Comedian Drew Carey shares challenging past at Friends of Youth Luncheon

Drew Carey has made a name for himself by making people laugh. But it has not always been so easy to laugh himself.

The comedian – who is “Price is Right” game-show host and co-owner of the Seattle Sounders FC – was the guest speaker during the Fifth Annual Celebration of Youth Luncheon at the Bellevue Hyatt Hotel, a benefit for the Friends of Youth organization based in Redmond.

Friends of Youth started in 1951 and it reaches 5,000 youth in the area each year through transitional housing, counseling and numerous other programs. The organization’s services include New Ground Kirkland, an interim housing facility for at-risk youth and is based in Redmond.

“They came to me and wanted me to speak,” Carey told the Reporter during an interview before the event. “When you run a charity you just have to bug people until they say yes. But I can’t think of a better way to spend my afternoon. I have just never given a speech.”

Carey’s first speech was personal. He told the crowd of nearly 650 people of how important organizations like Friends of Youth are to the community. Carey used the Big Brothers organization while growing up in Cleveland, Ohio as his father died when he was just eight years old. But the TV star could have used an organization like Friends of Youth when he was in his late teens.

“I tried to kill myself when I was 18 and decided to come out to California to see my brother,” said Carey, who rode a Greyhound bus from Ohio to Las Vegas.

He recalled being homeless in Las Vegas on the way to California, selling plasma for $40 and looking for spare change to buy boxed macaroni and cheese.

“All I had was water, no butter,” said Carey. “That is some bad macaroni and cheese.”

Carey said that these days he buys the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese deluxe: “I can’t tell you how much of a big shot that makes me feel. Sometimes I add chicken … But I wouldn’t have had this success if I didn’t struggle.”

But Carey related his situation to those Eastside teens that use Friends of Youth to get on their feet after being homeless or get help for other issues.

“I have been in a lot of desperate situations,” said Carey. “But it is nothing compared to what some of these kids go through. Just thank God that you or your kids don’t have to go through it.”

The organization ran a video twice prior to Carey’s speech. Technical difficulties precluded the sound both times.

“I am glad they ran it without sound cause you can see in that girl’s face exactly what she is going through,” said Carey. “When (these kids) go on in life they will be really good people cause they learned what it is like.”

When the video finally ran with sound after Carey’s speech, it chronicled a teen who received counseling services and transitional housing from the organization.

Despite his own struggles as a teen, Carey said that he enjoyed his youth as a “latchkey” kid.

“I had a lot of good times as a kid,” said Carey. “Everyone makes the best of their situation as long as you have a place to go. You have to believe that you deserve the good things that come your way.”

He also recited what he referred to as the meaning of life: to practice the lessons of love and forgiveness and that we are always learning.

Carey, who is engaged to be married, said he knows his four-year-old son learns from how his father handles different situations.

“If I get mad he will learn that,” said Carey. “But if I count to 10 and forgive that person he will learn that. It’s all a learning experience.”

Between living in southern California and hosting the “Price is Right,” the Sounders and other various projects he has in the works, Carey says he doesn’t have as much time for charity work as he would like.

“I want to do it a lot more often than I do,” said Carey, who began his career as a standup comedian and hopes to get back to his roots this summer. “I do stuff when I can. But it all comes down to time.”

Carey said that he has achieved so much by being positive and setting goals.

The Friends of Youth event Thursday also coincided with the season opener of the Sounders, for which he has some lofty goals.

“Last year we were all happy just to get them on the field,” said Carey. “But now no one is going to be happy with anything other than first place.”

For more photos of Carey and the Friends of Youth lunch see our staff photographers blog Focus Northwest.