Learning Stand Up Comedy as Mental Health Therapy: Rediscovering laughter
Left to right: Myself, Laurel Lemke, D'Arcy Figuracion, Shari Gylling, Ann Rider, David Granirer, Jaycee Moon, Cat Barnaby, Stacie Suinn, and Joanna Free as Nicci Tina.
Discovering and creating comic relief
Because of the stigma of mental illness, many people laugh at and mock with derision people with mental health challenges behind their backs (and sometimes to their face); or they make derogatory and disparaging comments. Well, now we who struggle are giving them something to laugh about. We are making them LOL and LMAO. And they are going to have to eat their mocking, derisive hats. Would they do what we've done?
For twelve weeks, I joined nine other women as we met for two hours every Wednesday to learn stand up comedy. Your average John or Jane Doe would never think of doing such a thing. 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 write comedy." I so agree, as I know my comic friends would agree. Performing was not nearly as difficult at writing. The blessing was having each other to do it with."
This class and comedy show were 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 offered classes around the country, and internationally as well. David is gifted in bringing out the funniness in people. And let me tell you, David has a phenomenal ability to come up with punchlines in the blink of an eye. Amazing!
Life is worth living as long as there's a laugh in it.”— L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
David Granirer comedy on the stigma of mental illness
What is Stand Up for Mental Health?
David Granirer started Stand UP for Mental Health as a means to fight the stigma of mental illness; to build confidence in people with a mental health diagnosis by challenging them to do something they never would have imagined doing; and 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. At the end of the course David joins the class and they perform in front of an 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 not attempt, and phenomenally challenging that brings smiles and laughter.
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 will you can see a group of people with mental health challenges overcome many obstacles to train and perform stand up comedy about their lives with mental illness. And of course viewers witness the performances. Watching people who struggle with anxiety, fear, depression, lack of value and self confidence reach into themselves to find and use a natural talent they never knew they possessed or thought they could use, is inspiring, heart warming, and side splitting.
*In Cracking Up trailer there is one slightly off color remark. Forgive it and enjoy the heart of the story.
Trailer to Cracking Up Vidoe
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 them out of the line-up. They were the ones that were saying, 'Does my butt look too big in these jeans?'"
♥ 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 trade mark 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 psyche 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 I ended my set. At the end I told the audience not to miss my HBO special. It was meant to be an obvious joke, since the audience knew this was our first time ever and of course 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 crest fallen. "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.
We laughed all the way home wondering who from the audience would tune into HBO the next night with the hopes of seeing my special.
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
What a difference a laugh makes
My life has become full of laughter and become a healing and strengthening force in my life. My sense of humor I attribute to my family. My father was hilarious. He was loud, silly, and a great story teller. He had us in stitches often when he was on a roll. I found myself emulating that side of him from an early age. My mother was also very funny, but in a quieter way. Mom was good at seeing 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, however, has been like a hidden well of hilarity I'd long forgotten about, rise to the surface. I spent a great many years battling depression, but I've come a long way in moving forward, and laughter, and making people laugh, has been on of the the greatest tools. Erma Bombeck said of laughter: “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.” What an incredible insight and truth. I have always enjoyed laughter with others who are hilarious. However, there were years lost when life seemed gray or dark. Laughter was there from time to time, but now it has become a great, therapeutic balm in my life. Part of this is my relationship with God has become so much closer and intimate. His help through the struggles has allowed me to find the fun in life, even through hard times. Carol Burnett once said, "Comedy is tragedy - plus time." That touches a cord 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.
Did I happen to mention I'm having the time of my life?
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