Many people (who don’t know about the Stand Up For Mental Health program I posted about yesterday) presume that people who perform stand-up comedy are inherently happy people—perhaps because our response to them makes us feel happy. But specialized therapy for comedians is needed because they too have their share of underlying issues.
Often not so. There’s Richard Jeni (1957-2007), for example, who committed suicide, and Greg Giraldo (1965-2010), who had struggled with substance abuse issues and died of an accidental overdose. These are just two of the better known comics who’ve died as a direct result of their mental health issues; there are many others with serious emotional problems who either haven’t died or who are lesser known.
But feelings about the tragic deaths of the two men noted above were apparently quite instrumental in the creation of a relatively new program at Laugh Factory, a top comedy club in Los Angeles, that now allows comics to seek therapy consultations, pro bono, right there at the club.
Jamie Masada, the long-time owner of Laugh Factory, is also a philanthropist. One of his longstanding projects, started in 1985, has been a summer comedy camp for underprivileged kids. Known to be a true believer in “laughter is the best medicine,” Masada has now found a way for stand-up comics—who help heal others through laughter—to receive their own healing. And from the numbers, apparently it is a needed service. A little over a month after the program started last winter, it was reported that about 80 comedians had already availed themselves of therapy.
Does being a comedian cause mental health issues or are people with mental health issues drawn to becoming comedians? Deborah Vankin reports in the L.A. Times that Ildiko Tabori, one of the two therapists who treats the comics, “…can only speculate about the chicken-and-egg question — whether it’s the pressure of being a stand-up comedian that leads to depression and other emotional problems, or whether certain personality types are drawn to stand-up as a profession in the first place. She suspects it’s a little of both.”
One well-known comedian who has offered patrons of the Laugh Factory her gift of warm and gentle humor, Ellen DeGeneres, experienced her own problems, including depression and anger, following her coming-out sitcom episode in the late 1990’s.
Her life has changed significantly since then. She’s now married to actress Portia De Rossi, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show has aired since 2003 and has been a huge success.