Comedian and CALM Ambassador Jack Rooke has always incorporated grief and loss into his work. From his live stand up show ‘Good Grief’, through to ‘Happy Man’ which follows him on a mission to explore male identity, mental health, and body image. Now he’s written his first book which he describes as: “A comedic memoir, meets advice guide”. Jack chatted about his inspiration for the book, his own mental health struggles, and why working with CALM is so important to him.
Jack began working with CALM at just 18 years old. Now nine years later, he’s impressed with how much better society has gotten at talking about mental health. But he hopes his début book, ‘Cheer the F**K Up’ will provide advice and tools for people who want to support others through difficult times: “What I don’t think has happened since conversations about mental health have become more prominent, is action. Very little action has come from that. I wanted to write a book to help people who have a fear of not being able to help someone properly or of saying the wrong thing, or not knowing how to actually have those conversations with people.”
Having lost a friend to suicide, Jack has drawn on his experience to give people the type of book he wishes he had. By incorporating comedy into the book, as he has done with his earlier work, he hopes to prove that conversations about mental health issues don’t have to be scary or clinical: “I’ve lost a friend, so I feel like I can come at it from all angles. I think the fact that I’m not a psychologist is better because I’m just talking from experience, and I’m giving another perspective as somebody who’s lived through it, as well as being an ambassador for CALM for a really long time. I really wanted to use humour to make people laugh and knock down the awkward barrier of having those conversations.
“The book is really kind of like a buffet, and people can choose what they find helpful for them. It’s sausage rolls and bits of cheese and pineapple on a stick, and some carrots that a toddler is sucking on.”
“The name of the book was also inspired by an early campaign that CALM did: “I remember ‘Cheer the F**K Up’ being one of the first taglines that CALM had way back in the day. It was on a postcard that looked like a bit of toilet roll and it made me laugh so much. I remember the former director said to me that Prince William had found it really funny, and I just thought it was brilliant that the future king found that funny.”
Jack has also suffered from mental health issues over his life too. As well as the loss of his dad, who died when he was just 15, and his friend Olly still affecting him, he’s also experienced bouts of anxiety: “I have real episodes of, I think, a combination of feeling grief, depression and anxiety. I had never experienced anxiety until I made a BBC Three documentary about mental health. In fact, I would probably say that I underestimated anxiety in the spectrum of mental health disorders because in my head I thought it was just being really nervous. And then when I first experienced it, it was like the worst thing I think I’ve ever been through. Having really chronic anxiety that’s just sunk so deep into your brain.”
The subtitle of the book ‘How to Save your Best Friend’ could have easily been ‘An Ode to Friendship’ because just like CALM, Jack believes in the importance of being a good mate:
“When you’re good friends with someone you can understand their patterns, and see when they’re struggling – when they’re on a high, when they’re having a bit of a wobble. You can kind of tune into that and check in on them and make time for them. I think that’s the most brilliant thing about friendship. It’s beyond romance, it’s like an affinity and you want to see someone you love succeed and thrive and to me, that’s the most important love of all.
And I recently turned 27. And that was a very weird birthday because that was the last age that my friend Olly ever got to. I slightly freaked out about it. And then I spoke to my great friend Cecilia Knapp, who is also a CALM Ambassador, on the morning of my birthday. She was like: “It’s just another part of the grief, another stage. It doesn’t matter that the event happened five or six years ago, the grief is always going to pop up out of the blue and you have to embrace it.” And as soon as she said that, to me, I just felt so much better. Understanding that it’s a grief that I’m always going to have and it can be as motivating as it is debilitating. It can also be a real source of spurring you on to good stuff.”
Jack wanted to dedicate the book to those who have weathered the storm with him and been there to catch him when he’s ready to fall. For him, there is no better feeling than having someone who you can confide in: “I dedicated it to my friend Lewis, who has always checked in on me, or taken me for a drive if I’m a little bit stressed out. And then I dedicated to my mum because I think my mum is as much of my friend as she is my parent. She’s just so funny and bizarre, very loving, and loud, but also shy too. She’s just that working-class woman, that gets shit done. And I think she’s saved me as much as Lewis has.”
Jack is still trying to learn what his own trigger points and coping mechanisms are, and writing the book helped with that: “It’s been quite cathartic because a lot of my mental health struggles have been very much triggered by sexuality and, trying to deal with that whole other side of things. The book definitely helped me understand my own mind, how I process things, the flaws that I have, and my protective mechanisms.”
And what would he suggest to those going through a bit of a tough time?
“For me, it’s always been writing. I love to just go and sit and write in a café, even if it’s just free writing, which is when you just literally sit with a blank piece of paper or a blank word document and write whatever comes to your mind. Being able to process the emotions in your head and articulate them is so key, so important, and something undervalued in our society. But for others, I think it’s trial and error. Finding your own coping mechanisms. Go for a 30-minute run and if you absolutely hate it – if it’s the worst thing you’ve ever gone through and you don’t feel the endorphin release – then you know that’s not for you. You just have to figure it out. Experiment and embrace whatever it is that helps you get through.”
Jack’s also had some exciting news to share: He’ll be making a sitcom, inspired by the stories from the book:
“I’m really excited, and I’m already really in the thick of it. It’s been pushed back due to COVID, but it will be a sitcom about friendship and mental health, and the joys of helping someone you have that affinity with.”
There you have it – a CALM exclusive! You can pick up your copy of ‘Cheer the F**K Up’ HERE.
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