Why comedy is the best medicine

by Stephen Sinclair

I have a theory that stand-up comedy is a genuine therapy, tha works just as well as acupuncture or baths of mud.

I think I realised this in Edinburgh in March., watching Doug Stanhope’s only UK gig this year. During his all-too brief set, he spoke bout how we take life far to seriously, and that things were rarely as bad as they seemed. This seemed to strike a chord with the crowd. Nobody was laughing, but it seemed everyone was pleased to hear a stranger remind them that life could sometimes seem like too much.

It was a little mad that what we were hearing was pigeonholed only as ‘comedy’, when it seemed to be more. Later Stanhope, pictured confessed to sleepless nights due to his overactive, depressed, paranoid mind. Once again, there was almost a universal sigh of relief and recognition from the audience. It was amazing to hear that you weren’t alone or weird, and that being down sometimes was something that could be joked about, not ignored or be ashamed of.

We walked away from that gig clear headed and refreshed. We didn’t have little needles stabbed into our backs, we didn’t have red hot stones resting on our spines, and we didn’t have a creepy fat man in with a beard attempt to hypnotize us while he raided our pockets. We felt like we’d had therapy,, simply through laughing and relating. We went home with new views on old problems.

Clearly not all comedy has this effect. There are plenty of beginner comedians who are about as therapeutic as riding a drunk bear through a neo-Nazi rally. Or the comedians who decide that the best form of entertainment is to take the piss out of you until you’re a gibbering wreck, pretending to laugh when he points out you have a hunchback and facial warts. But bear in mind, for everyone else that night, it was a form of therapy.

Stand-up is the last pure form of entertainment. Music will always change with fashion, leaving old folks startled and confused like donkeys on dodgems , but a knob gag, or an accurate observation works regardless of who you are. I genuinely think that watching Jerry Sadowitz live for an hour has the same effect as 12 bottles of Radox. It’s a therapy in that you realize you’re not alone with you’re weird thoughts and internal dialogue, and for the time you’re watching your comedian of choice , you’re not a weirdo.

And anything that can make you feel at ease with the world should be considered a genuine, legal therapy. That’s why stand-up comedy should come on the NHS.

Published: 14 Dec 2007

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