home Renovation of the Year award.

"These kitchen cabinets were being thrown out of an old farmhouse," says Cledus, continuing his tour. "The countertops are from 1959. I've even got a water fountain. I love it - it looks like an old diner."

Cledus also installed a refrigerator that hangs from chains. "It's a conversation piece, for sure!" he laughs.

Cledus also put personal touches in the bathroom, which features a corrugated tin roof, and in his all-white bedroom, where his original artwork hangs. "I didn't want any pictures in here," says Cledus. "Just shapes."

Another Cledus surprise: Now that his house is just right, the comedian plans to rent it out and move into a bigger place.

"I'm going to fix it up, too," exclaims Cledus. "Lots of wide open spaces."

Cledus plans to take his one-of-a-kind artwork and furniture with him. Among the first things he'll pack is a poster featuring Cledus with Brooks & Dunn on their Neon Circus & Wild West Show tour.

"Being on their tour has been a great opportunity," says Cledus. "Brooks and Dunn are partially responsible for this place. I should dedicate the house to them!"

Cledus will reserve a special place in his new home for a framed copy of his latest album, Cledus Envy. The record is filled with songs playfully poking fun of country's biggest hits.

"All the songs are like my kids," deadpans Cledus. "I can't pick a favorite."

It seems, though, that Cledus particularly favors parodies of Tim McGraw and Faith Hill songs. Envy includes "Breath," inspired by Faith's "Breathe," and "Let's Shoot Dove," a hilarious takeoff on "Let's Make Love."

"I love going after Faith and Tim," says Cledus. "Since they have such big records. It's got to be something people know or they won't get the parody."

Cledus says Faith, Tim and others whose songs are spoofed on the album (including Travis Tritt, whose "It's A Great Day To Be Alive" morphed into "It's A Great Day To Be A Guy") are all good sports.

"They're flattered, I think," says Cledus.

Some go beyond that, like Phil Vassar, who dueted with Cledus on "Just Another Day In Parodies." Of the stars who jump willingly into Cledus' mock-music world, he says, "They're very supportive. They take care of me. I'm like their stepchild."

Besides making videos, records, touring and working on his home, Cledus recently completed another renovation - on himself!

"I lost 45 pounds," he declares proudly. "I decided that having to tour so much and work, I wanted to stay healthy. I have so much more energy. It makes my mind clearer."

Cledus' approach is simple: "If you want to lose weight, don't eat as much. Works every time."

The new and improved Cledus seems to only have one thing missing: a serious love in his life. After splitting with his fiancee several months ago, Cledus is taking it slow.

"If somebody comes along and it's the right thing, then I'm not afraid of it," confides Cledus. "But I'm not pushing. I love being a bachelor, too."

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