Tag Archives: humor

Review: Stand Up for Mental Health

Last night I attended Stand Up For Mental Health Days on Campus, the first evening of the cross-Canada tour of Stand up for Mental Health.

I was trying to sort out a good way of summing up what Stand up for Mental Health (SMH) is, but I figure I’ll just use the description on the website:

David Granirer counsellor, stand-up comic and author of The Happy Neurotic: How Fear and Angst Can Lead to Happiness and Success, created and leads Stand Up For Mental Health (SMH). David teaches stand up comedy to people with mental illness as a way of building their confidence and fighting public stigma, prejudice, and discrimination.

Our shows look at the lighter side of taking meds, seeing counsellors, getting diagnosed, and surviving the mental health system. We perform at conferences, treatment centers and psych wards in partnership with numerous mental health organizations. SMH performs in Prisons, on Military Bases and University and College Campuses, at Government, Corporate and Community fundraisers and Forums, and Most Importantly, for the General Public across Canada and the US.

SMH will be on several university campuses over the next week, so I wanted to take the opportunity to review the show in case people are trying to decide if they want to go.

Go.

While some of the jokes and routines are funnier than others (my sense of humour is a lot dryer than this sort of thing does), the whole point of them is to talk about being Actually Crazy, to humanize what Actually Crazy looks like, sounds like, and behaves like. And it is, remarkably, not like in the movies.

The performance I attended opened with the CBC documentary “Cracking Up” (unsubtitled), which covered a year in the life of the program, highlighting five people who started out afraid to even say their names and ended giving a sold-our comedy performance. The documentary manages to somehow be both hilarious and harrowing, making it clear how much of the social stigma about mental health and mental illness deeply affect those of us who live with it. The people in the documentary learn that they can be funny, that they can talk about what’s happening in their lives, that they can speak about being Crazy. At the same time, though, the audience sees that this is not all just fun and games and being silly. It’s very apparent that these are people whose lives are incredibly difficult because of both the social stigma of mental illness and the actual affects of their conditions. Many of them live in very very small spaces in what are considered dangerous areas of Vancouver. One of them disappears and attempts suicide part way through the year the documentary covers. This is not a Very Special Lesson, but a pointed commentary.

The thing that Granirer and his group does in this is talk seriously about mental health issues while surrounding them with safe and easy-to-digest humour. This isn’t the first talk I’ve gone to at University that does exactly that. Jorge Cham’s talk about Procrastination and how he developed PhD comics also uses humour as the bread in a “people in grad school kill themselves and that’s something we’d like people to avoid doing” sandwich. It’s like folks in North America need to be eased carefully in to acknowledging that short-term or life-long mental health conditions exist, and the way to help is to talk about what’s going on, and what this culture of silence and stigma actually does to people.

On the surface, SMH looks like it’s going to be a fairly simple “come out and see a bunch of crazy people talk humourously about being crazy”, but there is a very serious point to it: mental health stigma kills.

I really recommend people in the Canadian cities the tour is touching down in this week take the chance to go and see the show.

If you’re interested in supporting the program but can’t make it out to a show, consider voting for them in the PepsiRefresh Challenge (Canada), as they’re hoping to mount a larger tour next year.

Guest Post: Cerebral Palsy Humor? Not so Much.

Esté Yarmosh has Cerebral Palsy. She holds a B.A. in English from Eastern Connecticut State University and is currently studying for her Master of Arts degree in English at Simmons College. Her previous guest post, Disability Dismissed, was published in October.

I was surfing the Internet recently for (good-natured of course, not mean-spirited) humor about disabilities, particularly in the form of graphics and slogans. I found the website Café Press.com, which sells t-shirts, hats, and other items with funny and clever (I suppose) sayings and images on them. I was curious to see what would appear when I searched for “disabled” on the website. I found a lot of what I thought were amusing items, some with very suggestive slogans and pictures, but I laughed at them anyway. We’re aware that disability is a serious issue in our lives, but it can’t be too bad to sometimes laugh at certain things related to disability.

I wanted to get more specific in my website search, so I typed in “Cerebral Palsy,” which is the condition I have. When the results came up, I started reading through them and I was deeply offended. The graphics were very depressing in the way they perpetrated stereotypes about disability: the charity case; attempting to find a cure; let’s make friends with the different kid, etc. The funny thing is whoever designed these images and phrases (they were clearly able-bodied) got the facts about CP completely screwed up.

Cerebral Palsy is life-long, yes, but it’s a non-progressive condition, so a cure can’t be found for it – claiming you’re trying to do that is simply absurd. Also, I found a graphic which stated, “Cerebral Palsy Survivor,” which angered me because CP is not a chronic illness; and besides, people with disabilities are trying very hard (and have been for a long time) to reduce the importance and influence of the so-called medical model on able-bodied thinking and even more importantly, in our own lives. We are also trying to rid ourselves of the long-held stereotype of the charity/pity case, one of the most damaging stereotypes about us that has existed. It is all too obvious that it still exists about Cerebral Palsy through images such as those on Café Press.com: a teddy bear in a stocking, with words next to it which read, “all I want for Christmas is a cure.” The sentimentality and maudlin nature (which is such a component of the charity case stereotype) of the graphic made me cringe. It sets us back at least one-hundred years in terms of progress; and moreover, the slogan is completely wrong about CP, because as I said it is not an illness or a disease, so a cure will never be produced – knowledge of that is not supposed to leave somebody in despair; it is just the way it is. In other words, talk of cures for CP is irrelevant and ridiculous. I should know about Cerebral Palsy, because it is part of me.

It is very unsettling to me to think that items like this teddy bear shirt are continually created and then bought and worn by an ill-informed, naive and/or idealistic (most likely able-bodied) public who are wooed by a sentimental, repressive message which is totally fabricated and is based on thousands of years of disability stereotypes. I still want my Cerebral Palsy humor!