I’ve just done a short interview for a local magazine. It’s in relation to me doing my show on mental health next month. I thought it might be of interest as some common misconceptions about mental health and comedy come up in it. i’ve tried to answer as concisely as possible…
1.You’ve been a comedian for 18 years – how did you become a comedian in the first place? What does your material focus on? How has being a comedian worked well for you (and maybe not so much) as a career?
I became a comedian after attending a short comedy workshop with The Stand Comedy Club in Edinburgh in 1999. My material has shifted all over the place in the time I’ve done it. I started out as a camp comedian, changed to a very Scots Nationalist comedian, moved on to full time corporate comedian, switched from that to anti-establishment voice of dissent and am now the brutally honest mental health comedian. I’m a bit like a Bowie of the Stand Up world. Being a comic has been great for me, it was my full time job for 14 years before I recently took up a degree in Theatre and script writing. I’m not famous, but that’s more down to the fact that every bit of comedy you see on telly is controlled by four London Agencies, many of us oop north have no connection with that scene . Also what I do isn’t really in vogue. Perhaps if I wrote more about being an everyday bloke and trips to B and Q I might break through.
Delusions deals with your ‘misdiagnosis of schizophrenia at 24 and correct diagnosis of bipolar disorder at 32, and what happened in the intervening years’. What made you decide to write material about these years? Why is now the right time? Is it because mental health is becoming more widely talked about across the UK? How does it affect your own mental health to talk about/revisit this time in such a public/exposed/vulnerable setting?
Two years ago I was doing a night with some other comics about mental health. I’d never spoken about my long term issues publicly before. After the show I was approached by a young man who was a dentist and he’d just been diagnosed with schizophrenia. I could see me being open about such stuff had, had a real impact on him so I decided to do a show about it. I was concerned about revisiting these things in depth, and that it may have a negative impact on me, but I remained stable. I was pretty stunned at the positive feedback the show got from other service users and mental health professionals. So I’ll keep doing it.
It’s widely known that many comedians suffer from mental health issues and yet rarely talk about mental health in their shows. Why is that, do you think? Is it because it’s too close to home? Or because this is a serious issue that they shouldn’t be poking fun at?
I can understand where this question comes from. Cases like Spike Milligan and Stephen Fry are well documented, but it’s a big misconception. I know over two hundred live comedy comedians and apart from one other, I’m the only one with a long term mental health condition. Yes you’ll find depression and anxiety among the comedy community, but no more than you would find it every day society. In short people don’t want to be open about these things because the stigma associated is still hugely prevalent. As for not being able to poke fun at it, I feel as someone who has experienced these things, that it is my absolute right to make jokes about these things. You wouldn’t expect a comedian from an ethnic minority not to mention their identity.
Why do so many comedians suffer from mental health issues? Or is it the other way around – why do so many people with mental health issues make such good comedians?
Again, I know where this comes from. The perception of the clown who’s crying on the inside is very common, but it’s a misconception. When my mental health was really bad I was unable to write for over two years. I also had a long two year period of suffering delusional psychosis, so just turning up for a gig could be a huge challenge. Statistically only about 12%of people with my diagnosis function in the everyday world (so I’ve read, but I take such info with a pinch of salt). So people who are mentally ill make as good comedians as they make good astronauts. It was when I got well that I started to get good at my job. Yes there’s a creative spark that comes with Bipolar disorder, but untreated it will be all over the place and incoherent. Admittedly it was when I was without treatment that I first got up on stage, but I’m not sure you can equate that with normal or even positive behaviour.
So you’re performing three shows from 21 March – 23 March at Alphabetti Theatre in Newcastle. What makes Alphabetti the right venue for you? And why Newcastle? Do you have experience of Newcastle audiences? How do you think they will respond to your latest show?
I’ve lived in Newcastle for 14 years, so yes I’m very experienced with the audiences. I love the type of crowd who attend Alphabetti. They’re a bunch of fringe arty types and that’s perfect for what I do. I’m hoping my ‘home’ crowd will respond to the show as well as people from all over the place have.
‘It’s not only the mad who suffer from delusions.’ Is this show specifically going to appeal to those with mental health issues or is there something in there for everyone?
No, it has a broader range. As well as the mental health stuff there’s still my usual ferocious attacks on the established way of things. It wouldn’t really be a John Scott show if I didn’t do that.
Do you ever wish you were ‘normal’ (as if there is such a thing!) and could lead a normal life?
That’s a good question. Nine years ago when I responded well to a treatment for my condition I found myself saying that out loud, ‘I feel normal again’. Normal for me is feeling relaxed and focused, it’s not staying awake for days on end not being able to switch off my thought process, it’s seeing there’s a top and a bottom to everything, it’s not feeling suicidal, it’s not having delusions that I’m caught up in a massive conspiracy, it’s being able to switch off, it’s being able to rationalise. So I’m delighted to ‘feel’ normal. But if you were to ask am I a ‘normal’ person? I don’t think there’s such a thing, with or without a mental health condition, and hurrah for that.