Learning mental health through comedy
Stand-up comic David Granirer shows how to use humor to understand mental illness
When some of his Canadian neighbors protested construction of a nearby clinic for men and women diagnosed with mental illness based on safety fears, comic and therapist David Granirer was perplexed.
He figures anybody whose daily focus is on how to survive in another galaxy, or answer to a dozen imaginary friends, is simply too busy to steal his car.
To the argument about the types of programs such a clinic might offer, Granirer shrugged. He’s never read a headline about “an outbreak of collage” or a clinic patient attacking a neighbor with finger paint.
Then there was his response to the possibility someone might get ahold of a chain saw.
“Do you know how much coordination it takes to operate a chain saw? When I’m medicated, I can’t operate a Swiffer. It’s hard to kill someone by mopping them to death.”
This was one of the “Stand Up Mental Health” comedians’ monologues on Friday night, June 1, at the Elks Theatre for a West Yavapai Guidance Clinic Foundation event titled, “Getting the Laughs You Need: Laughing Your Way to Good Mental Health.”
Granirer is an internationally known stand-up comic whose focus is all about destigmatizing mental illness and offering comedy as a way to empower men and women diagnosed with everything from depression and anxiety disorders to bipolar illness and schizophrenia.
And the 57-year-old father of two young adults and traveling stand-up comic knows of what he speaks. He is treated for depression, and as a therapist and comic works with men and women diagnosed with assorted mental illnesses.
Almost two decades ago, Granirer started offering stand-up comedy workshops for men and women with mental illness to enable them to use humor to give them hope and strength. He showed videos of their performances, and the audience roared with laughter.
In his shows, Granirer relies on self-deprecating humor and jokes to share his mental health journey. He is clear that he never makes fun of those struggling with their own mental health. Rather he shares his truth with humor, and enables others to do likewise. From that, Granirer hopes to reduce the stigma and shame that is still attached to mental illness and those who wrestle with their mental health.
If someone walks to their office with a headache or cold, colleagues offer to pour them a cup of tea or get them some aspirin. A similar approach should be offered to someone who admits to being depressed, anxious or stress.
The truth is, though, that is not often the response.
The same is true of how people treat people with a mental illness, he said. These are not individuals who should be shunned. These are people of all ages, genders, occupations and socio-economic backgrounds who may need medication or therapy to correct their thinking but still have much to offer the world, he said.
The notion that people with mental illness are “crazy,” or that they pose a public hazard or their condition is contagious, is beyond erroneous, Granirer showcases through his comedy.
In the show, Granirer notes that only about 5 percent of crimes are committed by people with a diagnosed mental illness.
“That means that normal people commit 95 percent. So a polite, well-dressed person could snap at any minute,” Granirer said, suggesting with his logic if more people suffered from mental illness there would be less crime.
“The government should have a program to drive people crazy. Oh wait. They do. It’s called your taxes," Granirer jokes.
Throughout Granirer’s more than an hourlong show, he intertwined his brand of comedy with real-life success stories from people who have used his workshops to reestablish their sense of self-worth.
One of the young women tells a joke about the medication Prozac. She said she thinks it would be the perfect medication to give Catholic nuns and priests who might be questioning the tenets of their calling. With one pill, she said, they would be able to be celibate “and happy about it.”
No one should expect to be upbeat at every moment, Granirer said. It is perfectly normal, and healthy, to sometimes be sad, angry, or fearful.
“It just helps to have humor in the mix,” Granirer said.
For Russell and Debby Gasser, Granirer’s show was not just comedy, but a revelation about the importance of humor for everyone’s mental well-being.
“He was very funny, but also inspirational,” Debby Gasser said. “He offered a new perspective on things I never even considered.”
Another audience member, Dr. Paula Greene, a retired Northern Arizona University education professor, suggested his message packs more than a punchline.
“His work is vital,” she concluded.
Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci. Reach her at 928-445-3333 ext. 2041.