Years ago when I worked in health care marketing, our corporation considered opening an incontinence clinic. The job of writing the mock promo brochure fell to me. I dutifully delineated all the advantages a customer (patient) would find if he or she wanted to pay our organization for the privilege of looking into the wonders of urethras, kidneys etc etc. But then — I guess because writing the rest of the brochure bored me — I came up with this title: You’re in Control.
They didn’t use it.
That’s when I found out that there are certain subjects a person just shouldn’t mess with. And when it comes to health care, believe me, most of it isn’t allowed to be funny.
Now I work in a university department of psychiatry and mental illness isn’t a joke either . . . or is it?
Enter David Granirer and Stand Up for Mental Health. Here’s a guy who suffers from Depression — notice the capital D? — who is also a counselor and comic. He has created a way for people with mental illness to do stand-up comedy around a subject that often is so taboo, so dripping with stigma, families — and individuals — will do anything in their power to avoid even skirting the topic.
Last Tuesday night NAMI-ABQ brought in Granirer to perform. What’s special about this is that six locals with mental illnesses ranging from bipolar disorder to outright schizophrenia had gone through weeks of training too. They stood up one-by-one and gave us a show. Just as in an ordinary line up of comedians, some were great and some were closer to okay. But what astounded me was how incredibly interesting their material was. We in the audience got a glimpse into “madness” and it was fascinating. The comics joked about their delusions, OCD and mania and we went along for the ride. Our willingness to go on that journey may have started with curiosity, but we stayed because it was entertaining and fun.
For me it was a glimpse into a very different way of seeing the world. I feel richer for it, grateful for the opportunity. And since the show, I’ve thought a lot about how difficult subjects can be turned into good, funny and authentic material.
So today, my questions are:
Is there anything that should be off limits when it comes to comedy?
And does that change depending on who delivers the punch line?
Are there things we should joke about that no one is tackling?
(I’m home today, so I hope to be able to finally post some responses!)