Mike's insane problems with headaches

Mike talking in depth about his struggles with headaches. He talks about it other interviews too. Season 6 was the worst period for it and seems to line up with the ‘experimental medication’ phase he is talking about in this article.

I post this once in a while on other forums and it always seems to be new info for others. So thought I would post it here.

edit: pasting the article so folks can see it.

I’ve had a headache for 20 years. Not headaches, but one continuous headache, 20 years running.

“I suppose you get used to it,” people say.

Well, in the sense that you begin to expect it morning after morning, yes. But you don’t grow to tolerate it any more than you would, say, having a toddler punch you in the groin at three-minute intervals, 24 hours a day, for 20 years. (Of course I realize it would have to be a series of toddlers, but let’s not quibble.)

I can best describe my headache like this: Imagine deeply eccentric thugs seized you and forced a small, sturdy hat (e.g., a jaunty bowler) onto your head and glued it in place. Now imagine that every month or so the thugs return, apply powerful solvents to loosen the glue and remove the hat, only to glue on another — and sometimes it’s a more staid homburg (as I said, they’re eccentric) that is two sizes smaller. That’s my headache: unending weeks of moderate pain relieved by shorter stints of nearly intolerable pain.

Some time ago, I went to a neurologist, a grim, unsympathetic older man with a voice not unlike Winnie the Pooh’s — which is charming coming from a cartoon character but disconcerting coming from a man tasked with treating your chronic pain.

He listened to me describe my headache and then pronounced his diagnosis: “You have a chronic headache.”

He then began to prescribe an endless series of pharmaceuticals. Because there is no medicine dedicated exclusively to the treatment of chronic headaches, he gave me pills for coronary artery disease, depression, joint pain, eczema, etc. — the theory being that in studies of these medicines, some patients found that they treated their headaches. Now, if 1,000 people were given a dose of ringworm medication, I would expect one or two of them to exclaim, “Hey, I find I no longer dislike the music of Rascal Flatts as much as I used to!” That would not lead me to conclude, however, that ringworm medication cures an aversion to the music of Rascal Flatts. But then, I’m not a neurologist with the voice of Winnie the Pooh.

If you judge these medications on their ability to cure my headache, all failed. If you judge them on their ability to deliver a string of bizarre and unpleasant effects, however, then they were a rousing success! One caused my heart to slow significantly, so that if I exerted myself by, for example, walking several paces, my vision would swim (inconvenient, as walking several paces was a big part of my life back then). Another scrambled my sense of time, giving me the sensation that I was continually shifting several seconds into the future and waiting for the rest of humanity to catch up to me. For the record, imaginary trips several seconds into the future have nothing much to offer, aside from feelings of stark terror.

So I gave up on medications, eschewing even aspirin for 10 years. But then I heard about a novel kind of treatment that involves having Novocain injected into the head, the theory being that if you could somehow get your muscles to “remember” what it was like not to feel pain, they’d return to their normal state.

I was dubious. Do muscles remember? Are my thighs consumed with bitterness over the time I did too many leg lifts? Or what if the theory is sound, but my muscles just happen to be the biggest idiots in all of muscledom?

“Hey, scalp muscles. Remember that time, like, 20 years ago when you weren’t in pain?”

“Hmm . . . was that that strange warm feeling?”

“No, you morons! That was me showering, and that was seven minutes ago!”

“Well, then we’re tapped out. Sorry.”

Still, I decided to try it because, hey, why pass up a chance to have a large needle jammed into your head? My new neurologist quickly embarked on the established procedure: probe neck or scalp muscle. If tender, insert cocktail-straw-size needle deep into flesh. Inject numbing agent for a good 5 to 10 surprisingly painful seconds. Repeat two dozen times.

Once he finished and my whimpering ceased, my head was indeed pain-free. But now I had something else to deal with: my head was free of any sensation whatsoever. It lolled about on my shoulders like a puppet head.

I planned to go to work and hoped to pass off my listing head as a new, insouciant, devil-may-care attitude, but after about 20 minutes, a quarter-size area at the very top of my head began to feel very tight and hot, the sensation increasing by the minute until it became like a laser beam of unbearable pain. I felt as if I could point my head at people and kill them.

I skipped work — there is little use for a man with a nonfunctioning head — and drove home, where my wife, who was well within her rights to point at me and laugh, instead tended to me as I lay on the couch, moaning. The next morning, feeling had completely returned and my headache was worse than ever.

For all I know, the theory may be true and muscles do remember. Mine were simply trying to say: “Hey, we hear you, man. We just prefer agony.”

As I said: My muscles are morons.


This is new to me and I’ve been a fan for many, many years so thank you for posting. I couldn’t read anything as I was blocked for reaching my limit even though it was my first time visiting the site. Not sure I want to subscribe to the NYT to read it but now I’m interested to learn more about his condition as I know some people close to me that have issues with migraines.


posted the text from the article so you can read it.


High School Big Shot is my favorite episode and I’ve always loved the opening skit, but now I love it with a strong dash of sympathy.


yeah… you can tell it goes from ‘Mike acting’ to ‘OH CRAP’ pretty quick in that skit


Thanks for posting this, I had not heard it before. Poor Mike, wow. I get a pretty bad migraine about once a week, but at least I have relief in between. There have been at least migraine treatments developed since 2007, I’m not sure about chronic headache too, but I hope that he’s found some other treatment options.

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Anyone know what the state of his head is today?

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It sounds familiar. Not because I’d read the article before or because I have a constant headache. But because I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia 30 years ago. There has not been a moment since that I have not been in some pain somewhere. Mostly, I can relegate it to background noise. Sure, my ears are ringing and several joints are stiff and I’ve got pins and needles in a few places, but that’s just how my body is. It’ll change soon enough. I’ll have different pain in different parts of my body and I’ll do my best to ignore that, too. At least until one of the random pain spikes, which happen without warning, in a random place, with random intensity, for a random duration. Like, suddenly I’ll get a stabbing pain in my knee that could be anywhere from 1-10 on the pain scale (whatever that means) and could last a few minutes or maybe a few hours. And then it’ll fade away just as suddenly. But then I’ll get a different pain spike in my ankle for a while. Or my elbow. Or shoulder blade. Or… you get the idea.

When I was first diagnosed, there wasn’t much they could do about it. I spent most of my time lying down, in too much pain and physical exhaustion to even try to sit up. Sometimes I’d spend entire days feeling like my entire body was on fire.

Oh, also I’m hypersensitive to everything, so bright lights, loud noises, high-pitched noises, certain odors, a friendly slap on the back, etc etc are all actively painful, sometimes lingering for several minutes.

So I just keep going to different doctors trying to get new angles. Trying different medications and things to see what might make it marginally better. Mostly, whatever new thing it is doesn’t help and instead has weird side effects, but I stick it out as long as I can to make sure to give it a chance. I did eventually find one pain medication that still doesn’t take all the pain away but does usually keep it to tolerable levels. I’ve been on that for the last 15 years or so.

I hope Mike finds something to help. It just sucks living with pain, all the more so when you know there’s no good reason for it, and even more when you don’t even have a proper diagnosis to explain what’s going on and assure you that you’re not crazy.

And at least he went with novocaine. The popular treatment for migraines these days is Botox. Extract the neurotoxin from botulism. Let it paralyze your nerves for several weeks. It’s supposed to make your muscles puff up to reduce the appearance of wrinkles so you can pretend not to have aged even though your face is no longer capable of forming natural expressions. But sometimes while you’re doing that you also get the headaches to stop. Until the stuff wears off and you have to get injected with neurotoxin again and once again roll the dice on the small but nonzero chance that this time it will cause permanent nerve damage.


Honestly this is why I post this article every so often. I think a lot of folks battle chronic pain and it’s nice to know that the folks we love in the cast of the movies/shows we love have similar struggles.


By all accounts, the same. (It comes up periodically on 372 Pages.)


I’m sure if Mike did find something that worked he would have talked about it a lot and let others know a solution is out there.


As someone who, like above, gets a bad headache a least once a week, I can’t imagine having one that never goes away.

I think someone once reported that this may have been why the SoL segments were lit a bit darker in later seasons. Case in point, the spotlight on “Kid Mike” in “Supercalafragalisticexpialawacky” was a bit softer than it may have been at other times in the series.

Nothing but endless respect for Mike considering that he still does Rifftrax Live and has to watch screens for a living (while doing Rifftrax not-so-live). I can barely look at a screen when I get migraines. I can’t imagine what it must be for someone with a chronic headache.

With all our scientific advances, I feel as if we still don’t know a lot about how the brain works. And we may not ever know. I respect those who work through the pain and still lead productive lives.


Damn. Sympathies to Mike there.

I remember reading/hearing somewhere that it was particularly bad around the time he was doing Red Zone Cuba. The entire experience left him wondering why he was doing what it was that he was doing.

I hope it’s been better for the guy since that 2007 article.


I LOVE the darker lighting on the SOL so I’m glad they changed it. Hopefully it helped Mike deal with his headaches. My roommate in college had bad ones once in a while and just sat in the dark all day cause he light made it worse. I truly don’t understand that aspect of it all. Like you said we still don’t know a lot about the brain and how it works.

The new SOL is brightly lit but I like the blue/green lighting on the background makes it look darker. A nice compromise between the Sci Fi era lighting and the bright and grey dull look of the Joel years.


Major empathy for sufferers of chronic pain. I’m the “Unbreakable” mirror opposite. I never get headaches, I have no muscle aches, back aches, or other similar things. Those who have to struggle through such issues on a constant basis have my respect.


I envy you.

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Season 6 was the worst for him and yeah he mentioned red zone cuba as being a particularly terrible headache day(s)… he thought the movie was at fault in some way.

He lost his mind on that one.


I’m with you. I know people with migraines and fibro that manage to really get things done, and remind me I need to get off my ass and use my relatively pain/discomfort-free body.


To be less than serious for a moment; how did he come to the conclusion that watching bad movies for a living would aid him in not getting headaches I wonder‽


What happened to Michael O’Donoghue makes me nervous for people with chronic headaches.

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