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?

May 04

“Grace and Frankie”: Husbands Emerge From the Closet

New Netflix fictional series Grace and Frankie answers the question, What happens to a spouse’s life when her straight—she thinks—husband is not? To complicate matters, he’s already been having an affair with another man—and now they want to get married.

So far, we have an unfortunate but not uncommon kind of scenario—the closeted spouse, the affair(s) before the secret is discovered or disclosed. Add in the fact that in Grace and Frankie the affair has been going on for 20 years.

Starring in Grace and Frankie are Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as the titular characters and Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston as the husbands.

The trailer is designed to represent five stages of change: 1. Shock, 2. Denial, 3. Confusion, 4. Rage, and 5. Reflection:

GRACE AND FRANKIE

Liz Shannon Miller, Indiewire, sees the pilot episode as “painting Fonda and Tomlin pretty bluntly into their stereotypical boxes: Fonda as the tight-laced Type A perfectionist with a fondness for vodka and Tomlin as an easy-going hippie type who freely experiments with substances of all kinds. It’s a classic odd couple pairing that gets leaned on a little hard for its comedy potential.”

John Koblin, New York Times: “Ms. Fonda’s Grace is an uptight 70-year-old former beauty product executive who has rocky relationships with nearly everyone in her life. Ms. Tomlin’s character is a free-spirited hippie who offers painting lessons to ex-cons and dabbles in peyote and pot.”

Dorothy Rabinowitz, Wall Street Journal: “As the title tells, they’re the story here—two women who cordially detest everything about one another’s habits, views, values, working their way toward an alliance. Grace, who once ran a beauty products company and who would rather die of pain wearing killer heels than spoil the look of an outfit, now lives with someone whose clothes reek of pot, and who fills the house with weird chanting and, occasionally, with those ex-convicts. Frankie, immovable, is full of her own lofty contempt.”

THE HUSBANDS AND KIDS

Brian Lowry, Variety:: “…(T)he men offer some quieter moments, ranging from giddiness over being honest about their long-deferred affection to weariness dealing with the fallout. ‘I’m never not going to be coming out, am I?’ Robert says in a later episode of the six previewed.”

“The kids, however, barely register, and there’s too much time spent on Frankie and Sol’s son Coyote (Ethan Embry), a recovering junkie.”

Jan 30

“Bossypants” By Tina Fey, Comic Chronicler of Everyday Problems

Tina Fey‘s bestselling book Bossypants (2011) was released this month in paperback. As described in one review: “Bossypants gets to the heart of why Tina Fey remains universally adored: she embodies the hectic, too-many-things-to-juggle lifestyle we all have, but instead of complaining about it, she can just laugh it off” (Kevin Nguyen, Amazon.com).

Or, as Fey herself writes: “Because I am nothing if not an amazing businesswoman, I researched what kind of content makes for bestselling books. It turns out the answer is ‘one-night stands,’ drug addictions, and recipes. Here, we are out of luck. But I can offer you lurid tales of anxiety and cowardice.”

She says a number of things that I find quite relevant to self-growth and/or mental health issues. For example, on dealing with the childhood trauma of having her face slashed and permanently scarred by a stranger: “I accepted all the attention at face value and proceeded through life as if I really were extraordinary. I guess what I’m saying is, this has all been a wonderful misunderstanding.”

Other quotes from Bossypants on topics of interest:

“My ability to turn good news into anxiety is rivaled only by my ability to turn anxiety into chin acne.”

“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.”

“There are no mistakes, only opportunities.”

“I keep my eyes on the sea, waiting to be rocketed into it on a wave of fire. I’ll be ready for it to happen and that way it won’t happen. It’s a burden, being able to control situations with my hyper-vigilance, but it’s my lot in life.”

In 2010, Fey became only the third woman to ever win the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, arguably the biggest award a comedian in the U.S. can receive. The award, which has been given annually since 1998, was given to Whoopi Goldberg in 2001 and Lily Tomlin in 2003.

When she gave her acceptance speech at the Mark Twain event, she directed the following remarks to her parents in the audience: “They say that funny people often come from a difficult childhood or a troubled family. So to my family, I say, ‘They’re giving me the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor! What did you animals do to me???”

Here’s a watch-worthy clip from her speech: