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.