stand up comedy for men at risk of suicide
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Don't mind me, just healing my trauma up here

Stand up comedy seems easy, but it's not. First, there’s the arduous task of actually creating material–being able to look at life through a certain lens, then having enough skill to translate that perspective into jokes that actually land. Plus there’s the whole bearing-your-soul-to-a-room-full-of-strangers aspect, one of the most common fears known to man.

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These factors combined perhaps don’t seem like a recipe for helping mental health, but as it turns out, stand-up comedy is proving to be a powerfully effective therapy tool. Just ask Angie Belcher, founder of Comedy on Referral.

Belcher has taught comedy for a decade, and over the years students would comment how much “stronger, more resilient and happier they were after exploring their personal histories through stand-up comedy.” It not only helped change their perspective, but sharing it all on stage put them in a “powerful position” to change their narrative of painful memories…possibly inspiring others to do the same.

“As a comedian, you could be the reason why someone in your audience does something differently,” Belcher told The Guardian

Comedy of Referral is a six-week program that allows people to process traumatic experiences by turning them into five minute comedy sets. Similar to the way art therapy helps explore difficult emotions through different mediums, students navigate personal issues through the use of theater games, as well as group and one-on-one work as they channel their “comedic persona." Participants are supported by psychologists in order to avoid triggering any past trauma.

two man laughing at each other Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

Watching comedy has long been researched and documented as a constructive way to cope with tragedy. Laughter itself produces endorphins that help release stress. It inspires empathy and connection. It can even help reduce stigmas surrounding certain mental health conditions. The Comedy on Referral program is proving that creating comedy can be just as helpful as consuming it. Their website claims that through stand-up coaching, trauma can become “more manageable as the story becomes one of validation and redemption rather than an unpleasant experience.”

The theory appears to be spot on. After a highly successful trial NHS-course for trauma survivors in Bristol, England, London’s NHS (National Health Service) has agreed to fund Comedy on Referral so that private practices throughout the country can prescribe the course to men at risk of suicide. Lourdes Colclough, head of suicide prevention at Rethink Mental Illness, noted that this demographic is an especially “hard-to-reach group.”

“Even though they’ve been diagnosed, [they] don’t think they have an issue and so won’t go to counseling or attend anything signposted [as] ‘suicide prevention’,” she reflected. But this is exactly the kind of challenge that Comedy on Referral is designed for. The unique curriculum uses creativity and humor to help people not only feel comfortable enough to open up, but come out being able to experience their life in a more empowering way.

Humor can be the friend we need when life gets hard. In times of uncertainty, crisis, and despair, it can uplift us from the inside out, and remind us that joy is a basic human need.

“I hope that participants will use what they learn on the course in their practical everyday life, so that they go into future endeavors with joy, hopefulness and playfulness rather than taking out their bully teenager-persona or their depressed 20-something persona or their grieving mother-persona or whatever it is,” said Belcher.

Comedy of Referral has plans to support as many people as possible. In addition, Belcher is also in talks to extend the program to young people with autism and ADHD, the Guardian reported.

Through programs like Comedy on Referral, people can learn to harness humor for themselves, and in the process become resilient, hopeful, and of course, funnier. Not a bad trade-off.

Moricz was banned from speaking up about LGBTQ topics. He found a brilliant workaround.

Senior class president Zander Moricz was given a fair warning: If he used his graduation speech to criticize the “Don’t Say Gay” law, then his microphone would be shut off immediately.

Moricz had been receiving a lot of attention for his LGBTQ activism prior to the ceremony. Moricz, an openly gay student at Pine View School for the Gifted in Florida, also organized student walkouts in protest and is the youngest public plaintiff in the state suing over the law formally known as the Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.

Though well beyond third grade, Moricz nevertheless was also banned from speaking up about the law, gender or sexuality. The 18-year-old tweeted, “I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school’s history–this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last.”

However, during his speech, Moricz still delivered a powerful message about identity. Even if he did have to use a clever metaphor to do it.

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Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Actions speak far louder than words.

It never fails. After a tragic mass shooting, social media is filled with posts offering thoughts and prayers. Politicians give long-winded speeches on the chamber floor or at press conferences asking Americans to do the thing they’ve been repeatedly trained to do after tragedy: offer heartfelt thoughts and prayers. When no real solution or plan of action is put forth to stop these senseless incidents from occurring so frequently in a country that considers itself a world leader, one has to wonder when we will be honest with ourselves about that very intangible automatic phrase.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik brilliantly summed up what "thoughts and prayers" truly mean. In a 1.5-minute clip, Jeselnik talks about victims' priorities being that of survival and not wondering if they’re trending at that moment. The crowd laughs as he mimics the actions of well-meaning social media users offering thoughts and prayers after another mass shooting. He goes on to explain how the act of performatively offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families really pulls the focus onto the author of the social media post and away from the event. In the short clip he expertly expresses how being performative on social media doesn’t typically equate to action that will help victims or enact long-term change.

Of course, this isn’t to say that thoughts and prayers aren’t welcomed or shouldn’t be shared. According to Rabbi Jack Moline "prayer without action is just noise." In a world where mass shootings are so common that a video clip from 2015 is still relevant, it's clear that more than thoughts and prayers are needed. It's important to examine what you’re doing outside of offering thoughts and prayers on social media. In another several years, hopefully this video clip won’t be as relevant, but at this rate it’s hard to see it any differently.

Joy

50-years ago they trade a grilled cheese for a painting. Now it's worth a small fortune.

Irene and Tony Demas regularly traded food at their restaurant in exchange for crafts. It paid off big time.

Photo by Gio Bartlett on Unsplash

Painting traded for grilled cheese worth thousands.

The grilled cheese at Irene and Tony Demas’ restaurant was truly something special. The combination of freshly baked artisan bread and 5-year-old cheddar was enough to make anyone’s mouth water, but no one was nearly as devoted to the item as the restaurant’s regular, John Kinnear.

Kinnear loved the London, Ontario restaurant's grilled cheese so much that he ordered it every single day, though he wouldn’t always pay for it in cash. The Demases were well known for bartering their food in exchange for odds and ends from local craftspeople and merchants.

“Everyone supported everyone back then,” Irene told the Guardian, saying that the couple would often trade free soup and a sandwich for fresh flowers. Two different kinds of nourishment, you might say.

And so, in the 1970s the Demases made a deal with Kinnear that he could pay them for his grilled cheese sandwiches with artwork. Being a painter himself and part of an art community, Kinnear would never run out of that currency.

Little did Kinnear—or anyone—know, eventually he would give the Demases a painting worth an entire lifetime's supply of grilled cheeses. And then some.

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