When I tell people I am a stand-up comedian they often say "but aren't you all depressive alcoholics?" I always tell them that's unfair - some of us are anxious cokeheads. Nonetheless, to counter these pernicious stereotypes I thought I'd offer some proof of the healing power of comedy. Here are three areas in which my job has improved my mental well being.
I used to believe that tiny things I did could have some mysterious impact on me or my loved ones. There were behaviours that were passed down through generations, like throwing spilled salt over my shoulder, saluting magpies, never crossing someone on a staircase or putting shoes on a table. When I was in my early teens I had to get out of bed and touch the radiator in my bedroom a certain number of times before I went to sleep. I had a dread that if I didn't some unspecified awfulness would occur.
As an adult I developed seemingly benign daily routines to do with my job - like always wearing the same outfit on stage, eating a banana exactly 30 minutes before showtime, and giving money to someone on the way to a performance - I'd go out of my way to find a homeless person, thrust a couple of quid into their cup and run off to work.
At the Edinburgh Festival in 2004 I did a show called Lady Luck that directly addressed my superstitions. As a finale I performed a dance routine to Frank Sinatra's 'Luck Be a Lady'. I opened umbrellas indoors, walked under ladders, and smashed a mirror. Audience members visibly winced - partly at my rubbish dancing but mostly when I smashed the mirror. That turned out to be a powerful taboo. I did about 30 performances of the show, so if that's seven years of bad luck per mirror I brought 210 years of misery on myself. As far as I can tell it hasn't had any disastrous effects, although I'll get back to you in 2214 and let you know if my life improves. That year I also set up a direct debit to Shelter so that I wouldn't have to terrify any more homeless people by throwing money at them and insisting that they sleep nearer my venue in future.
2) Baby blues
Like so many parents who've taken maternity leave I had a crisis of confidence when returning to work after having my first baby in 2009. I was tired and tearful a lot of the time, and I was terrified that I had 'baby brain' - I felt as flabby mentally as I did physically, and I dreaded returning to the sometimes gladiatorial atmosphere of comedy clubs and having to pit my possibly diminished wits against hecklers.
To ease myself back into things I set up a parent and baby comedy club called Screaming with Laughter. It's a lunchtime gig where anyone with an infant under one can come to see a top-notch comedy show without having to book a babysitter. Talking to other parents (and foster carers and grandparents) was really helpful, and i was able to do material about midwives, birth plans and pelvic floor exercises that wouldn't necessarily work in "normal" comedy clubs.
My friend Hana and I run the club still and I host the shows there whenever I can. Even though I am back to full confidence it's lovely to meet new parents to reassure them that it's not unusual to feel a bit crazy. I also like hearing about how tired the new parents are so I can reassure myself that although I love babies, I don't want another one.
My lovely dad Maurice died in February, and my wonderful mother-in-law Juliet died last year. Before I even knew Juliet was ill I had agreed to do a benefit gig for The Loss Foundation - a charity that reaches out to the bereaved. Juliet died quite quickly from breast cancer. I found The Loss Foundation show really hard to do, as it made me confront the grief I felt for her. I ended up telling the audience some funny stories about her and it was actually quite cathartic. Then when my dad died I was really glad I knew about the Loss Foundation's work as it helped me through the darkest days. They have lots of information and articles at thelossfoundation.org.
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