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Friday, December 19, 2014

Mental illness no handicap for comedy

news@dailylobo.com

Laughter is the best medicine — even for mental illnesses, said Jim Ogle, president of the Albuquerque division of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Ogle said that NAMI, in association with Vancouver-based comedian and counselor David Granirer, will present Stand Up for Mental Health, a comedy event in which six local stand-up comics with mental illnesses will share their experiences and make the audience laugh.

“Laughter is helpful for all diseases,” Granirer said. “Research has basically shown that.”

The event will take place in the African American Performing Arts Center at EXPO New Mexico on Tuesday. Admission is $5 at the door, and parking is free.

Ogle said the event aims to help people understand that people with mental illnesses should be treated normally instead of being pitied. He said this will help with their recovery.

“Part of it is to help with the stigma problem that mental illnesses have by people who actually have mental illness making fun of it themselves,” he said. “But also, it takes people who are participating and helps build up their ego and their belief that they can do things, which is part of the recovery process.”

Ogle said Granirer approached NAMI earlier this year about the event, which Granirer has been performing nationwide in larger cities such as Seattle, and the organization liked the idea. Ogle said Granirer then trained local stand-up comics via Skype for several months.

Marion Crouse, one of the performers trained by Granirer, said she aims to share her experiences with mental health through her humor. She said that she will turn characteristics of her paranoid schizophrenia into jokes.

“Mostly I have delusions … especially before I started taking meds,” she said. “I believed things that are not true. And those are going to be part of my jokes.”

Crouse said that she was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1997, while she was in the Navy, and that she battled the illness through her college life at UNM. She said laughter makes it easier to cope with schizophrenia.

“One of the NAMI principles of support is that we embrace humor as healthy,” she said. “To have a sense of humor with things I can’t get rid of is the best way to go.”

Although Crouse admitted the jokes may be offensive, she said the event serves as an inspiration to people who have mental illnesses.

“We won’t be making fun of mental illness — these are not self-deprecating jokes,” she said. “These are kind of like making a silver lining in the clouds of mental illness.”

Ogle said that the six performers, some of whom he refused to identify, are living proof that mental illness is not the end of someone’s life.

“There is some possibility to go up and recover and do other things,” he said. “Who knows? One or two of them may end up becoming professional stand-up comics.”

Ogle said the event will encourage people to interact normally with people with mental illnesses.

“It’s a different kind of comedy,” he said. “It’s about mental illness. You see people laughing at it, (but) you don’t hear many people laughing with people who have mental illness.”

Although it is not easy, Ogle said that people with mental illnesses should be brave enough to talk about their conditions as a first step to recovery.

“First of all, you need to get up and talk about it,” he said. “You can laugh about it — at the various things and aspects about it — because there is recovery.”

Crouse said self-acceptance will ultimately lead to acceptance from other members of the community.

“I think that acceptance is a big step toward recovery,” she said. “It’s best to not think of it as the end of life fulfillment. We’re just regular people with brain disease.”

Stand Up for Mental Health
Tuesday
Doors open at 6 p.m.

African American Performing Arts Center at
EXPO New Mexico
310 San Pedro Dr. NE
$5 at the door