Laughing at mental illness

Over in the UK, a cabaret show called “Warning: May Contain Nuts” uses mental illness as the basis for comedy.

For once, this is not just some smarmy comic using “edginess” as an excuse to make fun of people with mental illnesses. Rather, the performers are “users of mental health services in Berkshire and Sussex, [who] were invited by arts charity Company Paradiso to try standup.”

One of the performers, Seaneen Molloy, has this to say:

“Mental illness in comedy is usually confined to hideous caricatures on sketch shows,” she says. “You’ll get a madcap old lady or a drooling imbecile.” She also feared it would have a “care-in-the-community feel. People would be like, ‘Aw, look at those mental people, how brave they are.'”

However, in her own words, it is in fact “a right laugh”.

Molloy hopes the event will close the gap between those who have experienced mental illness and those who haven’t. “Mental illness isn’t abnormal,” she says. “It just exaggerates experiences that everybody goes through. Everybody has felt sad, been slightly hyperactive. Mental illness isn’t this separate world – it’s just a step beyond the normal world.”

There may be problematic aspects to the show, particularly given that this is an area fraught with squishy bits. But however much squishiness there is, one thing is for sure: I’d much rather watch a comedy show about mental illness by people who have experienced mental illness than by an “edgy” comic who has not experienced it (noting, of course, that it’s fairly likely that some mainstream comics have experienced mental illness). Also, however much squishiness, if Molloy is right and this can help to close the gap, that can only be a good thing.

* Thumbnail pic is “black dog lost in grays” from camil tulcan’s flickr photostream, used here under a Creative Commons attribution licence.

Categories: arts & entertainment, health

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4 replies

  1. This sounds great. I love the playful reclaimation of the “nuts” in the title. 😀

  2. Yeah, me too. I’m hoping they decide they’re doing well enough to do an international tour. The Antipodes would be the obvious choice! 🙂

  3. This looks promising. Reminds me of Maria Bamford’s web video series about her retreat from performance because of her depression and anxiety. It was hilarious, but totally non-othering.

  4. I’d often talk about my experiences of mental illness and health difficulties in a humourous manner and people would say, “I’m sorry, this post makes me laugh so much!” To which I often said, “It’s okay, it’s supposed to be funny! Laugh!” I often found making comedy of a difficult situation and laughing at the utter absurdity of life the best way of getting through the tough moments. I think if anyone has a good sense of humour about life and would appreciate being able to make us about it, it’s someone that’s had truly difficult times because they experience the world a little differently.
    The other thing that stuck me is how what that woman said strangely echoes one of my first clin-psychs said to me. Ironically, he was saying that I *wasn’t* mentally ill. He said, “I don’t think you have depression. I don’t think you have any real mental conditions. I just think you feel things more deeply than other people.”
    It was very nice of him to say, but not helpful for those trying to take your mental health situation seriously. (I had other psychs tell me in the interim that I was indeed a person prone to depression and I’ve since discovered that I’m borderline OCD, in that I have habits that are exacerbated by emotional upset, but for the most part, I’m your regular messy human being).
    Anyway, I think this is a show I would really love to see. I love stand-up comedy and I love subversive humour about being different.

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