by Sophie Isbister (Contributer)
“Well yes I can,” says Randy Goodchild, “I have at least ten minutes until these pills kick in.”
Randy Goodchild suffers from depression and cognitive distortions, but when you experience the side-splitting laughter that Goodchild and his fellow “crazy comedians” garner by getting on stage, you’re tempted to think that comedy is something worth suffering for.
Over half of people suffering with mental illness do not seek help. The Stand Up for Mental Health Campus Days National Campaign was started to bring attention and awareness about the effects of stand up comedy as a form of therapy that doubles as a way to entertain and educate the public. The University of the Fraser Valley’s President Mark Evered was proud to introduce the afternoon of comedy in the Lecture Theatre on Tuesday, October 12, announcing his intentions to fight against stigma and discrimination. “Students need to care for their minds the way they care for their bodies – and not be embarrassed to seek help,” says Evered in a related press release. “Together we can change public attitudes and provide strong support for people living with mental illness.” Stand up for Mental Health is a program that does exactly this, by putting power (and microphones) in the hands of people with first-hand experience.
You would think that people will mental illness are the least likely to perform stand up comedy at campuses across Canada, but, as Stand up for Mental Health’s founder David Granirer has been known to say, you have to be nuts to do stand up comedy anyway. The comedy-as-therapy workshops were founded in 2004, in Vancouver, by counselor, author and “crazy person” comedian Granirer. From its beginnings at Langara College, Stand Up for Mental Health took off and now runs comedy clinics nationwide. Granirer is the author of the book The Happy Neurotic, and he suffers from depression.
A common theme among Granirer and the six other performers was self medication, and specifically, marijuana use. Granirer, acting as an MC to introduce each comic, kicked off the show by talking about the popular issue of legalization, making jabs at the rules that would come with the freedom: “What do you mean my marijuana cafe has to be a smoke free environment?” Granirer wrapped up quickly after introducing himself and his organization and gave the stage to Al Hassam, who claimed that St John’s Wort sounds more like an STD you catch in Newfoundland than a natural remedy for depression.
After Hassam was David Slaughter, who started off with jokes about his gruesome sounding last name, and asserted that as a schizophrenic he should be allowed to serve on a jury because he was “more than capable of being 12 Angry Men.” Comedians Suzie Vega, Randy Goodchild, Dave Kenett and Dallas DeLuca also performed, with an emphasis on jokes about depression, medication, stigma, and family relationships. Wry, sarcastic and sickeningly funny, the show rarely took a sad turn. The pride and confidence shown by the comics was commendable, but that didn’t stop the audience from treating them like real comedians. There were groaners, jokes that got less laughs than others, but overall the show was full of quality quips about what these folks know best: being nuts.
At the end of the show, Granirer took the mic again, finishing off on a more serious note: society needs to be more open and accepting about mental illness. One in five Canadians will personally deal with mental illness at some point in their life. People need to feel safe to be open about their mental illness at school, in the workplace and within all institutions. The shame associated with mental illness needs to be abolished, and a national discussion on mental illness needs to begin. UFV is proud to be a part of starting that discussion. By taking part in Stand up for Mental Health’s Campus Days Campaign, we got the ball rolling at our school. Everyone in attendance on Tuesday walked away with changed opinions and a few funny jokes rolling around in their heads.
To learn more about SMH Campus Days, visit www.standupformentalhealth.com, and stay tuned for information about SMH classes coming to UFV’s Continuing Education in January.