You’re going to kill me- it’s another plug! And it’s sponsored by Pepsi Max. Maximum taste, maximum chlorine.
There is an article about Warning: May Contain Nuts in G2 today, which is online. It is here! It talks a bit about mental illness and comedy and the show in Brighton on Sunday. I conducted the interview over the phone after almost two days without sleep, covered in farty rain. So I’m pleased my words were coherent and there isn’t just three paragraphs of, “….hang on, let me light this cigarette. Ooh, what’s that?” That’s my big face there, the picture I send if anyone asks me for one because I don’t mind it. I look as though I’m being crushed to death by Barney the Dinosaur.
The comments so far seem to be rational and intelligent, not, as I had feared, no comment at all, or people pushing in to criticise anybody with mental health problems daring to raise their drooling head above the parapet to speak of them. Much of the people doing this event are (I assume, given the last one) people who have been in services and who have suffered through the social isolation and general, “Oh, it’s you” shame of living with mental illness. The Being Alone, the fossilising of your phone, the turned-away-head when dropping the, “So, I was talking to Jesus…” clanger. And it is good to talk, without judgement. Good to laugh, which is liberating, uniting. To laugh guiltily, or in recognition. I write things here that I wouldn’t say to someone’s face because I know they’d slowly back away. And it is important- for me, at least- to have that space where I can be, frankly, inappropriate. The piece in the article about the Homepride man makes me smile, even now. My memory of that time is shot- I can’t remember if it was before I went to hospital and started medication and things, or after. But he was very friendly. He floated in a semi circle above my head. It was during a period when a lot of things like that were going on. (Like being stalked by Danny John Jules, taping my front door shut with duct tape and thinking I was being followed and poisoned while having to be dragged into the house often because I kept hitting on people in the street. Happy, happy times).
I mentioned in the article that I had been concerned it would be a care in the community affair. Wheeling out the schizophrenics and patting them blithely on the head, shoving a microphone into their hand and waiting for the quasi-embarrassed applause to follow. That it would be tokenistic. I worried that these kinds of events would just deepen the divide between, “Normal” people and “people with mental illness”. Whereas these things do have value, I think they can backfire a bit. For that reason, I almost didn’t get involved in it. (My involvement came via and email and my thinking, “Oh, that’ll be fun and get me out of the house”. Then turning up on the day realising I had misunderstood what I was supposed to do and frantically rewriting the entire thing on the computer in reception).
But at the Reading gig, I was surprised (and more fool me- who’s being stigmatising now?) at the quality of the performances. Very quickly you forgot that this was an event that had the basis of speaking about mental illness. It was just funny, charming, interesting. There was music and singing, stories and jokes. It was, really, just a good night out. Especially so after I had swam half an hour in wine. Robert had worried he would feel out of place and awkward being someone who has never experienced any mental health problems, but he enjoyed himself, too. Like I said, I don’t think mental illness is anything out of the ordinary. My experiences are not particularly extreme, but they could happen to anybody, and, indeed, do.
Some people I’ve spoken to about this have said, “You can’t laugh at that! It’s horrible! Mental illness is a terrible thing. You can’t make jokes about suicide”. In a way, I can see their point. Laughter could be seen as trivialising the destruction it can wreak (personally, I think stupid t-shirts, mousepads and stars referring to themselves as, “a bit bipolar” infuriatingly trivialise it- reduce it to a fashion accessory). It’s not funny. Some people never get better, and some people die. (And some people who make jokes about it have been at the point where not recovering and dying seemed like the way to go). And it’s important to remember that.
People don’t, though. People don’t remember it, don’t discuss it, don’t talk about it. I have never in my life seen a bouquet of flowers awaiting someone in the office after a spell in a psychiatric hospital in the way that they would be stinking out the air ducts and causing hayfever sufferers to be loading up on the AK-47s and list of addresses with someone who was in hospital for an operation or recovering from an accident. You just don’t talk about it. There are many noble campaigns to reduce the stigma around mental illness, but their nobility in themselves can be counter-productive. It can come across as too worthy. Worthiness is hushed and reverent. Making jokes is at least properly confronting these things. Not just the ideas, but the experiences. What’s it like to try and kill yourself and fall into a coma? Ask Mackenzie Taylor, he’ll tell you. In a funny way, but there you go. Now you know. What’s it like to wander down a motorway trying to raise an army, thinking you’re King Arthur? Ask Danny. What’s it like to be in hospital? What’s it like to be depressed? What’s it like to be manic? What does a panic attack feel like? Would most people ever ask? Wouldn’t they be too afraid to?
Anyway, I hope you like it, and come along on Sunday if you can. I’m terrified! Hopefully I’ll be funny. The downside is that I didn’t even save the piece I performed last time. Just printed it out and bolted, giving the computer back to the bemused woman at reception. Reading the article, I wish I had called my blog something- anything!- else! With the shenanigans in April, I feel as though I could be done under the trades descriptions act. Ah well! Thanks for reading. And thanks for Reading, God. It makes Luton feel better about itself.
PS: For all the agoraphobes out there who think such a thing sounds like something they’d have liked to be at, I’ll bring my dictaphone and stick it online for yer.
PPS: Oh, er, last plug. I’ll be talking about this event on BBC Radio Sussex tomorrow at 9.15pm and trying not to say fuck.