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Why do so many stand up comedians have mental health problems??

In this episode, we chat with Hal Branson about the connection between stand-up comedy and mental health. Hal is a comedian and live comedy co-ordinator who has worked in the industry for over 12 years.

He has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and his comedy has been inextricably linked with his mental health, both in the content of his material on stage and as a tool to deal with the condition.

Follow us on Twitter and more at https://www.bio.link/livelyminds

Find out more about our show at https://www.anyamedia.net/livelyminds

Transcript

E: Hello, it’s Ellie here. I’d just like to give a brief content warning for this episode.

We talked to Hal about his experiences as a stand-up comedian diagnosed with bipolar
disorder. We discuss humour, anxiety and self-doubt. The episode contains passing references to suicide attempts and the use of crisis services.

W: Also just a reminder that this show does not constitute medical or therapeutic advice, and is not a replacement for seeking professional help. You can find signposting to support on our website, aniamedia.net/livelyminds.

E: Hello, my name is Ellie.

W: And my name is Will.

E: You’re listening to “Lively Minds,” the podcast about mental health challenges
that go beyond the ebb and flow of the everyday.

W: The podcast that is less about how we deal with our mental health and more about how we understand it in the first place. In today’s episode, we’re gonna be chatting with Hal Branson about the connection between comedy, particularly stand up comedy and mental health. Hal is a comedian and live comedy coordinator who has worked in the industry for over 12 years. He has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and his comedy has been inextricably linked with his mental health, both in the context of his material on stage and as a tool to deal with the condition.

[Music]

W: Hey Hal.

H: Hello Will.

W: How are you?

H: I’m very well. I was enjoying your pronunciation of the word inextricably.

W: Yes, yes, that’s quite a tongue twist too, isn’t it?

E: I think you should have an ASMR podcast, Will.

W: Do you think?

E: Yeah.

W: Just trying to articulate words like an extra could be and things like that, yeah.
Hal, I thought we could start off with the sad clown paradox.

H: Let’s…

W: May I begin with the sad clown paradox?

H: Please please, do. What better place to start?

W: Because…

H: Because you’re sat opposite one.

[Laughter]

W: Because I do think that it’s quite interesting and it’s quite a good kind of introduction to the concept really that we’re discussing today.

So for those listeners who haven’t heard of the South Clown Paradox, it’s where, its about how those who make people laugh for a living are often people who struggle with their mental health off stage. And it originates apparently from a joke from Alan Moore’s graphic novel, Watchmen, which goes something like this. Man goes to a doctor, says he’s depressed, says that life seems harsh and cruel, says he feels all alone in a threatening world. The doctor says, “treatment is simple. The great clown, Pagliacci–” Kelly? Pagliacci?

E: Pagliacci?

W: Pagliacci?

W: Pagliacci?

H: Put that on the IP, yes, you know. Thank you very much.

W: Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up. The man bursts into tears and says, “But, Doctor, I am Pagliace.”
Hal Branson, welcome to the show.

H: Thank you Dr.

W: No, but first of all, tell us, to what extent does that story ring true for you?

H: I mean, first thing, that doctor’s getting struck off by the question, not recognising his patients. It’s a bit like, “Have you tried Netflix?”

E: Yeah, exactly, yeah.

H: But yes, I think there is truth in that, and there is a reason it exists. I think a lot of it is to do with, sort of, wearing masks. The masks we wear, metaphorical or literal for some people, and you know you use the example of Pagliacci, I think he wears the mask on stage. On stage he is the great clown Pagliacci. Pagliacci god this pronunciation, apologies to any Italian listeners or anyone who’s a fan of Pagliacci, but off stage he isn’t the great clown Pagliacci, he’s just plain old Pagliacci.

And yeah, and so I think, you know, him on stage is where he can hide behind this mask of this performance of being this great clown and feed off the response from the audience who are, you know, being entertained and amused by his performance, but offstage the mask is off and it is just him.

W: Tell us then a little bit more about you, tell us about your comedy and your entrance into comedy and how that intersects with your mental health.

H: Interesting. I mean, if we’re going right, right, right, right, way back, I would say I started sort of performing – I just did inverted commas, which is useless on a podcast, imagine I just did the air commas – to some extent, probably when I was 10, 11, 12, my parents separated, and I think it’s quite common in, you know, children just crave attention.

Needy little bastards.

[laughter]

Am I allowed to swear? I just have. – You can bleep that out.

And I think in any example, and to, to almost any extent, any children that aren’t sort of getting the attention that they need or crave or feel any kind of neglect, on any scale, look for ways to fulfill that. And one of the ways, and certainly the way I chose, was to sort of perform, play the fool, you know, try and get people to laugh at me because it was attention. And it was, it’s satisfying, you know, it is a nice feeling, you know, jumping forward to being on stage when you make a whole room of people laugh. It’s a, you know, it’s a buzz.
What’s the thing you get releases–

E: Endorphins.

H: Endorphins, I was gonna say, ephedrine, but that’s a banned substance in France that they put in the red bull.

[laughter]

But, so I think that it could probably be traced back to around that time when I realised, oh, it’s a nice feeling if I sort of play the fool, play the clown, mess around, do silly faces. I was funny. I was looking back through lots of photos from me of that age with my daughter recently. I noticed in almost exclusively, in those photos, I’m pulling a face, I’m doing something silly, I pose or I’m dressed up in something silly. So I think that is probably like the origin story of where it was perhaps manifest.

In terms of actually getting up and performing comedy, I think I came to it quite late, if I’m honest. I think I was always, in my friendship group, I was always sort of considered one of, or the funny one, or one of the funny ones. I could always make people laugh. And there were certainly, I think there was quite a few examples of times when people would, I had people say to me, Do you like comedy? Do you stand up? I’d say no. And I, and the reason was I thought, well, if I never try and do it, I’ll never fail at it.

E: Yeah

H: That was always the kind of thing was, was like I always had that safety blanket, because the thought of failing, which I’m sure we’ll discuss, is terrifying. You know, it was horrible. So I thought, well, I can always just live with this almost like parallel life where I’m this brilliant comedian. Um, my first sort of forays properly into comedy would officially, sort of, was in the sketch group that I was in with our friends Patrick Lowe and Sean McKenna.

W: Yeah.

H: And you know that there was, we never, we didn’t do any live stuff for a long time. And I think you know so there again there was a comfort in that we filmed most of our stuff. We were, we would, it would only ever be us three. So there was a safety there. It didn’t, felt like we were being exposed or we weren’t too vulnerable.We did do some live shows, which I think all of us struggled with in different ways, but it was kind of around the time that we stopped doing that as much that I thought I’d go and do stand up.

W: And before we kind of get onto the question of the inclusion of your mental health challenges within your stand up material, I mean, just generally speaking, I mean, do you think that being a standup comedian and getting into standup is a way of, kind of, handling mental health challenges. You mentioned earlier that you, as a young person, you would make your friends laugh and that would kind of make you feel good and you’d get a buzz from that. I mean, do you think there is, do you think it’s a net positive kind of impact when you are making people laugh? Is that, does that have a net positive impact on your own mental health or is it a bit more complicated than that, do you think?

H: I mean, very much the latter. It’s way more complicated than that. And, you know, I’d also be reticent to be giving a dishing out of advice for anyone listening, thinking,
“Well, all right, what I need to do is…”
Because it can be brutal.

E: Yeah

H: But it can also be a way… Yes, the short answer is yes, it can definitely be a way to deal with it. But I would say, and it was one of the things I was thinking about coming and recording this, is that I think where it can be very dangerous is where you are relying on it as a, as treatment. Like that is where real danger lies, I think. And speaking from experience, the times that comedy in whatever form has helped me with my mental health, are the times when my mental health has been treated and looked after in other more commonly recognised and approved ways, you know, through exercise, medication, therapy, those sort of things, has allowed me to deal with my mental health fire company much better.

I think the times that I’ve you know, looked to resolve how I was feeling via the performance is when it was being the most dangerous for me. It really has. Because I think, you know if, to put it in simple terms, if I would go to a gig and I go, I need this to go well for me to feel okay, A it adds huge amounts of pressure onto the gig and to your performance, and B you’re spinning a dice because there are so many factors within, I know we’re not here to specifically talk about how stand-up comedy works, but there are so many factors that go into a gig that can, um, don’t get me wrong, you have to be funny, but there are a lot of things that can throw a gig off. Very minute details, and so if those were to happen, (clears throat) excuse me, um, you know, yeah it’s quite dangerous.

That’s a very long-winded answer, but I think the key point I’m saying is if someone is depressed I wouldn’t say, “I think what you need to do is get up on stage in front of a room of strangers and seek their approval via jokes.” And I think any psychologist, psychotherapist and doctor would back me up.

[laughter]

W: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, no, that’s a very good point. Let’s talk then about how you, because I’ve been to see you do live stand-up on a few occasions.

H: I’m sorry, I’m sorry about that.

W: Excellent, excellent. And you do integrate your mental health problems into your comedy.
Other comedians I’ve noticed sometimes integrate your mental health problems into their comedy.

[laughter]

Which is a slightly different thing.

But tell us, I mean, how do you navigate that? How do you navigate actually bringing that into your comedy? And also kind of maybe a little bit about the motivations for doing that as well?

H: Yeah, I mean, I suppose, in terms of the motivations, you know, it’s the old cliche of the English teacher saying, “Write about what you know.” You know, it’s that it has had such, it’s had such a kind of impact on my life and is, is something that’s so present in my life. I mean, I deal with it much better now, but I think there was a point where I had to accept this isn’t going to go away or be cured and needs to be managed. Like that was a big wake up call for me. Um er, but, and because of that, because it is around me so much, it felt like a natural place was to, to talk about it and joke about it on stage. So yeah, I think that’s, that’s why I did material about it.

What was the first part of the question? Because it was really good.

W: First part was just how you navigate about it. Yeah, what you decide you do say and don’t say about it.

H: Yeah, so in terms of navigating it, it is a tricky one and it is something you have to find the balance for. And again, if you’ll forgive me, but talking sort of specifically about stand up comedy in the context in which people watch it, there is a difference between, say, going to see a weekend comedy show Friday and Saturday night where people have, you know, paid their money, they’ve come out to be entertained. I would usually sort of temper it down a bit for that because that’s, that’s, and I think that you know, finding that level between not, you know, not wanting to depress the audience, but also, you know, setting it up right, so they feel comfortable laughing at what you’re saying.

Yeah, no, it is, it is, it is a fine line.

And I think I’ve, I’ve got it wrong on a few times because it’s, you know, there are a few times I’ve told jokes, which I think are really funny, but, but I’ve actually been quite depressing for people and they’ve gone, Oh, right. Oh, Christ. And So I think that, that’s always been a balance. But I guess the difference is, so I did a show in 2018 at the Edinburgh Fringe, an hour long show, it was my sort of debut hour show there where I talked a lot about mental health and the context that people come and watch Edinburgh shows. A, you’ve got much longer to talk to them – if you’re doing a weekend set, you may be doing 10, 15, 20 minutes. So my mental health would take up, I would do a bit on that, but there would be other stuff as well that didn’t relate to that. Whereas my Edinburgh show did talk a lot about my mental health. Um, and, but I felt in that context, A, there was, you know, there was, uh, I did sort of put trigger warnings in and, uh, and that was part of one of the jokes. It was a trigger warning and a spoiler alert in that I mentioned my suicide and I survived, I didn’t want to ruin the end for you. Um, but, uh, uh, so in that context, it felt safe to do it and it felt more appropriate and audiences kind of in all the, you know, blurb it, it mentioned that I would be talking about mental health. So, and I had more time to sort of, you know, whereas again, weekend comedy set you’re kind of you need to kind of be hitting gags a lot more frequently because people’s attention spans naturally they’re out they’ve had a drink that there isn’t time for, you know to go off on sort of flights of fancy or stories, with Edinburgh shows you do tend to have the luxury of taking people on a bit more of a journey. God, that sounds so pretentious. But genuinely, you know, you can, once you’ve got them in and they’re confident you are funny, they will come with you on a bit of a story and there can be more, you know, in terms of the emotional level and, and the nature of what you’re talking about, you can, you know, it does afford you that luxury, perhaps to talk a bit more about it.

E: I’m also bipolar and I was just wondering if being bipolar is inherently funny, which I’ve, I think already concluded, I think it kind of is really funny. I that diagnosis and a friend and I sometimes meet up to discuss the bonkers things

W: Yeah, I do, I do think it’s funny, I mean it, it’s it feels like a relatively recent diagnosis. I think it was 2013-14 around that, so I had two sort of quite serious mental health crises. One in 2013-14 and that was the point which I got a bipolar diagnosis previously. It just been well, he’s, I’m depressed, that’s what it is. And so that was a bit of an insight, like my medication changed at that point, they went, I remember a doctor saying to me, well, we can’t actually put you on antidepressants because they might make you too happy. Because they were worried about, because I think that at that point, they’d recognize the more manic, you know, states of bipolar, which are again, yes, they can be some of the things to do then that can be equally funny.

E: Yeah.

W: But yeah, I think it is. I mean, I think it’s an odd bipolar because essentially everyone is bipolar. Just we are to a much, much, much greater extent. And I guess those changes in behaviour, personality and all the rest of it are quite interesting. And I know that I’ve joked before about sort of depending on what day you see me I’ll either feel like I’m invincible or the worst person in the world. Depending on which end of the, of the scale I’m on at that time.

So yeah, I think, I think I definitely think it is, I think because obviously depression is usually characterised, I definitely, I don’t know if this is the same for you, but I have, I guess sort of three states that I can kind of circle between which are, which I can quite recognize physiologically and mentally which are sort of depression – classic depression where I’m tired and lethargic and my thoughts very negative, an anxiety state, which is really really unpleasant, but um, I can, it’s almost like it’s pulsing through your veins, it’s really intense and then a kind of manic state which is that it’s quite similar to the anxiety state but just I’m a lot happier and I’m like I can do bloody loads!

E: Yeah, I think it’s just the manic state that I think I’m reflection afterwards when I’m not in it
find funny. I’m just like what was it doing?

H: Oh absolutely.

E: Broken my toe and there I am painting my hallway like what?

[laughter]

W: Well, can I quote a quote from The Guardian about a 2014 study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry. This is from Professor Gordon Clarridge of Oxford University’s Department of Experimental Psychology who says,
“The creative elements needed to produce humour are strikingly similar to those characterising the cognitive style of people with psychosis, both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Although schizophrenic psychosis itself can be detrimental to humour in its lesser form, it can increase people’s ability to associate odd or unusual things, or to think outside the box. Equally manic thinking, which is common in people with bipolar disorder, may help people combine ideas to form new, original and humorous connections”.

H: Well I mean, I wouldn’t open with it.

[laughter]

Oh that’s classic Claridge that. That’s his, that’s from his, yeah it’s Clay’s club set.

W: I just hope you’re both impressed that I did a bit of research.

E: I am very impressed with your research.

W: before the show, before the show.I didn’t just find that like you know on the fly it was

H: I wondered what you’d been googling while I was talking

[laughter]

H: Um yeah well um I mean yeah he knows what he’s talking about. He’s got, I bet he’s got letters after his name and in front who knows. But yeah, I think there is some truth in that. I think the way that your mind works, especially people with mental health, does do, exactly that. I’ve just repeated that. That’s terrible. Yeah, what he said was right.

W: I do think that, yeah, broadly speaking, there seems to be… I think it’s true. I think
I did see something somewhere that, obviously not as well researched as that last article,
because I’m just going, I think I saw it somewhere, but…

H: On a toilet wall.

[laughter]
W: But you know, comedians, stand up comedians, there’s a higher likelihood that standup comedians have mental health problems. I mean obviously the the sad clown paradox that we began with points towards that and I think so I think it’s true isn’t it that if you have mental health problems chances are you do see things differently and more interestingly and that kind of lends itself more to comedy I guess

H: absolutely, I mean I, I’m struggling to think of a comedian who doesn’t have some sort of mental health disorder. Although that’s not true. There are examples of people who will say, “No, no, I’m fine, and I’m very suspicious of that.” I mean, the way comedy in itself is some sort of disorder, the fact that, you know, what leads us to want to get up and do that is, I mean, I have lots of examples of speaking to people, audience members, or have had, you know, were they like, you know, like firemen going,
“Oh, he’s so brave, I couldn’t do what you do.”
You’re like, “Yeah, you’re a fireman.”

[laughing]

It’s easy, I just get up and go, “Blurr”

W: Can we just go to a break, Ellie?

E: Yeah.

W: The time is flying by.

E: We are a brand new podcast, so it would really help us out if you could rate our show. If you’re listening to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Podchaser, Stitcher, Castbox, Podcast Addict, Good Pods, Acast, Amazon or Audible, you can rate our show. Please take a few seconds to do so. And why not tell a couple of friends or share your favourite episode on social media. It really helps others to find the podcast and build momentum behind the show.

E: Yeah, I do relate to those three states that you mentioned and as well and what you said about the anxiety and manic states having, being a bit of a sort of Venn diagram.

But I was just thinking with comedy, with standup comedy specifically, it’s not just humour that we’re talking about why it’s kind of either used as, yeah, like a mask or defence. It’s also, there’s a performance element. So I was just wondering what it’s like when you’ve got to go on stage,
you’ve got a set to do but you’re actually not feeling much of a sense of humour about yourself
at that point. Do you know what I mean? Where you’re like actually I’m not finding my bipolar very funny today at all and now I have to go on stage and pretend that it’s hilarious and actually I want to cry and curl up in a ball.

H: It’s a really good question. I mean we’ll probably have to refer back to like old Pagliace because I’m yes I mean that has happened a lot of times and it’s interestingly, and I feel like this isn’t a big announcement for, you know, a reveal for the podcast. But as you well know, I’ve kind of stopped doing stand-up. I stopped last year and one of the reasons was I kind of stopped enjoying it and the anxiety I was getting in the run-up to gigs was such that I thought this isn’t kind of worth it. And I remember getting the feeling of gigs of like, if a gig went well, which, you know, again, without sounding arrogant, they did tend to go well, but I had I didn’t have a feeling I had, my prime feeling was phew I got away with it, like thank thank god that’s over and because I was gigging a lot less regularly I mean when you start to gig regularly I think it becomes like it’s almost like flexing a muscle and you get so used to it and you start to build up resilience both in terms of you know a lot a lot of comedians fears are am I funny? So if you’re doing three gigs a week and you know and at the end of the month you know or you’re kind of consistently making people laugh and you have one gig that goes badly you can kind of rationalise it a bit more.

In in terms of you know, what, what you asked there Ellie, I’ve had countless examples of gigs where I’ve really really really struggled and pretty much every time, I don’t think I’ve ever had a time on stage where anyone would have, who didn’t know my condition would have picked up on it, I think people who know me might have gone ‘mmmm he doesn’t quite seem right’, but I was always able to become the clown Pagilaci the clown Branson. I was able to put, I cant believe i’ve referred to myself in the third person – oh god please. The Clown Branson

E: The clown Branson. Thats the title of the episode now

[laughter]

H: Oh no. No. But yeah, I was always able to sort of, become the stage character again, sounds pretentious, but like the person you’d see on stage.

E: which is acting right?

H: yeah, it is to extend I mean It’s pretty, it was playing an exaggerated version myself as a lot of comedy is, a lot of my material is like something funny would happen and I go right how can I kind of you know extrapolate from that or kind of build on that or you know add details to that which make it funnier. Funny for an audience, but has its roots and its nucleus in a real event. And also, I mean, in terms of the kind of physiology, as you know, that kind of almost like fight or flight thing, you go into that and there’s adrenaline pulsing. But I’ve been stood by the side of the stage, you know, like physically trembling, wanting to be sick, felt awful. And then you kind of get up there, you know, but more often than not, you tell a joke, you get your first laugh and you can usually, that will quell a lot of the anxieties and you go, oh, no, no, this is great, is kind of what I need and you know it is, it can be quite dangerous. Going back to your question Will about you know whether it’s a good thing with depression, it can be dangerous, because you crave that feeling and it does alleviate it but I’ve also had examples again quite numerous examples of feeling that before I go on stage, get up, perform, do well, get laughs you know I think you know, objectively go, yeah he did a good job made the audience laugh, walk off stage and within a very short space of time have slumped back into a mental state that is not pleasant.

W: For the last section I was wondering whether we could just move a little bit on to the audience perception of all of this as well, because I think that’s also really interesting. You mentioned for example in your Edinburgh show you gave content warnings at the beginning of the show which obviously, you know, you made into a, into part of a joke but, but also I guess that served a serious purpose as well, wasn’t it? Which is that, you know, you wanted to give people a heads up about what kind of topics you’d be talking about. And then there’s also kind of like, there’s been, there has been research done around the impact of comedy on the receiver of that comedy’s mental health. And it was actually back in the, let me see this. Let me refer to my notes for a second. It’s back in the early 1300s. Henri de Mondeville. Is that correct,

E: It is

W: Yes, right, de Mondeville. A mediaeval French surgeon propagated the, therapy with humour to patients after surgery. So basically he prescribed laughter

H: Right

W: as a way of making them feel better. Then I see, I see other studies that say that some humour, of course, can be very negative on someone’s mental health. I mean, if you’re putting down people or if you’re amusing, or even if you’re amusing other people at your own expense again going back to the comedian’s perspective, that can be quite negative so the actual, the type, what is being joked about I guess also the topics of conversation can also have differing impacts on people’s mental health. Have you got any thoughts on any of that?

H: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. I mean I, I mean, there’s that cliche of humour is the best medicine or whatever, which I’m again, dad’s a doctor, he might disagree.

E: its actually penicillin

[laughter]

H: But yeah, I think there’s some truth in that. It feels good to laugh and it feels good to be laughed at or with, you know, and so I think there is a symbiotic sort of contract for performers and audience that you are, you should be kind of feeding each other and making each other feel better. And going on to the sort of second study is an interesting one, because I think self-deprecating humour, I think you are inviting people to laugh at you and you’re saying it is okay to laugh at me. And then also you’re getting into the kind of status thing where you are there. And, you know, there is such a scope within comedy of style, genre, delivery, topics that, you know, I think examples, there are myriad examples of comedy, which I think could be detrimental to people. Um, it’s not comedy I enjoy but yeah there is yeah undoubtedly you could go to some comedy clubs and there can be someone who is ostensibly a bully

E: Yeah

H: who could be picking on people and it’s very unpleasant to see and you know and I’ve seen that happen and I think that they will not have enjoyed that. Equally there are some people who quite enjoy that, they like being part of the show and again a good MC specifically you know the person who’s kind of, you know comparing the show, so they’ll get up at the beginning and they’ll kind of set the tone of the night they can define the tone of the whole evening and, and I think the, when you do it well and you will have seen examples of people like this, you know Lee Kyle or Matt Reid or people like that they do it, in terms of local acts, they do a great job of kind of taking it up to a point and then coming back and it’s gentle and it’s, you know, and navigating that is a real art form to go, like, are these people enjoying this? You can very quickly tell when you’re MC-ing if someone wants to be part of this or doesn’t and the way in which you choose to mock them, it needs to be very, you need to be very careful and there are, there are obvious things which are quite funny and there are things which I think that’s just a cheap hack gag that you’ve laughed at – someone’s appearance, I think it’s a big one, I just think, why do that? There’s, when there’s you know, there’s myriad material, stuff that you can mine them for, that will be funny.

W: One thing that springs to mind is whether, you know, by talking about it, by being so open about it, by making, by making a joke out of it, there’s a demystifying of mental health that takes place as well.

H: Yeah, oh completely. And I think that’s something which, err in relatively recent years is a new thing that people are talking about their mental health a lot more. Sometimes too much.

E: Yeah.

H: And I do, I mean, I did, I had a bit of material that I kind of never quite got to make work, but I did used to have a sort of bit of a joke about, you know, it’s great, it’s great everyone’s talking about their mental health. Everyone’s talking about their mental health. It’s brilliant. Everyone, EVERYONE’S talking about their mental health. But, you know, I had that thing of feeling a bit like, you know, when someone gets into a band that you’ve liked for ages, it’s like, where were you? Where were you in the first album when I was having a breakdown in 1998? And now you’re jumping on board the old mental health bandwagon. I’ve got the merch.

[laughter]

W: Yeah.

H: And I guess just going back to that question about the audience perspective, it’s hard because some people come out and they… It’s the last thing they want to hear about. They might be coming out to see comedy to escape from that. And so if someone gets up on stage and starts talking about mental health, it could be unpleasant or triggering all those things and it, but equally, but I do think there is the case, more so that for most people it it can demystify it it can be, for someone who’s experienced something like that, it can be quite nice to feel that this is being talked about and discussed and joked about and they can find humour in their own situation, for people who might not have an understanding of mental health it might

E: yeah

H: It might offer them something where they have some insight and go oh this is a real thing and perhaps that person on stage who seems okay actually has you, you know, you know, it does suffer as well.

And, you know, again, I sort of, when I compare I quite often joke and, you know, say to the audience as you kind of do, you set up the room and say, please don’t heckle the acts. And I quite often say, if you really feel the need to heckle, please do it while I’m on stage but good luck with that because, you know, I’ve got manic depression and there’s pretty much nothing you could shout at me that I haven’t thought about myself.
– You’re shit.
– Yes, I am, shit.
You know, so yeah.

[laughter]

E: I think, so we had my friend Dolly on a few episodes ago, who’s also a comedian and I remember we were talking about, yeah, sort of comedy and humour and stuff, but quite a lot about how useful it is as a kind of like, it’s quite an accessible vehicle for education. And I think stand up and things like that, especially are particularly good for mental health, because lots of people, there are, there are somehow lots of people, you just haven’t particularly had any kind of extreme mental health experiences or haven’t had a loved one or close person who’s gone through stuff like that. And it is quite hard probably to know where to look to find out a bit more about the experience because often people don’t really want to think, right, well, shall I sit down and watch a really long and depressing documentary this evening about being bipolar or on a mental health ward? Like, no, most people probably aren’t going to do that, but they will go to, you know, people are very open and receptive to kind of learning. I think it’s, that’s, I just wondered what you thought about that because that’s what I’ve always thought, comedy is a good sort of vehicle for that.

H: Yeah completely. No, no, no. I think you’re exactly right. And I think, you know, referring to the documentary, I think so, so often those can be quite sen sensationalised or and yeah, perhaps only give one side of it. And so yeah, I do think that, that’s the case. Um er whether yeah, educational. I mean, I would hate to think that anyone…
[laughter]

E: Is it tempting as a form of education?

H: Came to my show and thought Oh, I learned a lot about mental health tonight, but I think to have some experience and some insight…

E: Yeah, insight. That’s maybe more the…

W: I also wonder whether… Is it educational or is it campaigning? I think that Dolly’s work involves a lot of using humour as a campaign tool, which of course has an educational strand to it. But I think that’s quite an interesting angle as well, isn’t it? You know, like sectioning the DWP, for example. I think there’s, that by using that kind of unusual approach and that comedic approach to campaign work, I guess there’s the chance of getting the message across more imaginatively and, and fundamentally more strongly as well.

H: Yeah, completely. Yeah, I think, I think using humour, yeah, 100%. And especially when you’re talking about things which are, can be quite sensitive or I think to have some levity put into that is great. I’ve also noticed, as a slight aside, but in the years I’ve been doing comedy and comparing, chatting to audiences, a lot of mental health nurses come and see comedy. Huge, I’d say, by and large, at most gigs you do, there will be someone who works in psychology, psychotherapy, mental health.

E: Ellie

H: So I think it can be a release for them as well. If you spend your days around perhaps the more challenging or testing aspects of mental health, seeing the really quite difficult sides of it, you know, perhaps going to see a comedian at night and I’ve definitely had times when there have been people in from the crisis team who I have been in the care of before and it’s quite, not the actual ones, but it’s been quite interesting of them going, Oh, you know, Oh, yeah, it might be, I’m loathe to use the term success story, but I guess to see someone who has been in the depths to, you know, getting up on stage and performing and seeming happy for 10 minutes or so.

W: Success story. What a brilliant thing to finish the podcast on.

H: Just clip that. Just clip that bit of art.

[laughter]

And also, I was, the one point I was going to make was about context. When we talk about
Edinburgh shows. There is a fantastic comedian called Harriet Dyer who I would urge your
listeners to go out and…

W: I’m a big fan.

H: But she runs a night called Barking Tales which is specifically for comedians with mental
health issues. So I think that’s an interesting example where people can opt in. People will go along to that knowing that’s what they’re going to see. So that’s a real example of somewhere where someone might seek out like, I really feel like I need to be entertained but also know that I’m in a kind of safe space, but also I know that people will be talking about these issues, whereas, you know, it popping up on a Friday night, sometimes isn’t the right thing.

So Barking Tales, go watch Harriet Dyer’s show. She’s just released it on YouTube. It’s really good. Seymour Mace is again, if we’re talking mental health and comedian, it’s an incredible comedian who is on at the end of Fringe this year. So go and see his show.

W: Thank you so much, Hal.
I hope you’ll be able to come back again sometime.And yeah, thanks so much for the conversation.

H: Thank you.

E: Thanks so much everyone for listening and please do tune in again in two weeks for another
episode of Lively Minds The Mental Health Podcast.

W: Please note that this show does not constitute medical or therapeutic advice and it is not
a replacement for seeking professional help. You can find signposting to support on our
website www.anniamedia.net/livelyminds. Take care and ta ta for now.
See you later.
(whooshing)
(electronic music)

Lively Minds is an Anya Media //// Still Ill OK co-production

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