Is it Comedy or is it Therapy? is a comedy night adapted from Rory McAlpine’s Edinburgh Festival show after a friend from CAPS (The Consultation & Advocacy Promotion Service) approached him about the idea of using his comedy to help raise awareness of mental health. He describes: ‘a lot of people who I know, who have issues with mental health, do use comedy as therapy’.
Rory became a full time comedian in 2012 and runs Pandamonium comedy club, who despite the fact that he suffers from extreme anxiety and shyness, has always been interested in performing. Indeed, he describes how for him (and many other comedians), that the only time they ever feel completely comfortable is on stage. ‘You can forget about every single issues going on in your life’. To Rory, comedy is not only tool of self-confidence, but also a deeply cathartic act.
When asked whether there is a risk of combining mental health and comedy, Rory replies: ‘Absolutely. It is something that you do have to be wary of. The comedians that I have picked for the evening are good enough at their work to look at the audience and think, ‘I shouldn’t say that’, or ‘that joke wouldn’t work’. In fact, I’d be disappointed in them if they did a joke that was blatantly going to offend someone. The acts are all very good at judging an audience.’ Rory is very understanding of this issue and also references the fact that, ‘you could be sitting in a room of 50 people, when 49 of them have mental health conditions but you would never know’. Rory describes combining mental health and comedy as ‘quite a new concept’, and he is interested himself on how the acts are going to interpret the title. Ultimately, he hopes that the audience wouldn’t be offended by bringing mental health into the realm of comedy, but rather recognises that the acts are just talking about something that they may have in common with the audience.
His interest in raising awareness of mental health, not only stems from his personal battle against anxiety, but also from a brief encounter earlier this year. Rory met a man in his local bar one evening, who at the end of the night gave Rory his blazer. The man then disappeared 3 days later. His body was discovered 4 weeks later on the bank near the Forth Bridge. Rory later came to understand that people who are suicidal often give away their possessions to strangers. He said that his disappearance and untimely death came as a great shock to the village as in the last couple of days of his life, the man had seemed a lot more upbeat, and people assumed that he had ‘turned the corner’. Rory now thinks that in reality, he had just given up and felt that he had no-where to turn to. This encounter brought Rory to understand more of the fragility of people’s emotions and of our own ability to cope with everyday situations. Rory describes how meeting this man really made him think about the availability of mental health services, and wants to help raise awareness of charities who work with mental health. Rory was wearing the blazer that the man gave him during the interview.
‘Everyone knows someone who is affected by mental health, even if it is a friend of a friend. What’s worse is that everyone has a stereotype of someone who suffers from mental illness, and people often just don’t want to talk to them’. He goes on to say emphatically that ‘this really has to change.’ For, if you have a mental illness, ‘it doesn’t mean to say that you are dangerous. It doesn’t mean that you are going to go off on one. It just means that sometimes when you are on your own, you get very, very down, or may not be able to open up in a way that other people can’. Rory was very firm that ‘this is what we need to make people aware of these days. There shouldn’t be any taboos on mental health. If we can make that room of people think about mental health and what they can do to help too, then ultimately, we’ve won’.
Written by Constance Barter