Comedians Marc Ryan, Leela Varghese and Yoz Mensch each have very different experiences with mental illness that they will draw on when they take to the stage for the Mental Health Coalition of South Australia’s Laughter is the Best of Meds.
Ryan (who performs as The Beautiful Bogan) has been a part of the past four annual events, from performing a last-minute fill-in set to emceeing this year’s event at The Jade on October 14. He says it gives comics permission to be open about their relationship with mental ill-health in a safe environment, as well as being a chance for the audience to hear from some new voices.
“I talk about my mental health whenever I get on stage… but some people aren’t as open about their mental health struggles, unless it’s a really friendly or a beautiful crowd. So I really find it important to get some of those [comics] that want to express themselves or talk about their struggles through stand-up into that environment.”
It’s a platform that Ryan both benefits from and contributes to. He speaks of a series of gigs from two years ago – Marc Ryan vs The Black Dog – where he performed 30 gigs in 30 days and “came out about my depression and PTSD”. The series helped him navigate aspects of his trauma therapy and opened up conversations with others who were struggling.
“There’s still a lot of men out there that don’t want to talk, but when you admit to it – ‘Yeah, I struggle, I’m struggling’ – all of a sudden it breaks down barriers.
“I never joke about mental illness as such… I just tell my own story.”
For actor and comedian Yoz Mensch, comedy has always been “very comforting”. It has allowed them to find performers “who are making jokes or telling stories that are relatable in ways that you might not be able to put your finger on at the time”, but which have become instrumental in their navigating of both borderline personality disorder and themselves more broadly.
“Comedy has always been a default setting… when I’m sitting down to write. It might be something that is quite serious and dealing with heavy themes, but there will always be a thread of comedy knitted firmly within its heart.
“Because comedy is always there in life – being able to find it and identify with it makes everything easier and better.”
Mensch believes Laughter is the Best of Meds also has plenty to offer for those who don’t have mental health issues of their own: “I think part of being human is trying to observe and soak in as many other people’s perspectives as possible so you can be well rounded.”
Comic, musician and filmmaker Leela Varghese does not live with mental health issues herself, but can relate to audience members wanting to know how to support people they love who live with mental illness.
“I think it’s important to talk about how hard it can be seeing somebody that you love struggle with mental illness. It can be really tough… you can feel really helpless and constantly worried,” she says.
Varghese says she has seen a counsellor so she can “understand relationships with people that are in my life that have mental illness, and I use that as a chance to try and figure out better tools to be a better support system for them or to be the best person for them I can be.”
The diversity in the Laughter is the Best of Meds line-up – both in terms of perspectives on mental illness and performance styles – makes for a broad appeal, with other participating comedians including Mickey D, Kate Burr, Wanling Liu, Henry Wilson and Boo Dwyer.
There is bound to be education through empathy and listening, but Ryan believes the heart of the evening comes back to having “a whole lot of fun”.
“For those who are struggling, I hope they get a bit of respite, a bit of a break for the night and just laugh their arse off. [That] they really go away with a good sense of hope.”
He has the same wish for their loved ones and service providers – “because it’s not easy [for them] either. It comes with its struggles as well. So hopefully this is just a bit of respite for everybody in the audience.”
Laughter is the Best of Meds will be at The Jade on Thursday, October 14, at 7pm. Details here. It is presented as part of Mental Health Month, with details of other events available on the Mental Health Coalition of SA website.
If you or someone you know is in need of help, contact SA Health Mental Health Triage Service on 13 14 65, or if in need of crisis support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. A comprehensive directory of mental health services is available here.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.