Russell Kane: I used to self-harm | Comedian opens up about his irrational outburst of rage

Russell Kane: I used to self-harm

Comedian opens up about his irrational outburst of rage

Russell Kane has spoken for the first time about how he used to self-harm.

The comic said that in his younger days he would hurt himself in piques of rage as a way of feeling some control over whatever situation had triggered his temper.

Speaking on the How To Fail podcast hosted by journalist Elizabeth Day, he told how until recently he concocted ‘cover stories’ to explain scars on his arms, although they were, in reality, self-inflicted.

Kane – who has often campaigned for more open conversations about mental health – said: 'I've not really spoken about this before, which makes me a bit of a hypocrite because I do so much work in this area.

‘I've never been medicated, I've never been diagnosed with depression, I've never had any issues.  But as I got into my mid to late teens, as well as becoming increasingly funny amongst my group in a sort of abnormal way, I was able to hold court.

‘My generation was the rave scene [so I was] probably smoking and eating things I shouldn't have at parties. So who knows, it’s chicken and egg. But I started to get this issue with… say like I couldn't find my keys or if something had gone wrong, and we all lose our temper, we all slam doors or put a mug down too hard or something like that. But it got way past that.

‘Never with people, never in front of people except the poor girlfriends I was trying to date, it was in front of them. I saw just a childish toddler type temper I wasn't able to control that was boiling over and it would manifest itself in the beginning with things I cared about being broken, like a laptop or something.

‘Now this is mostly men, but loads of women will slam a car door or punch a wall now and again, if they're having a really bad day, they'll throw a plate of dinner. I'm not trying to make this as a big dramatic illness or anything, but it kept building and it kept getting worse.

‘Then I was thinking I was just trying to find a safe way for the temper to get out. I discovered that if I hit a wall or hit a book… that quickly got rid of the temper and that was the unfortunate link that was made between me being injured and me gaining control of whatever was going on inside. You can imagine what happened from there on in.

‘The slightly unusual thing is it’s very unusual amongst straight males to this behaviour beyond the age of 14. So I'm sort of ramping up at 14, 15, 16. By the time we get to 21, 22, it really is quite problematic because these are the times where you're drinking way too much, going beyond your limit and then if you had a drunk argument with your boyfriend or girlfriend, a stomp off to me would become a, "let's walk into this window and see what happens" type thing, crazy behaviour.  Lucky enough, the window didn't break. I have got scars up my arms which up till very recently, I had lots of cover stories for about being an enthusiastic pet owner. I can't explain it to you.’

‘Everyone has slammed a door in a temper, I'm assuming you have. Imagine if that slam is not enough, and you want to go back and just keep slamming it till the handle comes off because you've split up with your boyfriend, you've discovered someone's cheating or you pound on a wall until plaster comes out. Everyone's done that. I've just unfortunately taken it to that next level. I was needing to see blood before I felt better. That plagued my 20s I'm afraid.

‘I'm looking at [a scar] now right on my wrist - I hit the metal shutter of a shopfront and hit my wrist, I could have cut my wrist open. I probably would have enjoyed the drama of that.

‘I think when I looked at that it led to more of those feelings you're describing - ah what a loser I've just injured myself. I can't control it. It was a mechanical feeling of enjoying hurting myself to express the fullness of the frustration is the only way I can explain it to you. ‘

He told Day that such outbursts are ‘very common amongst working-class boys. Normally ones that don't have dads, but maybe having too much of a dad can do it’, adding: ‘It can lead to irrational behaviour to hurt oneself. I think I was scared of what I would do if I didn't do that. What could I do? Would I drive a car into a wall? Would I hurt someone else? It was never on my mind. I never felt aggression towards someone else. I don't know what it was.

‘I was having more of these incidents and my partner at the time, lord love her, it must have been horrible for her trying to understand why she's with a grown ass man behaving like this.

‘I just got in from a preview, I was exhausted, we were eating a Chinese takeaway watching something on the TV, unwinding - I'll never forget this. I can't remember what our argument was about, something inconsequential, but she shouted, I shouted and then the temper went like the Incredible Hulk, the shirt rips, the face has gone green.

‘And without thinking - it's funny, really and it will be stand-up one day when I'm ready, so feel free to laugh listener, because I do – I've headbutted my Chinese takeaway food, headbutted my plate in front of me. I've gone down like a comedy face falling into plate.

‘The plate cracked in half and unfortunately, the angle of it has cut into my head. It's quite dramatic if you cut your head, slapstick blood jetting across the room. I've sat down against the wall, not knowing what I've done to myself thinking "Oh, Christ, I've done it, cracked my head open" and the blood has gone into my eye, blinded myself.

‘I'm picking this stuff out which I thought was skull and it was actually – you are allowed to smile – special fried rice. I was picking special fried rice out of my eye thinking it was fragments of skull.

‘I've ended up in casualty and I said to her at the time, "that is it"/ I’ve hospitalised myself for an afternoon, I've got stitches in my head. I lied to everyone, I had to fake that I passed out from exhaustion.

‘I went to Edinburgh to try and win this comedy award which I didn't win that year with stitches in my head While I was up there, I googled something and saw Goldie, the DJ, has similar background to me. He is now going around hugging everyone and smiling like he's taken like a Buddah Pill. He'd done this thing called the Hoffman process. That's when I found out about it… it combines residential therapy with group therapy and talking and so lots of different things that this guy Bob Hoffman threw together. To me, it was the thing that changed my life.’

The comedian also spoke about his compulsion about being honest on stage, saying something as simple as changing his dad’s name made him feel ‘like the words died in my mouth, there’s some sort of polygraph in my tongue that kills the sound as it comes out, and it just doesn't punch to the back of the room with the same degree when I use real names, real stories, real beats’.

He added: ‘Don't get me wrong, I will overperform and embellish the performance in speaking the words of the other actors in those scenes. But there's something about truth which sort of turbocharges the observation as it flies out of my gob.

‘I’ve got this theory about comedy that there's two types of comedian, a type one and type two. The type one comedians will be remembered forever and write brilliant routines that we quote, and we say things like garlic bread, or we quote Bill Hicks or Richard Pryor or something or Hannah Gadsby, and we're still be quoting them in 100 years

‘But then you've got the ones like me, who will disappear in a cloud after death. But we're very, very easy at being funny at being ourselves. So I have a much easier time of it, creating a show. If you and I were at the side of the stage moaning about a sandwich, I would probably go on and talk about that sandwich for five minutes to the audience and make it funny. That's the positive. I've just monetised my personality.’

Speaking more about his relationship with his father, which has informed his stand-up and his memoirs Son of a Silverback, he said: ‘I don't think I experienced [growing up] as dark emotional times. I can't look back and find a single memory of me going "why does my dad constantly invalidate me?" Oh, I'm crying in my bedroom. It's only afterwards, when I got into my 20s I'm like, "that's quite weird and intense the way my dad was".

‘He was an imposing character. He was fond of saying, "I've never hit you, boy…I never laid a finger on you have I now?", as though it was an achievement. Then he would ruin it by going "that's because if I started, I wouldn't fucking stop."

‘So it's a lovely image of physical abuse that would start and never cease until I was a pulp… He was a man that barely needed to raise his voice.

‘I'll never forget on one occasion, I'd gone over the top and thrown my brother off the bed, he landed really badly on his shoulder, and my dad came thumping up the stairs. Just a tiny bit of wee came out – that was the authority of the man who never hit nor raised his voice.

‘I don't know how you have that authority, I suppose a stand up has it to a certain extent, maybe that's where I've learned it. I mean, I don't physically abuse my audience. I don't really shout at them. And yet I very rarely get heckled, so maybe he taught me that.’

• How to Fail With Elizabeth Day is available now on Global Player

Published: 6 Jul 2022

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