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Maureen and her time on the Stand Up To Stigma programme...

Stand Up To Stigma – September – October 2014

I have always had a penchant for making people laugh – jokes, impersonations, silly walks and so on – it makes them feel better, makes me feel better, and breaks down many barriers. Laughter is an effective distraction technique against the darkness that can descend into our lives, and can provide an alternative perspective on a situation. Plus, the diaphragm also gets a most excellent workout! I have also successfully introduced humour, with good effect, into some of the blackest moments of the therapeutic journey, in my work as a counselor.

I was reared on a televisual feast of comedy shows and sit-coms, and my dad regularly did stand-up comedy and pantomime performances, in local pubs and clubs, so ‘being funny’ became the ‘norm’ for me. I frequently fantasised about starring in a sit-com or sketch show. The nearest I came to this, was when, as a performing arts student, I played ‘Mrs Bracegirdle’, a formidable and cantankerous character, in a college production called “Tis A Pity She’s A C’untry Wife” (yes, that IS the correct spelling, well for this raucous ‘romp’ at any rate!). So when the chance to do a stand-up comedy course came along, how could I not take part?

For about seven weeks, my nerves were shaken and shattered. The stench of fear hung heavy in the air and the sales of Andrex increased exponentially, as I realised stand-up to be THE most potent laxative EVER! Sam Avery and Ann Farrar, the fantastically funny facilitators, put us through our paces, encouraging us to stand up and speak, use the microphone, write our own material, and finally, perform actual live gigs!!! Yes, I did TWO! It was a nerve-racking, nightmarish hell! But paradoxically, I enjoyed every sweat-induced moment.

The gigs were aimed at raising awareness around mental health as part of the ‘Stand-Up to Stigma’ campaign. We have all be affected by mental health, directly or indirectly, and my life had been affected for several years. I had been caring for my daughter who was struggling with self-harm, and we were also inspired to set up a support network called ‘No Secrets’ It felt a little disrespectful at first, to make jokes about any aspect of mental health, but it worked out just fine, and no offensive material was used by anyone. On the contrary, some of the others on the course, spoke of their own personal struggles with mental health issues, and rich seams of talent for writing and performing were revealed, as reflected in the uproarious laughter from the audiences. And, some of these first-time performers, are now progressing on to greater things (you know who you are!). The feedback I was given after the gigs, was truly amazing, and I was left feeling empowered by the whole experience. It certainly had a powerful effect on my confidence and self-esteem, and brought about a fundamental shift in own sense of self.

A special camaraderie developed between the course participants, with firm friendships being formulated as a result. I would highly recommend doing a comedy course to anyone and everyone; it’s one of THE best things I have ever done – I may even do another one if another opportunity presents itself!


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