COMEDY AS THERAPY

Utilising the power of learning stand-up comedy for Community Benefit.

Comedy-as-Therapy-Logo

The Background

People often look upon stand comedy as a tough job that that most people wouldn’t want to do, heavily featuring in 90% of people’s top ten fears.
The irony of this is that most of us practise comedy every day. We perform every time we come home from work to answer the “How was your day darling” question, we use jokes, exaggerate reality, change names for confidentiality and will practise our big reveal in the car on the way home. We don’t offer the truth, but we talk our truth about our experience. This is the act of controlling our narrative, a way of exploring the trauma of our everyday life by the retelling of our experience.
Comedy On Referral shows people how to consciously use comedy to change our experience of our world, create stand-up comedy in written and performed modes and use this process to help us recover from trauma.

This special course is borne out of a year -long research project to find out the effects of comedy as a therapeutic device on people’s wellbeing and mental health. This 6-week course (Initially piloted with SPEAR-The Wellspring Social Prescribing for Equality and Resilience Team in Bristol) took clients through the writing, performance and analysis of using their personal stories to create a 5-minute stand-up comedy set.
These patients were referred by the social prescribing team who felt that their recovery from an array of issues which are impacting their wellbeing may be helped with stand-up comedy therapy.

Comedy On Referral enables people, through group work, 1-1 work with a comedian and games to explore elements of their life that they would like to analyse through comedy.

The Context

Arts therapy exists in the UK to act as a complimentary therapy to help people to explore and recover from confusing or distressing emotional issues. Art therapy is used in private practise and in NHS. It combines therapeutic techniques with art forms such as visual art and drama to aid people’s wellbeing. Comedy therapy will similarly help people to explore blocks and emotional issues in their life using the process of stand-up comedy creation.

The personal context of this work is that after working with comedy students over 10 years, students often remark that they feel stronger, more resilient, and happier through exploring their personal histories through stand-up comedy. Comedy On Referral has gathered quantitative and qualitative data to prove that the models, exercises, and games used in a stand-up comedy course can help people to recover from emotional problems such as Mental illness, post-natal depression, PTSD and anxiety disorders.

The Course

The course takes people through the steps needed to create a 5-minute comedy set. This includes.

  • The exploration of their stand-up comedy persona and how it relates to your real self.
  • The understanding of how to use a situation, thought or belief as a starting block for writing comedy.
  • How to engineer situations to create funnier anecdotes.
  • How to use comedic devices to make your stories funny.
  • How to use your body, voice and breath to bring your story to an audience.
  • How to use their new- found confidence and skills to perform, using techniques to use and counteract nerves and anxiety to use a microphone and stage.
  • How to take your newly found “Inner Comedian” into the real world as a coping mechanism.

The Case

The project has been used by organisations such as prisons, wellbeing colleges, recovery centres and other organisations who help people who have experienced detriment to their mental health and wellbeing.
There is also increasingly large amount of people seeking help for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), of which the trigger fact traumatic event in life such as sexual or physical assault, death of a loved one, an accident, serious mental conditions, war, or natural disaster.

PTSD is a common health condition in the UK with it is reach totalling 8 million people in any given year. The statistics show:

• 70 percent of adults experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime.
• 20 percent of people who experience a traumatic event will develop PTSD.
• 1 in 13 people will develop PTSD at some point in their life.

Comedy Therapy, like other art therapies, acknowledges that medical intervention is the first call for people seeking help for PTSD, mental health issues and anxiety but wants to offer this different, fun and enlightening art form to improve mental health for people who feel their symptoms are stable but ongoing.

The Role of Comedy in Recovery

The role of watching comedy and its effect on our body and brain is well documented, the release of endorphins provides the body with a hit of dopamine, its effects enable us to feel good, want to reach out more and helps us feel closer to each other and the subjects being spoken about on stage.

The role of Stand-up Comedy coaching however makes this process one of longer lasting feelings of euphoria and control, the connection of comedy and our real-world experience makes thing personal and the sustained analysis of a lives for comedic purposes helps our trauma to be more manageable as the story becomes one of validation and redemption rather than an unpleasant experience.

Comedy has shown to be an effective method to get people to open about their mental health and therefore encourages people to seek support. Comedy has also proven to reduce the stigma and shame surrounding postnatal depression and birth trauma, (Jones 2014, Modifying attitudes to mental health using comedy as a delivery medium.) The watching of comedy as also well documented to help serving military and ex servicemen in a sense, there is a community built around that which is funny, “The necessary stimulus for laughter is not a joke, but another person, the joke is only a catalyst while the fuel for laughter is the laughter from those around you. There’s an implicit connection between a joke teller, an individual listener, and the audience as a whole” Dr. Robert Provine, (neuroscientist and laugh expert).

A report from the Royal College of Psychiatrists has said that almost 200,000 young people have been referred to mental health services in the past three months, almost double the level before the pandemic. The government is to give £17 million to boost mental health support to help pupils.

Research shows that laughter reduces cortisol levels, the body’s main stress hormone, and raises the production of endorphins, which boosts feelings of happiness and reduces pain and stress. Laughter can also strengthen the immune system.

Comedy, and its siblings of joy and play have a need place in the experience of humanity and is a basic need of people to process struggle and trauma. Psychoanalysts such as William Glasser place it within his list of needs and while recognising that not everyone needs comedy to the same degree, everyone has some need for fun in their life.

Managing Trauma Outcomes

Managing Trauma Outcomes:

Comedy On Referral enables people to:

  • Feel better equipped to deal with life changes and more resilient to new trauma as they know how to use comedy mindfulness.
  • Feel in control of their past narrative by owning the feelings and story of their life.
  • Feel less burdened by anxiety and fear in their lives.
  • Feel less alone and isolated due to the feelings and comradery of meeting others in a group setting.

The project will enable people to learn:

  • How to explore their role in trauma through becoming the narrator and activist rather than the victim of their life.
  • How to write a story about yourself.
  • How to use comedic devices to bring your life experiences to an audience.
  • How to use your body, voice and breath to perform your story.

Community Outcomes:

  • The ripple effect of listening to other people explore and own their narrative encourages others to open up, seek help and to negate feelings of shame and regret.
  • The sharing of stories makes a political statement about their situation making it safer for change to happen on a wider scale.
  • Soft skills outcomes
    People will be learning a new art form which involves, story writing, joke creation, theatrical performance techniques and working as a team.
  • Transferable skill outcomes
    The skills learnt can be applied to writing, presentation skills for job interviews, networking skills and social interaction.

How Does it Work?

The course will support people to explore:

• Who they are and how this would relate to their on-stage comedy persona?
• What their story is and how they to change the world because of their experiences
• How to write and perform so that people will listen
• How to create engaging, informative and entertaining comedy routines based on their life experiences.
• How to use the comedy resilience model to improve outcomes of future traumas
• How to use a stage to make an impact with an audience.