photographer: trombone65 (PhotoArt Laatzen)

Can stand-up comedy help mental health?

“The mind works in mysterious ways” – and the stand-up comic utilises this to reach deep into his or her psyche to find something that will make us laugh.

So what happens when comic relief comes from someone with a mental illness? Often, it’s highly inventive. A mental illness can often take its sufferer to places that the sane never venture. Questions of the ‘self’ can be intense and take on tragic proportions. The mentally ill are never short of thoughts that lead to self-deprecation, even self-loathing, but from each spiral down, there is a ladder to recovery.

Seeing humour from different angles

This journey helps the mentally ill poke fun at themselves and the world. What is life like on medication? How do they cope without it? What triggers lead to the absurd and how do you get over every interruption? If comedy is what we don’t expect, but once revealed we find familiar, then having a mental illness is a double edged sword. Something isn’t funny if it makes no sense to us, but nor is it funny if we see it coming a mile away. How do the mentally ill make this connection so that punchlines work? Simply put, practice. With every crazy thought comes the possibility of inspiration, so a malleable mind is needed to take that crazy and make it funny.

Recovery through comedy

Now, what’s the benefit of doing stand-up for someone that suffers from a mental illness? There is no doubt that mental illness disconnects the sufferer from the real world. Everything is out of proportion and thoughts rarely reflect reality. Stand-up comedy is a way to take the extreme and use it, to enable one to tame the mind’s ravages and put so many thoughts to positive use.

Comedy validates what has been suffered and gives it reason. Finding the courage to stand in front of a crowd and make them laugh is precisely the sort of courage it takes to overcome a mental illness. The discipline and craziness of stand-up let those who suffer a mental illness find a way to grow and learn. It might even beat all those pills!

Written by Matt C

Matt C has lived with bipolar disorder for most of his life, and is a School of Hard Knock Knocks alumni.

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