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 25

“The Out List”: Public Figures Who Are Openly LGBT

On Thursday HBO will premiere a documentary directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders called The Out List, about well-known and/or should-be-known LGBT individuals who are publicly out. The 16 interviewees are Ellen DeGeneres, Wanda Sykes, Neil Patrick Harris, Dustin Lance Black, Lady Bunny, Cynthia Nixon, R. Clark Cooper, Wade Davis, Twiggy Pucci Garcon, Larry Kramer, Janet Mock, Suze Orman, Christine Quinn, Jake Shears, Lupe Valdez, and Wazina London.

The official description of The Out List:

Alternately humorous and poignant, The OUT List features a diverse cross-section of accomplished leaders from entertainment, business, sports and public service sharing intimate stories on childhood, understanding gender and sexuality, building careers while out and reflecting on the challenges still facing the LGBT community. Against the backdrop of historic Supreme Court hearings on same-sex marriage and financial equality, subjects recall joyous moments of acceptance and romance, along with painful instances of intolerance and discrimination, offering unique modern perspectives on being out in America.

Buzzfeed notes that watching this film is “almost as if you are peering into a therapy session. Neil Patrick Harris shares his thoughts on gay parenting, while Lupe Valdez explains how she found herself as the first openly lesbian sheriff in Dallas, Texas. Some of the anecdotes are humorous, and others are heartbreaking, but all reflect upon what it truly means to grow up ‘out’ in America.”

An The Out List trailer can be seen below:

Why is the Out List needed? Why is it important to hear from public figures who disclose their identity or orientation? One main reason is that it helps those who are still struggling with who they are. Other reasons are represented in the following quotes from some who’ve recently emerged from the closet (and aren’t in the documentary):

Anderson Cooper, journalist: “It’s become clear to me that by remaining silent on certain aspects of my personal life for so long, I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something – something that makes me uncomfortable, ashamed or even afraid. This is distressing because it is simply not true. I’ve also been reminded recently that while as a society we are moving toward greater inclusion and equality for all people, the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible. There continue to be far too many incidences of bullying of young people, as well as discrimination and violence against people of all ages, based on their sexual orientation, and I believe there is value in making clear where I stand.”

Jason Collins, pro basketball player: “I want to do the right thing and not hide anymore. I want to march for tolerance, acceptance and understanding. I want to take a stand and say, ‘Me, too.'”

Lana Wachowski (MTF), producer and director: “…(W)hen I was young, I wanted very badly to be a writer, I wanted to be a filmmaker, but I couldn’t find anyone like me in the world and it felt like my dreams were foreclosed simply because my gender was less typical than others…If I can be that person for someone else then the sacrifice of my private civic life may have value.”

Orlando Cruz, boxer: “I want to try to be the best role model I can be for kids who might look into boxing as a sport and a professional career. I have and will always be a proud Puerto Rican. I have always been and always will be a proud gay man.”

Megan Rapinoe, U.S. Olympic soccer player: “I feel like sports in general are still homophobic, in the sense that not a lot of people are out. I feel everyone is really craving [for] people to come out. People want — they need — to see that there are people like me playing soccer for the good ol’ U.S. of A.”

And here’s what one leader and activist said way back in 1978, just months before he was assassinated:

Harvey Milk“Every gay person must come out. As difficult as it is, you must tell your immediate family. You must tell your relatives. You must tell your friends if indeed they are your friends. You must tell the people you work with. You must tell the people in the stores you shop in. Once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and all. And once you do, you will feel so much better.”