Mar 20

Mark Twain Prize: Humorists and Mental Health

The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor has been awarded annually since 1998 to individuals who’ve made us laugh. First was Richard Pryor, followed in chronological order by Jonathan Winters, Carl Reiner, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Newhart, Lily Tomlin, Lorne Michaels, Steve Martin, Neil Simon, Billy Crystal, George Carlin, Bill Cosby, Tina Fey, Will Ferrell, Ellen DeGeneres, Carol Burnett, Jay Leno, Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray, David Letterman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Dave Chappelle, Jon Stewart, and Adam Sandler. On March 24th Kevin Hart will be the proud recipient.

Now, please indulge me as I make the Mark Twain Prize pertinent to Minding Therapy….

EllenDeGeneres, David Letterman, and Neil Simon (1927-2018) have had depression. Jon Stewart has referenced depression, though I don’t know if this was a clinical or looser definition he had in mind.

Both Will Ferrell and Tina Fey have struggled with shyness. Really.

Steve Martin on his history of panic attacks: “(F)or those who have them or had them – I don’t get them anymore, thank God – but it’s a terrifying experience of disassociation from your own self, and it’s a morbid sense of doom and you feel like you’re dying.”

Whoopi Goldberg famously feared flying, apparently because of witnessing a mid-air collision many years ago. It’s been reported that she’s overcome this with the use of a technique called Thought Field Therapy, or TFT.

Jonathan Winters (1925-2013) admitted to having bipolar disorder.

Richard Pryor‘s (1940-2005) substance abuse issues were well known.

As forever-producer of Saturday Night Live, Lorne Michaels has overseen the work of many comedians in trouble with alcohol, drugs, and various mental health issues.

Carol Burnett had alcoholic parents; at least two of her daughters battled serious substance abuse.

The decidedly unfunny real-life predation of Bill Cosby, sexual assaulter, was determined by a psychologist representing a Sexual Offenders Assessment Board to be linked to a personality disorder—but this does not excuse his behavior.

Several of the Mark Twain Prize humorists are known for their portrayals of shrinks or their potential or actual clients:

Bob Newhart not only played Dr. Bob Hartley on popular sitcom The Bob Newhart Show in the 70’s, but a MADtv skit featuring his character’s special brand of brief therapy is probably the most-watched video on this site.

Billy Crystal is the reluctant psychiatrist-to-the-Mob-boss in the movies Analyze This and Analyze That.

Lily Tomlin as Trudy the Bag Lady in Jane Wagner‘s play The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe: “I made some studies, and reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it.” On TV’s Web Therapy, Tomlin played the mom of shrink Fiona Wallice (Lisa Kudrow), who admits her to a mental hospital.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus played a therapist in an episode of Web Therapy.

In the film Reign Over Me (2007), Adam Sandler plays Charlie, who suffers from PTSD and severe grief following the deaths of his family members on 9/11.

Bill Murray was the unstable client in What About Bob?

On her sitcom Ellen, DeGeneres addressed her coming out process with the help of a therapist.

Tina Fey portrayed an alcoholic therapist in the series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

It’s very likely I’ve missed some things. Any readers have anything to add?

Jun 12

“The Bob Newhart Show”: Dr. Hartley, My First TV Therapist

Who was the very first therapist you ever saw on TV? The most memorable? If you’re anywhere close to being from the same era as me, maybe it’s Dr. Hartley (Bob Newhart) of The Bob Newhart Show, which aired from 1972 to 1978 and featured Newhart as a psychologist married to Emily (Suzanne Pleshette).

Now that The Bob Newhart Show is out as a full box DVD set (142 episodes plus special features), some clips have finally been made available. For example, the opening sequence, including the iconic answering of the phone, symbolic of Dr. Bob’s career:

BOB HARTLEY AS SHRINK

Justin Remer, DVD Talk, introduces Hartley: “Dr. Bob, much like his real-life namesake, is mild-mannered and well-equipped for listening…Though we see Bob help a number of wacky visitors over the course of six seasons, including a depressed clown and a ventriloquist whose dummy wants to leave the act, he has a core of patients who meet for group therapy and provide many of the best quips and storylines.”

And now his patients: “These include stone-faced grouch Mr. Carlin (Jack Riley), bespectacled wimp Mr. Peterson (John Fiedler, the voice of Piglet), nasal-voiced overeater Michelle (Renee Lippin), and the ever-knitting Mrs. Bakerman (Florida Friebus). Early seasons also included tough-guy fruitman Mr. Gianelli (Noam Pitlik, replaced by Daniel J. Travanti for one episode), who didn’t continue with the group after the episode ‘Death of a Fruitman’ for obvious reasons. Later, the group would cycle in new neurotics like sloppy dresser Mr. Herd (Oliver Clark) and Mr. Plager (WKRP‘s Howard Hesseman), one of TV’s first explicitly gay characters.”

Todd VanDerWerff, AV Club, calls Carlin “the show’s best character” and “an almost perfect foil for Dr. Hartley, his dark, dour demeanor acting like a funhouse-mirror version of his therapist.”

The scenes between the two can feel like minimalist one-act plays at times, with Newhart and Riley bouncing off of each other in barely varying monotones that take on the vibe of complex business negotiations disguised as therapy sessions. In Carlin and Hartley, the show found two very similar men who looked at the dehumanizing state of American society of the ’70s and chose wildly different reactions. Hartley, an optimist, chose to believe people could improve themselves; Carlin, a pessimist, was pretty sure they never would.

BOB AND EMILY

Todd VanDerWerff, AV Club, chooses the couple’s dynamics as the best part of The Bob Newhart Show:

…(T)he relationship between the two is the thing about the show that most feels like something no network executive would ever greenlight today. The two are deeply in love, and reading between the lines of their dialogue also reveals they’re having lots of sex…There’s nothing they love so much as ribbing each other with jokes that would be acidic in lesser hands but feel affectionate coming from the mouths of Newhart and Pleshette. What’s more, the two don’t have children and rarely discuss having them…The Hartleys are eternally childless, finding their fulfillment in their professional lives and each other, building a marriage that’s more about finding a solid partner to navigate life with than anything else.

Jul 10

Laughter in Therapy: Important Quotes That Support It

If laughter‘s so good for us, why is laughter in therapy—on either side of the process—sometimes regarded as bad? (Naturally, in questioning this I’m referring only to the healthy, not-hurtful kind of laughter.)

Some quotes by well-known folks who’ve appreciated laughter:

Mark Twain: When you laugh, your mind, body, and spirit change.

Madeleine L’EngleA good laugh heals a lot of hurts. 

Lord Byron: Always laugh when you can, it is cheap medicine. 

Bob Hope: I have seen what a laugh can do. It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful.

Victor Borge: Laughter is the shortest distance between two people

Lucy Maud Montgomery: Life is worth living as long as there’s a laugh in it.

Bob Newhart: Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.

Ethel Barrymore: You grow up on the day you have your first real laugh at yourself.

William James: We don’t laugh because we’re happy – we’re happy because we laugh.

Robert Frost: If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.

And then there’s character Daryl Stone from my own novel Minding Therapy: “I shyly laugh, inwardly praying she won’t be one of those shrinks who would rid me of my favorite coping mechanism. Sure humor’s a defense – so what?”

LET’S BACK THIS UP WITH SOME RESEARCH

For further details about any of the following snippets, click on the corresponding resource link.

Melanie Winderlich, Discovery, reports scientific reasons why laughter is healthy: it decreases stress, helps coping skills, and boosts your social skills, among other things.

Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project: “Laughter is more than just a pleasurable activity…When people laugh together, they tend to talk and touch more and to make eye contact more frequently.”

Psychologist Ofer ZurThe Zur Instituteasserts that laughter in therapy is cathartic.

Apr 05

The Psychology of Humor: Some Quotes That Sum It Up

A long time ago I eagerly enrolled for an evening course on the psychology of humor. The teacher mixed theory with some stand-up comedy—unfortunately, both the info and the routines fell flat. And although I’m still always drawn to this topic, whenever I try to read about new humor research, it just bores me. What’s wrong with this picture?

Writer E. B. White once said:

Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.

Well, at least I still enjoy good quotes. The following are about the psychology of humor, or the way that laughter and humor help us cope:

Mark Twain, humorist: Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.

Erma Bombeck, author and humorist: There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.

Robert Frost, poet: If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.

Arnold Glasow, humorist: Laughter is a tranquilizer with no side effects.

Erica Jong, author: Humor is one of the most serious tools we have for dealing with impossible situations.

Frank Howard Clark, screenwriter: I think the next best thing to solving a problem is finding some humor in it.

Dr. Wayne Dyer, writer and speaker and “father of motivation”: It is impossible for you to be angry and laugh at the same time. Anger and laughter are mutually exclusive and you have the power to choose either.

Bob Newhart, comedian: Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.

Norman Cousins, political journalist and author: Laughter is inner jogging.

Henry Ward Beecher, minister and author/lecturer: A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It’s jolted by every pebble on the road.

Will Durst, comedian and political satirist: Comedy is defiance. It’s a snort of contempt in the face of fear and anxiety. And it’s the laughter that allows hope to creep back on the inhale.

Mahatma Gandhi, leader: If I had no sense of humor, I would long ago have committed suicide.

Sep 09

Bob Newhart As Brief Therapist in Hilarious Spoof: “Stop It!”

Before Fiona Wallice‘s (Lisa Kudrow) three-minute sessions on Web Therapy, there was Bob Newhart as a shrink offering a different brand of brief therapy called “Stop It!”

In the Madtv comedy sketch of several years ago, the shrink played by Bob Newhart is considerably more old-fashioned. Whereas Fiona takes advantage of the internet, not seeing her clients in person, Newhart’s shrink sits behind his desk, his client on the other side. Mo Collins plays the bewildered, not-at-all-amused client.

For those of you short on time, you’ll need over six minutes to watch the full clip below—longer, actually, than the type of therapy advocated by this shrink. If for some reason you’d rather read the script, scroll down below the video:

According to Realtime Transcription, the following is the actual script featuring Bob Newhart as Dr. Switzer:

KATHERINE: Dr. Switzer?
DR. SWITZER (Bob Newhart): Yes, come in. I’m just washing my hands.
KATHERINE: I’m Katherine Bigmans. Janet Carlisle referred me.
DR. SWITZER: Oh, yes. You dream about being buried alive in a box.
KATHERINE: Yes, that’s me. Should I lay down?
DR. SWITZER: No, we don’t do that anymore. Just have a seat and let me tell you a bit about our billing. I charge five dollars for the first five minutes and then absolutely nothing after that. How does that sound?KATHERINE: That sounds great. Too good to be true as a matter of fact.
DR. SWITZER: Well, I can almost guarantee you that our session won’t last the full five minutes. Now, we don’t do any insurance billing, so you would either have to pay in cash or by check.
KATHERINE: Wow. Okay.
DR. SWITZER: And I don’t make change.
KATHERINE: All right.
DR. SWITZER: Go.
KATHERINE: Go?
DR. SWITZER: Tell me about the problem that you wish to address.
KATHERINE: Oh, okay. Well, I have this fear of being buried alive in a box. I just start thinking about being buried alive and I begin to panic.
DR. SWITZER: Has anyone ever tried to bury you alive in a box?
KATHERINE: No. No, but truly thinking about it does make my life horrible. I mean, I can’t go through tunnels or be in an elevator or in a house, anything boxy.
DR. SWITZER: So, what you are saying is you are claustrophobic?
KATHERINE: Yes, yes, that’s it.
DR. SWITZER: All right. Well, let’s go,Katherine. I’m going to say two words to you right now. I want you to listen to them very, very carefully. Then I want you to take them out of the office with you and incorporate them into your life.
KATHERINE: Shall I write them down?
DR. SWITZER: No. If it makes you comfortable. It’s just two words. We find most people can remember them.
KATHERINE: Okay.
DR. SWITZER: You ready?
KATHERINE: Yes.
DR. SWITZER: Okay. Here they are. Stop it!
KATHERINE: I’m sorry?
DR. SWITZER: Stop it!
KATHERINE: Stop it?
DR. SWITZER: Yes. S-T-O-P, new word, I-T.
KATHERINE: So, what are you saying?
DR. SWITZER: You know, it’s funny, I say two simple words and I cannot tell you the amount of people who say exactly the same thing you are saying. I mean, you know, this is not Yiddish, Katherine. This is English. Stop it.
KATHERINE: So I should just stop it?
DR. SWITZER: There you go. I mean, you don’t want to go through life being scared of being buried alive in a box, do you? I mean, that sounds frightening.
KATHERINE: It is.
DR. SWITZER: Then stop it.
KATHERINE: I can’t. I mean it’s —
DR. SWITZER: No, no, no. We don’t go there. Just stop it.
KATHERINE: So, I should just stop being afraid of being buried alive in a box?
DR. SWITZER: You got it. Good girl. Well, it’s only been three minutes, so that will be three dollars.
KATHERINE: Actually, I only have five so —
DR. SWITZER: Well, I don’t make change.
KATHERINE: Then I guess I’ll take the full five minutes.
DR. SWITZER: Fine. All right. What other problems would you like to address?
KATHERINE: I’m bulimic. I stick my fingers down my throat.
DR. SWITZER: Stop it! Are you a nut of some kind? Don’t do that.
KATHERINE: But I’m compelled to. My mom used to call —
DR. SWITZER: No, no. We don’t go there.
KATHERINE: But I —
DR. SWITZER: No, we don’t go there either.
KATHERINE: But my horoscope did say —
DR. SWITZER: We definitely don’t go there. Just stop it.What else?
KATHERINE: Well, I have self-destructive relationships with men.
DR. SWITZER: Stop it! You want to be with a man, don’t you?
KATHERINE: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm, yes.
DR. SWITZER: Well, then, stop it. Don’t be such a big baby.
KATHERINE: I wash my hands a lot.
DR. SWITZER: That’s all right.
KATHERINE: It is?
DR. SWITZER: I wash my hands all the time. There’s a lot of germs out there. Don’t worry about that one.
KATHERINE: I’m afraid to drive.
DR. SWITZER: Well stop it. How are you going to get around? Get in the car and drive you, you kook. Stop it.
KATHERINE: You stop it. You stop it.
DR. SWITZER: What’s the problem, Katherine?
KATHERINE: I don’t like this. I don’t like this therapy at all. You are just telling me to stop it.
DR. SWITZER: And you don’t like that?
KATHERINE: No, I don’t.
DR. SWITZER: So you think we are moving too fast, is that it?
KATHERINE: Yes. Yes, I do.
DR. SWITZER: All right. Then let me give you ten words that I think will clear everything up for you. You want to get a pad and a pencil for this one?
KATHERINE: All right.
DR. SWITZER: Are you ready?
KATHERINE: Mm-hmm.
DR. SWITZER: All right. Here are the ten words: Stop it or I’ll bury you alive in a box!