The scourge of telemarketers infuriates, but for razor-sharp comedian Corey White, 31, an intrusive offer to reduce his mobile phone bill was quite literally life-saving.
Living in Brisbane at the time, he was on the cusp of his comic career exploding with award-winning stand-up show The Cane Toad Effect.
Despite surviving a hellish childhood through almost superhuman levels of resilience, a girlfriend’s infidelity had broken him.
Clinging to the rails of the steel Story Bridge, ready to end it all, his pocket buzzed and a perky voice announcing the call was being recorded for quality and training purposes brought him back from the brink.
“It seemed to me to be the most absurd thing in the universe,” White tells The New Daily.
“I just think it’s hilarious. Even now, I still chuckle about it.”
Dark absurdity abounds in his compelling survival memoir, The Prettiest Horse in the Glue Factory, with horror countered by pitch black humour.
Asked to identify the darkest moment, the presenter of ABC show Corey White’s Roadmap to Paradise is surprisingly sanguine.
“That’s like when someone asks your favourite music album,” he says. “You can’t do it.”
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A young White idolised his father. So much so, he’d copy his foul language and physical abuse of his mother and sisters.
“He was a god to me, and mimicry is quite common in little kids,” White says.
“It’s just that what was being copied was quite horrific.”
As a boy White was molested by his uncle, and while his furious father saw off that threat, life at home was traumatic.
Both his parents were drug addicts who were in and out of jail. When he was 10, his mother died of a heroin overdose.
“Paradoxically, despite my parents doing some terrible things – particularly my father – there was at the same time a lot of love towards me,” White says.
“In a very mysterious way, that love insulated me against the consequences of their neglect.”
That insulation proved useful when White was further neglected by a whirlwind of largely indifferent social workers and increasingly unstable foster placements.
He faced humiliation, starvation, physical and psychological abuse and repeated rape by one foster brother.
“I remember one social worker telling me that, on average, people are in the [job] for a little over two years,” White says of the system that let him down.
“There needs to be more of them, looked after more effectively, and more carers too, because there’s a lot of overcrowding. There’s an incentive to put children back with parents when they aren’t ready.”
His mother was one such parent: “If you’re going to return a child to a troubled home, you need to provide resources for the parent to heal.”
Academia became an escape route for White, who won a scholarship to Catholic boarding school St Joseph’s Nudgee College in Brisbane.
Isolating himself, he studied obsessively to secure a university place. But once there, White was waylaid by a heavy drink and drug addiction of his own.
“Obsessiveness is a common feature of people struggling unconsciously with trauma,” he tells The New Daily.
“It’s a sphere in which you can control things, perhaps. That was certainly a big feature of my attempts to make it, and to live a life.”
His addictions helped him eventually steer a straighter course, he argues.
“I know it’s not a very popular thing to say, but I think drugs can have a positive effect for some people.
“Up to a certain point, they did for me. I remember the early stages of ecstasy in particular did re-beautify the world and give me a sense of that dewy sort of starlit newness, which helped,” White says.
“And then, I guess, as my drug-taking got out of control, it gave me a focal point to react against.”
Comedy became his new escape, once he mastered his crippling fear of failure.
Moving to Melbourne when his career took off, these days White is sober and on a health kick ahead of his wedding to fiancee Sophie.
“I’ve been forced to try and be a little more balanced,” he says.
“I don’t think it’s wisdom. If only because of the horrible march of time, I just don’t have the energy to be that obsessed any more.”
Corey White’s The Prettiest Horse in the Glue Factory was released by Penguin Random House on July 16.
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