Using mental illness as comedy material

mental illness comedy

I attended the WISE Employment Stand Up for Mental Health comedy night at Sydney Town Hall. It was quite funny, despite most of the comics being new to stand-up and having channelling their lived experience of mental illness into live acts during the past twelve weeks. Although a number of the performers had to refer to their notes once or twice, this did not detract from the atmosphere at all, with the audience being a welcoming and accepting crowd.

It made me think of the Friday Night Crackup on the ABC during mental health week, which skirted around the issue a bit uncomfortably. I suppose with the amount of stigma around, it’s hard to make it funny unless you are the one calling the shots. Psychosis was a popular topic tonight, as was hospitalisation, medications and relationships. One comic even talked about her experience running as an independent in Newcastle politics on a platform of mental health, where jokes about politicians flourished.

It will be great when we get to the point where we can joke about mental ill-health in the way we can be open about substance misuse (think Cheech and Chong) or even something as uncommon as narcolepsy. There is, however, a fine line between edgy and offensive. Cross that line, and the joke is on you.

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