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.
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.