Stand-up comedy: is it just for laughs or does it have a deeper meaning

The world is suffocating in sad, depressing news at the moment. Another life-wrecking storm, worrying UN reports on climate change and a president in the United States who is a divisive figure, to say the least. How can we keep our spirits up and a smile on our face amongst all this doom and gloom? Is stand-up comedy the answer?

Connecting comedy to our positive mental health is not something we truly consider. However, watching stand-up can relieve our everyday stresses, pull our attention away from our mobile phones, and let us simply laugh. I spoke to comedians Adam Burke and Marise Gaughan on their distinctive approaches to stand-up, and how it has impacted their positive mental health.

“I’m not trying to change the world with my comedy,” laughs Irish comedian Adam Burke.

Burke is currently touring his The Big Happy Head On Ya tour, with shows at the Vodafone Comedy Carnival Galway forthcoming. In the show, Burke jokes about daily anecdotes, but he also talks about positive mental health. Speaking on a personal note, Burke says: “I delve in deep into mental health and comedy and the connection between both, because it’s an area I’m interested in … I’ve written a show that’s loosely based on mental health and that’s why some of our shows have supported mental health charities.”

Burke, a comedian by night and youth worker by day, shares his opinions on how, or if, stand-up comedy impacts our society and mental health. Burke says: “It [comedy] is just a form of entertainment and light relief … comedy is a form of escapism.” Although Burke does not think comedy impacts our society on a large scale.

“People should put it [comedy] into their daily routines and regular practices that help them to be happy.”

Burke has been performing comedy for the past 12 years. As well as stand-up, Burke hosts comedy nights in various comedy clubs around the country.  Burke is also the founder of Hardy Har Comedy Club and co-founder of Bray Comedy Festival. He continues: “It [comedy] hugely impacts my personal life and happiness, most performers will feel the same way.”

Burke admits he does have good mental health and as material for his show, he explores the little things he does which have positive effects on his outlook. In the show, the comedian covers the five-a-day for a positive mental health, such as physical fitness. He says: “So you are leaving with a little bit of learning without even realising it.”

On a final note from Burke exploring comedy on a deeper level, he says: “I love when people look at comedy as something more than just someone with a microphone trying to make people laugh.”

Darkness into light

“I know it [stand-up] helps me, because if you laugh it makes whatever the problem is a lot easier. But there’s some people that do not find darkness funny,” says Marise Gaughan.

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Gaughan’s comedy has a distinctly dark focus // Instagram @mariseg

Gaughan focuses on dark comedy, her show Drowning shows her truly unique approach to comedy. The show was initially based on her father’s struggle with mental health and suicide, before Gaughan brought herself into the show. “It became more of a show about me and my mental health problems, it is a comedy show with light-hearted parts in it, but in general it’s a very heavy, dark show.” Gaughan performed Drowning at the Dublin Fringe Festival in September and aims to bring it to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe next year.

Gaughan, a Dublin based stand-up, does not think stand-up comedy impacts our society, she says: “It’s probably the only art that people do not consider, especially in Ireland, people don’t really care about stand-up.

“All the people that are great comedians in Ireland are barely making a living from it, or are not making a living … I don’t think Ireland respects it as a craft.”

How has stand-up comedy helped and impacted Marise? “It’s been the best and the worst thing for me, I don’t think it really helps with your mental health exactly because it’s the most rejecting thing you can do … when it’s great, it’s the best thing ever. I don’t think if you have bad mental health you should start stand-up comedy.”

In comparison to Burke, Gaughan does not think it’s important to explore a deeper meaning in comedy. “Comedy is whatever you want it to be … I don’t think comedy needs to be deeper in order for it to matter. I know I’m doing a show about it [mental health], but people mainly write from their personal experiences,” she says.

There are some comedians using stand-up to voice political opinions or trying to enforce change. However, it’s refreshing to see Irish stand-ups using comedy to talk about mental health, one of the biggest topics in our country at the moment, and using their craft to benefit their own positive mental health.


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