How I Learned Stand Up Comedy as Mental Health Therapy
Discovering Comic Relief as Mental Health Therapy
There is a terrible stigma for mental illness. Many people laugh and mock with derision people with mental health challenges behind their backs (and sometimes to their face), or they make derogatory and disparaging comments. It hurts, but people are ignorant. They don't know much about disorders of the mind and they are acting out of fear or discomfort. However, there is never a justifiable time to mock and malign people. I make it a point to try to educate people and advocate for all of us who struggle. I found an interesting new way to do so - stand up comedy. I do not mean watching comedy (although I do that) but performing it. It's also good mental health therapy. But let me explain.
One day I found a flyer at a community center for people with disabilities and people with mental health issues. It offers support groups and lots of classes and activities. The flyer announced a class was coming to learn stand up comedy. It was specifically for people with mental health issues. It was promoted as a therapy and a way to fight against the stigma. I've always been able to make people laugh and I thought it would be fun. But it was also a very scary prospect. I went ahead and signed up telling myself I can always quit if it gets too stressful.
For twelve weeks, I joined nine other women every Wednesday for two hours to learn how to do stand up comedy. Your average John or Jane Doe would never think of doing such a thing, and you would think we with mental health challenges would especially be the last people on earth to attempt such an endeavor. But my friends and I found out we can, and we did exceptionally well. Carol Burnett once said, "I think the hardest thing to do in the world, show-business-wise, is to write comedy." I so agree as I know my comic friends would as well. Performing was not nearly as difficult at writing. The blessing was having each other to do it with. We learned to write jokes and perform in front of a live audience. It was hard but an enormous blast.
This class and comedy show was made possible by an organization called Stand Up for Mental Health. David Granirer, professional counselor, author, and comic, who also has a mental health diagnosis, is the founder of this organization and has taught classes around the country, and internationally as well. David is gifted in bringing out the funniness in people. People with serious mental disorders that you would never think capable are making people laugh.
I think the hardest thing to do in the world, show-business-wise, is write comedy."— Carol Burnett
Life is worth living as long as there's a laugh in it.”— L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
David Granirer comedy routine on the stigma of mental illness
What is Stand Up for Mental Health?
David Granirer's purpose for Stand Up for Mental Health is to help fight the stigma of mental illness, to build confidence in the participants by doing something they never would have imagined doing. The comics in training get to see the lighter side of life and laugh at themselves. It serves as a great therapy in the recovery process.
Various mental health organizations hire David to run the classes via Skype from his home in Vancouver, Canada. At the end of the course, David joins the class and they perform in front of a live audience. Yes, it's a bit scary, but it is also liberating, showing the participants and the audience that people who have mental disorders are capable of doing something most people would never attempt.
Stand Up for Mental Health has a DVD out called Cracking Up, a Voice Award-winning documentary (see trailer below). It follows a year in the life of a group of Stand Up for Mental Health students. In it, you will see a group of people with mental health challenges overcome many obstacles to learn and perform stand up comedy. Watching people who struggle with everything from anxiety and depression to bipolar and schizophrenia, find self-confidence is inspiring, heartwarming, and side-splitting. They reach into themselves to find and use a natural talent they never knew they possessed or thought they could use.
* In the Cracking Up trailer there is one slightly off-color remark. Forgive it and enjoy the heart of the story.
Cracking Up Documentary Trailer (6 minutes)
Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning do to do afterward.”— Kurt Vonnegut
Highlights From Our Comedy Show
We performed to a packed house - standing room only. The audience was fully charged and had a great time. My friends and I pulled out all the stops and did our best. These ladies are a hoot. Here are a few jokes by our comics:
♥ Ann Rider "They tell me I'm high functioning. Apparently, this means I can fix my own meals, pay my bills, and escape from four-point restraints in under three minutes."
♥ Gina Tkacs: "Speaking of kids, I like them. All those exaggerated stories, manipulative schemes, and lies. But once they hit five, I can't get away with it anymore."
♥ Shari Gylling: "So I'm bipolar, and I have OCD, and I'm raising a child who has ADD, ODD, and he's a hoarder. The therapist recently told us if we get one more diagnosis we get free services."
♥ Ja Cee Moon: "I grew up a little confused. Well actually, maybe a lot confused. My mom had oppositional defiant disorder, and my dad, he had co-dependency. When I went to school I didn't know whether to slap the janitor or help him clean up the mess."
♥ D'Arcy Figuracion: "I got robbed the other day. The robbers stole my estrogen pills. It was easy to pick the robbers out of the line-up. They were the ones that were saying, 'Does my butt look too big in these jeans?" (See D'Arcy's Stand up video below).
♥ Cat Barnaby: I figure holidays were started by schizophrenics. Hear me out. Take the Easter Bunny for example. You have a six foot Bunny that hops around, gives kids candy, and his trademark is eggs. That's not a holiday, that's a hallucination. If everyone were on meds, we wouldn't have Easter anymore.
Then you've got Santa - a fat guy in a suit that rules over a bunch of little people that cater to his every whim. Sounds like a fat version of Donald Trump to me."
♥ Nicci Tina (played by Joanna Free): Nicci shares about her efforts to quit smoking. "For me, it was a love-hate relationship. I loved them (cigarettes). But they took my money and threatened my life. I tell you, I've unfriended people for less than that."
♥ Laurel Lemke: "My last boyfriend told me I was a keeper. Unfortunately, that was after he watched an episode of Hoarders."
♥ Stacy Suinn: "One time I was on the psych ward because I was suicidal. I heard a voice say "Jump!" I didn't know Candy Stripers were allowed to say that."
♥ Lori Colbo: "I've been having a lot of problems with my hearing lately. It's so frustrating...I knew it was really bad when I had to ask my voices to speak up. (With trembling lip) It really hurt my feelings when the voices screamed back at me "We weren't talking to you."
A funny thing happened after the show. At the en of my set, I told the audience not to miss my HBO special. It was meant to be an obvious joke since the audience was supposed to know this was our first time ever performing and that I would not qualify to be on HBO with my own special.
Strangely, after our final bow, we went and mingled with the audience. A women came up and said she really enjoyed my set and asked: "When is your HBO special again?" I said, "Oh my, I don't really have an HBO special. I was just joking. This was my first ever stand up comedy act." She was crestfallen. "Well, do you think you might have one soon?" Two others came up and asked me the same thing. Then another comic called me over with a smirk, "Lori, this lady over here wants to know what time your HBO special is on." Now that made me LOL.
One little stress reliever for the comics was being allowed to look at cards with our jokes on them if our anxiety got the best of us. It's not professional, I know, and some didn't need to use them, others (like me) did and the audience understood because it's no secret people with mental health issues struggle with anxiety. They just appreciated our guts and mostly good jokes.
My friend D'Arcy and I laughed all the way home wondering who from the audience would tune into HBO the next night with the hopes of seeing my special.
- Stand Up Comedy Show, Stand Up Comedy|Stand Up For Mental Health
Most people think you have to be nuts to do stand-up comedy. We offer it as a form of therapy! Stand Up For Mental Health teaches Stand Up Comedy to people with mental illness as a way of building confidence and fighting public stigma, prejudice, and
My Very First Effort
Did I happen to mention I had the time of my life?
Laughter is wine for the soul - laughter soft, or loud and deep, tinged through with seriousness - the hilarious declaration made by man that life is worth living.”— Seán O'Casey
My Funny Friend D'Arcy
What a Difference a Laugh Makes
My life has become full of laughter. Comedy is a healing and strengthening force in my life. I attribute my sense of humor to my family. My father was hilarious. He was loud, silly, and a great storyteller. He had us in stitches often. I found myself emulating that side of him from an early age. My mother was also very funny but in a different way. Mom and Dad were both big hams, as are my two sisters and I. We are good at seeing the humor in the absurdities of life. My mother loved to be in front of groups emceeing or doing something in the spotlight. This side of her came out more in her later years. Our home growing up was not really full of hilarity on a steady basis. It just burst in from time to time.
Taking this class I discovered a hidden well of hilarity that rose to the surface and poured out of my mouth. I have spent a great many years battling depression, but I've come a long way and am moving forward through laughter, and making people laugh. Erma Bombeck said of laughter: “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.” What an incredibly insightful truth. I have always enjoyed laughter throughout my life, however, there have been lost seasons when life was gray or dark. Laughter has now become a great, therapeutic balm in my life. Part of this is that my relationship with God has become so much closer. His help through the struggles has allowed me to find fun in life, even through hard times. Carol Burnett once said, "Comedy is tragedy - plus time." That touches a chord in me.
I still struggle and experience heartaches, disappointments, frustrations, and anxieties, as we all do, but the Lord and laughter are there to lift me. I highly recommend it.
Our Final Bow To A Standing Ovation
Three be the things I shall have till I die:
Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye.”
— Dorothy Parker, The Complete Poems of Dorothy Parker
© 2014 Lori Colbo