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CALM-a CALM-a CALM-a CALM-a CALM-a Comedians

On December 16th, CALM joins forces with OMEARA London and Flat Iron Square to throw a massive party with a crop of the UK’s finest music and stand-up comedy talent. We spoke to our comedy line-up about where mental health meets material, what ‘being a man’ means, and how to be ‘woke’ without being a prat.  

PIERRE NOVELLIE

Hi Pierre – what does it feel like talking about personal mental health experiences onstage?

It feels uncomfortable. I’ve had people come up to me after I’ve done it and say how much they appreciated it which made it really feel worthwhile. I’ll continue to talk about this stuff when I want to, however, I try to remember not to speak about anything until I’ve processed it properly.

In terms of feeling able to be open about life’s struggles, do you think things are improving for men, generally?

Broadly, yes. The new social changes benefit men in the long run. The problem is communication – the core ideas are sound but the rhetoric can seem alienating and contradictory.

“At the end of the day, comedy is one of the few art forms where you can truly say whatever you want, so just do whatever you want – but don’t hurt yourself.”  

How have you noticed the conversation about gender changing since you started doing comedy?

It’s much rarer to have all male comedy nights – the change in gender demographics has been huge and rapid in the last five to ten years. Audiences generally respond badly to sexist material but also to po-faced sermonising so there’s a good balance.

Do you think comedy is / should be a way for people to address their demons and mental health woes?

I think you should only address your mental woes through comedy once you have processed them. It is dangerous to force yourself to revisit trauma each of the 26 nights of the Edinburgh Fringe for the entertainment of others. You need to really have dealt with it to do that safely. Comedy shows that address mental health have been helpful for many people but they have also been very successful. This creates a perverse incentive to over-disclose and creates a patina of cynicism over the whole thing. I’ve felt unable to address mental health concerns or similar issues in the past due to an anxiety that it might be seen as an attempt to succeed in the environment of the Edinburgh Fringe. I even dropped material out of my last show due to my concerns it would be viewed as a cynical attempt at pathos and out of resentment towards the idea that good comedy requires the comedian to involve the audience in something that, frankly, isn’t their business. At the end of the day, comedy is one of the few art forms where you can truly say whatever you want, so just do whatever you want – but don’t hurt yourself.

SOPHIE DUKER

Hi Sophie – you host a monthly status-quo-bashing irreverent comedy night called Wacky Racists. How can everybody Stay Woke?

Check regularly that your head has not migrated to the clouds, the sand or up your own arse. Be kind and brave and always remember the words of late, great, Whitney: Children are the future. Teach them well, and let them lead the way.

How has the conversation about gender changed since you started doing comedy?

We’ve all learned a lot of new and exciting words.

Do you think things are improving for men, generally?

I actually do! But I also think the planet probably has about six to eight weeks left before it is entirely destroyed by human ineptitude.

Has anyone ever said something about ‘being a man’ that really surprised you?

I remember being heartbroken at hearing how rarely some men engage in platonic touch and have since made it my personal mission to initiate cuddle puddles whenever I see groups of two or more. Hug it out, lads.

Does comedy let you address your own demons or mental health woes?

Hell, no! All my lions have been tamed before entering the ring, and any truly sad clowns should seek out a good therapist.

JARLATH REGAN

Hi Jarlath – you host a podcast ‘Men Behaving Better’ all about men and how masculinity is changing. Has anything come out of the podcast so far that really surprised you?

Hi there! So many things have surprised me, lots of things have disappointed me but the biggest feeling is optimism. So many emails, messages and personal interactions with men and women who appreciate the show, the format and what we are trying to do. It’s a serious subject so the laughs that the podcast has produced are from the absurdity of how we have gotten to this point.

Do you think things are improving for men, generally?

For men? Yes. Any time you’re more understanding and thoughtful you’re life is going to be better. From what I’m seeing, the effort, the empathy, the understanding, the time given to reflection has increased. But does that mean we can all relax and say sure that’s the job done? Of course not. We’ve a long way to go especially when it comes to those who simply wont accept there’s anything that needs to improve!

“My last show “Organ Freeman” told the story of donating a kidney to my brother. It was a surprisingly difficult time. The show was first and foremost intended to raise awareness but it also let me make peace with the more testing emotional elements of the process – through taking the piss out of myself!”

How have you noticed the conversation about gender changing since you started doing comedy?

Drastically. When I started there was a real fascination with the shock tactic of comedy. Not sure why but it was a trend. Say a crazy thing and the intake of breath from an audience justified it in some weird way. Off stage I’ve always hung out with evolved comics so that end of things has been solid from day one. The creative choices have changed and thankfully, the number of women on the bills has changed.

Does comedy help you address your own demons or mental health woes?

I always say, once I can laugh about it, I’m able to deal with it. That said, comedy is the last place I go with my problems. The audience gets to see the resolution of the heavy shit. Lucky them. I get to see a therapist twice a month, write every day and then finally a joke or an hour of jokes gets squeezed out. My last show “Organ Freeman” told the story of donating a kidney to my brother. It was a surprisingly difficult time. The show was first and foremost intended to raise awareness but it also let me make peace with the more testing emotional elements of the process – through taking the piss out of myself!

STEPHEN BAILEY

Hi Stephen – you talk about life, dating and relationships as a gay man. Do you think there are different mental health pressures for people in the LGBTQ community?

I am not sure to be honest. I would hate to get such an important discussion so wrong so I can only talk for me. I think, if like me, you struggle with anxiety there can be the added worries such as coming out. And as a camp man, I am often worried if people think that I am putting “it” on but perhaps that is a pressure that I am adding to myself?

How have you noticed the conversation about gender changing since you started doing comedy?

Of course, the world has changed since I have started comedy. We are much more open to discussing everything. And conversation is a great way to make change.

Do you think things are improving for men, generally?

I think so. When I first came out there was this whole “masc4masc” thing. And being a man meant something very different and I think we are finally getting there with allowing a man to show his emotions and remain “a man”.

Has anyone ever said something about ‘being a man’ that really surprised you?

When I was in school “being a man” used to be determined by sports or how well you did at sports. But I did not do well. And I remember a friend of mine saying to me “Stephen you’re 100% yourself and always have been – now that is being a man” and I loved him for that. Now I don’t care about being a man, or a woman – I just want to be a kind PERSON.

Do you think comedy is / should be a way for people to address their demons and mental health woes?

It’s your comedy – address whatever you want. I leave my personal issues at the door as I use it as escapism but if you want to talk – go for it!

Tickets for CALM at OMEARA London on December 16th can be won by entering the ballot here. Please note, the ballot closes on December 10th, so be quick!

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