Warning: May Contain Nuts review in the Independent


Warning: May Contain Nuts review in the Independent.

At a time when many comedians see being controversial as an excuse to aim for cheap laughs, a night promising a “taboo-busting evening” may not appear too enticing. Thankfully, the taboos challenged in Warning: May Contain Nuts are ones that actually deserve to be confronted – mental health is an issue around which many damaging perceptions still exist, but it is also a topic that comedy rarely takes on.

Organised by the arts charity Company Paradiso, the night is a mix between a workshop event and a comedy show, with professionals sharing the stage alongside some who are performing for the very first time. Of the lesser-known names on the bill, the most impressive contribution comes from Seaneen Molloy, reading from her witty and honest blog about her manic depression. If she ever plans to turn her writing into a full live show, on the evidence of tonight she would be a natural.

If she was looking for inspiration, she could do worse than follow the example of Mackenzie Taylor. Performing an abridged version of his show No Straightjacket Required, he is given the longest set of the event and his tale perfectly suits the theme of the evening. His remarkable true story about struggling with mental illness and his suicide attempt manages to be both unflinchingly candid yet consistently entertaining.

He manages to change the mood of the audience swiftly as he intersperses the more sombre passages of his story with off-beat observations, such as comparing his illness to having a bad modern jazz band constantly playing inside his head.

Before an impressive set from Reading band Amy’s Ghost concludes the evening, the bespectacled John Hegley performs his second short section of the night. With just a mandolin for accompaniment, his comic songs and attempts at audience participation show why he continues to be a master at his rather unique craft.

Whether mental health issues becomes a topic more regularly approached in mainstream comedy remains to be seen, but shows like this make it more likely. Comedy nights that manage to give the audience both food for thought and more than enough laughs are rare – but this is one objective which Warning: May Contain Nuts certainly achieves.

My mention made me blush. I remember Mackenzie’s jazz band comparison well because I turned around to Robert and crowed, “See! I told you! It’s so loud in there! That’s why I can’t concentrate!”   The whole evening was excellent and a lovely review is very heartening.  I hope they do more things like that.

So, I’d like to ask you something.  Is it ever okay to laugh at mental illness?  If you’re reading this blog I assume you think so, but what’s your opinion?  Does it make it a bit easier for you when someone takes the piss a bit?  I remember after I took an overdose and landed myself in hospital, it was on a night that I was supposed to be meeting people down the pub.  They went back to my flat and cleaned the place so neither Rob nor I had to come back and face the vomit and the things I’d knocked over during a fit.  They took the piss right out of me saying, “If you didn’t want to come to the pub, you should have just said,” and, “Next time you want your flat cleaned, just ask”.  That was brilliant.  The exact way to deal with it, for me, at least.

38 Responses

  1. Congratulations – great review! x

  2. Wahey! Well done! 😀

  3. What a super review – well done you! Yes, I think it is okay to laugh at mental illness. We tend to laugh at things that scare us because they make them more manageable and less scary that way. And I really can only see the benefit in opening up intelligent discussion on the topic in this way.

    However, there is a big difference between laughing at mental illness and laughing at a mentally ill person and without sounding like a PC-moron I think some comedy treads a fine line.

    Way to go Ms Molloy – I am so proud of you. You have come such a long way since we first met but I shouldn’t be surprised – you had courage in spadefuls then and you’ve got courage in shovelfuls now xx

  4. Congratulations on the review. 🙂

    Humour is pretty much my default coping mechanism for everything, mentalism included, so i think laughing at mental illness (though not, as Sam says, the mentally ill) is not just ok, but crucial.

  5. Congrats 😀

  6. I very much enjoyed your performance, Ms. Molloy. I was rather gutted reading the review that I wasn’t even mentioned. Atleast you said you enjoyed my songs. I often make jokes of metal illness, but I am concerned that some of my songs, such as George Schuster Ward may seem to make buffoons of fellow patients. Also, if I use too much self derrogation in my humour I can get sick of being laughed at.

    • I was too and the mad Slough fan, he was brilliant. But it was a short review and at least the dude was nice about the whole thing! He could have just written, “PISS OFF!” and that would be that.

    • You were great, btw. You and Hat Man need to form a band for proper.

      • Hi Seaneen, loved your act on ‘Warning: May Contain Nuts’, will try to remember your handy hints next time I see the psychiatrist. This is one great blog you got here: funny, fascinating and other things that start with F. Your idea about me and Mark forming a band was pretty hoopy thinking. Hell, if Mark’s cool with that then Let’s Rock!

      • Oh, forgot to mention, had a camcorder in the lighting booth, would you like a ‘Warning: May Contain Nuts’ DVD? (Free of charge of course – wouldn’t have been the same without you). Have put some of the other acts on YouTube – your act is really funny and could help so many with their appointments with the psychiatrist – mind if I YouTube it?

  7. Outstanding, Seaneen! I’m very happy for you. 😀 I can only imagine how you felt when you read that review.

    And, yes, I hope we can laugh at mental illness from time to time. We are far worse off if we can’t.

  8. Mark, you and your strange guitar were great. Together with Hat Man you were like a dramatic punk Robert Plant & Jimmy Page crossed with an art school Slade. I know very well the next live band I see will be boring & grey compared to that.

  9. Congrats Seaneen.

  10. That’s a really great review and you must be proud to have been mentioned individually.

    I too laugh at it. I think I make friends uncomfortable sometimes, but it just seems the best way to approach something which is uncomfortable at the best of times.

  11. Great review, nice one!

    G xx

  12. I use humor. I call myself crazy, nutter, mental, mad as a hatter. It drives the professionals mad (teehee). But really, I want to be able to steer the conversation. If I am mentioning something mental-related in casual conversation, I’m not going to say I have a mental illness. That invokes a somber heaviness that I don’t always want and isn’t always appropriate. I want people to know I can joke about it, but it also lets people know that I don’t want things to be heavy, that I don’t want to talk about it in depth. It is a tremendously powerful and effective shorthand. I joke about it in other little ways too, to sort of cushion people from my life’s experiences.

    It is a fine line between joke and stigma. I think I do well at balancing it, since I am comfortable with it and my friends are smart enough to know joking doesn’t mean I sanction stigma. I haven’t really thought out the line explicitly, but I think I’m doing okay all the same.

  13. Hurrah, well done. Laugh hard, always laugh hard. x

  14. Well done!
    We have a saying around these parts: funny’s funny.
    Meaning nothing is off limits as long as the punch line is funny.

  15. Brillliant! Well done.

    I love the quote on Mackenzie Taylor’s site. “On May 26th 2008 Mackenzie Taylor tried to kill himself. He failed. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you funnier.”

    Some people will think that’s poor taste; I think it’s healthy.

  16. I don’t know if I’d describe it as healthy exactly but it’s on the whole pretty harmless. I’ve always used humour both as a coping mechanism and as a form of self-defence, putting up barriers and so forth. Self-depreciation is particularly useful for that I find, if I mock myself then nothing you say about me can possibly hurt me.

    Honestly, the only real negative I’ve found is that it tends to either unsettle or even offend other people that I’m quite so flippant about my own problems. Ho hum, their problem.

  17. Congratulations! See, I knew you’d be fine ;-).

    With regard to humour. I think it very much depends on the person. I have a rather offbeat sense if humour (it’s necessary for coping with disability of any kind I think!) and my very close friends and family can say things to me that a stranger would never get away with saying, just because they know me and they know when a little piss-taking is appropriate and when it’s definitely not. I think the key is to be sensitive.

    Frankie Boyle infuriated me when he took a vile cheap shot and people with Down’s Syndrome when that little girl was sitting in the audience and couldn’t defend herself. It’s one thing for someone like Francesca Martinez to find humour in her situation and something entirely different for an able bodied person to make humour out of something they know nothing about.

  18. Amazing review, well done!

    On the subject of laughter – I’d rather people laughed about it, or made jokes, than look scared and unsure how to deal with it.
    My comparison is sexuality. I know so many people who are uncomfortable with homosexuality & that becomes apparently by their inability to joke about it. Their discomfort verges on homophobia and I just feel those that can laugh & joke and make light of another’s sexuality (and I don’t mean take the piss, of course!) are those that are more comfortable and accepting of the individual.
    Same applies with mental health. To me, anyhow.

  19. Well, if Mel Brooks can joke about the Holocaust.

  20. Is it ever OK to laugh at mental illness? (you ask)

    The answer is “of course.” Louise, above, has it exactly right. Mel Brooks is a fine example of someone who has broken taboos by making light of things that others were afraid to touch.

    The real question is whether the humor is done well.

  21. There’s a comedian named ‘Big Daddy Tazz’ whose act is almost entirely about ADD and manic depression.

    Some of it’s funny, some of it is a little flat.

    Humour always helps, as long as everyone involved gets the joke. I think it’s a great idea to post funny stuff on recovery blogs, just to get a break from what can be a relentless series of heartaches…

    Congratulations on the review, and for getting up on the stage and doing it.

  22. Laugh at the illness not the person.
    You got me thinking the first time my brother came to visit me on a psychtritric unit he made some ‘joke’ about me being on the ‘Funny Farm’ I didn’t find it very funny, Years later I had a bit of a wobble while in the city and ended up at the police station, my bro was the only one who could come and get me, I wasn’t looking forward to it, I was still freaking and hid under a table, he came in and said, “Let’s get out of here, it smells of bacon!” broke the ice as you say, got me thinking the police station wasn’t where I wanted to be.
    And after the event, sometimes you can’t help but laugh at the scrapes and behaviours, its a way of dealing with it else you know it will drag you under ; >

  23. Ooh! Very well done on your extremely pleasing review, Seaneen. I’m sad I haven’t seen it. Keep those words close to your heart and recall them when you’re feeling a bit useless.

    I suffer unipolar depression and it sometimes helps to recall getting a lovely letter from the BBC about a script I sent in for a competition.

    As for taking the piss about mental illness, I think it should be allowed.

    I recently saw a petition for people to sign up to if they felt it was wrong to use certain language with regard to mental disorders. I didn’t sign it because I want to be able to call people “batshit” or “a mong”.

    I have a friend who gently chides me for being mental and I never take offence.

    I think it’s all down to the spirit in which it’s given; piss taking can be done with love and affection.

    It’s discrimination over employment and such that one needs to fight. A bit of a piss-take can most often be OK.

  24. […] at The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive  has been more brave than I could ever be, and given a reading of her own material at the recent mental health comedy/workshop type thing ‘Warning: May Contain Nuts’.  She […]

  25. Seaneen well done indeed… if you were half as good on stage as in yr blog you must have been ace… I am interested in wether something similar to ‘may contian nuts’ can be done in Haringey, i work for a charity thatr amongst other things tries to support a number of people in haringey living with mental illness and am always interested in how we can give people a voice, giving people a laugh at the same time sounds incredible..

    • I was very impressed with Seaneen’s live performance in Reading. I am availlable to help with your proposed Haringey event if you are interested. I have a diagnosis of schizo affective disorder and some skill with sound engineering, recording and encouraging nervous people to perform. I regularly assist with an open mike event in Reading and I took part in Warning, May Contain Nuts, though only as a singer and guitarist.

  26. A fellow schizophreniac and myself were discussing at her birthday party the differences in public perception of schizophrenia and manic depression. As you pointed out, the public tend to regard manic depressives as creative geniuses, but regard schizophreniacs such as myself as serial killers. My fellow schizophreniac suggested that “sane” people can relate to manic depressives because “sane” people know what it is like to feel miserable and know what it’s like to feel happy, but don’t generally have any experience on which to base an idea of what schizophrenia feels like.

    I was hoping that if I manage to be as funny as yourself and Stephen Fry then I might be able to change the public perception of schizophreniacs somewhat.

    On the other hand, some of my humour does involve putting myself in the role of a serial killer, so I may be being counter productive.

    I think I may be able to give “sane” people an idea of what it is like to be a schizophreniac by explaining how the symptons are not entirely unlike experiences that “sane” people commonly have.

    One sympton of schizophrenia is delusional beliefs, such as a belief that England could and will win the world cup, or that the police are honest. Or that pope Benedict the 16th is a good man and has left his Hitler Youth days behind him.

    Another is hearing voices. Some people manage to get a salary out of it and are called priests. All the gods and goddesses that used to visit me on a regular basis seem to have sent me to coventry in protest at me sullying the temple of my body with atypical antipsychotic drugs. You know how religions hate drugs. Expecially if people take them every day and intend to do so for the rest of their lives.

    Another sympton of schizophrenia is that a schizophreniac will read a work of fiction and believe that it is completely true and vitally important to their lives. I think some “sane” people experience this when reading newspapers, particularly The Sun.

    Incidentally, whereas people such as myself are described as “psychotic” without any irony, why is it that people with bipolar disorder are not called “depressive maniacs”?

  27. It has occured to me that I may have over stepped the line of what is considered acceptable as a comment on this blog. If that is so, I am sorry. Perhaps I should save that kind of humour for other places. I do firmly believe, however, that people should not have respect for religions unless they have earned it.

  28. I use humour to diffuse tension, particularly with people who don’t have much of a concept of what mental illness is like. My partner and I had a difficult time when I was afraid that I was so ill that I might hurt him, and went into hospital.

    It was really hard to discuss, and we ended up with him affectionately calling me ‘Mcstabby’ and giving me a kiss when we got to talking about the tough stuff. It was his way of coping, and affirming that, despite being freaked out, he did still love and trust me. He’d not have used to nickname in public, but between us it was a smiling recognition of the fact I’d never willingly hurt him at all.

    The understanding of respect has to occur between two people, or a comedian and their subject matter. I can easily determine if the person joking about mentals is one who has a respect for them deep down, or is taking a cheap shot at someone they don’t feel any compassion for.

  29. You can say what you like Mark but as you have posted 3 times in row you are banned for 7 days. This is a blog dealing with mental health issues and im sure you can appreciate the reason for this. Winks.

  30. Im a big fan of Sienfeld an Curb your enthusiasm both of which are written by Larry David. If you dont know one of the episodes involved Costanza with a problem with his eye and because he winked at the end of everything he said people did the opposite of what he said. As well e dealing with every day subjects both series deal with subjects that your average BBc sitcom would avoid like the plague. Subjects include-

    Sex with a woman in a wheelchair
    Two timing a woman in a wheelchair with same.
    A 30 min episode on masturbation.
    Dumping a girlfriend with cancer
    Two Jews necking during Schindlers list at cinema
    A contestant from the TV show Survivors arguing with a survivor from a concentration camp as t who had the harder time of it.
    A blind man asking if his girlfriend is good looking.

    What I do like is that these subjects are handled in the same way as more mundane issues although I have no experience of these issues apart from reading a leaflet on masturbation.
    What I dont like about disabled comedy is that I feel I have to meet them halfway by lowering my laugh threshold in the same way I lower it for a comedy put on by small children.In exchange I get to Laugh at subjects that are out of bounds normally and would be criticised if the same material was cov by the likes of RIcky Jervais.
    It makes me uncomfortable. Perhaps im happier for disability humour to be covered by experts in humour rather than experts in the disability.

  31. This is a continuation of post 2.
    With the possible exception of masturbation I’d had no experience of the taboo subjects mentionedbut I thought the humour had been extracted with care and no one had been harmed in the making.

    In the last series of Curb Your enthusiam it was the turn of mental illness to provide the laughs.
    More specifically it was a woman called Bambam who seemed to be Bipolar an going through a manic phase.
    She had just been released from the hospital and David and his manager were trusted to look after her one afternoon.
    The manager ended up having sex with Bambam and Larry David was outraged.When they all met up in the eveningfor dinner with their families Bambam kept blowing kisses to the manager and then revealed that she’d had sex with him that afternoon.
    Of course no one believed her and his wife said that she was the only one mad enough to have sex with him.

    You could come to the conclusion that mental health has been cherry picked for bad taste laughs.
    It is easy to think that when you suffer from a mental illness you know best but there are a lot of people involved with a show like this and many of them will have experience on mental illness and discrimination is a recurring theme for Larry David.
    I do like to bit about the bit about Bambam not being believed and that if she had been regarded as sane having sex would not have been an issue.

    And I did find it amusing but I could be a bad person.

  32. Congrats, that’s great!

    I think we can, and maybe we should, laugh at ourselves or it would just be unbearable.

    I like the bipolar entry on Uncyclopedia: http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Bipolar

    It made me giggle.

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