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Standup comics get people laughing but they're serious about mental health

Student-organized amateur comedy event Jan. 23 brings sense of humour to the conversation about mental well-being
January 20, 2017
Sarah Park

Sarah Park, third-year health sciences student at the University of Calgary and co-president of the Mental Health Awareness Club. 

Michael Broadfoot

Michael Broadfoot, former University of Calgary psychology/biological sciences student. Photo by Chris Blackstock 

Eve Gifteas

Eve Gifteas, psychology student in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Calgary.

What started as a brainstorm between Michael Broadfoot, a former psychology and biological sciences student at the University of Calgary, and Derek Wilken, a professional comedian and comedy trainer, has evolved into Standing Up for Your Mental Health, an event taking place on Jan. 23 in partnership with the Mental Health Awareness (MHA) Club and the Distress Centre on Campus Club (DCC). 

Broadfoot has been an active member of the student-led MHA Club for many years and approached them to make this event a reality. He believes in the power of humour and laughter to create a conversation. “I always felt like the real details of people's mental health are often hidden behind a fear of judgment. When you add humour as an ingredient, topics become easier to talk about,” he says.

“What is socially acceptable in a serious sense is much different to what is acceptable for humour, so in a way, we are enabling people to talk about their experiences with less judgment than would normally be applied.”

From learning to performance

After three days of training by Wilken, 12 amateur comics made up of students, professionals and mental health advocates, will perform standup comedy using life experiences as material for their act. None have performed standup comedy before.

Wilken agrees that a sense of humour is key to a mentally healthy life. He is no stranger to the topic and has facilitated comedy workshops with mental health themes in the past.  “A sense of humour has saved my life,” he says.

Wilken has 20 years of experience teaching comedy and is making this his last group workshop as his career transitions to one-on-one coaching, bringing a timely significance to the event. “This event gives the next generation a better chance at integrating mental wellness into each day,” says Wilken.

A personal perspective

I'm a third year health sciences student at the university and planning committee member, and I'm the co-president of the MHA club. For the first time, I will also be one of the amateur student comedians performing on Monday night.

I think laughter is essential to living a healthy, happy and sane life. Humour can be used as an incredible outlet for students to deal with mental wellness, share stories, and raise awareness. University is a stressful time, and it is easy to become caught up in the daily routine and become overwhelmed. In these times, it's important to take a step back and be able to laugh at yourself a little.

I want this event to spark conversation about mental health in our community. I hope students in the audience will see how easily the student comedians are able to talk about their mental health stories, and incorporate that comfort into their daily lives, normalizing the conversation around mental health.

Tickets on sale now

The event takes place on Jan. 23, 2017 at 7 p.m. at Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club, 218 18th Ave. S.E. Tickets are $10 with a limited number of seats available. Tickets can be purchased at the Native Centre. All proceeds from the event will go to future events hosted by MHA Club and DCC. 

Sarah Park is a third-year health sciences student at the University of Calgary's Cumming School of Medicine and an organizer of the Stand Up for Mental Health event. 

The University of Calgary’s Campus Mental Health Strategy is a bold commitment to the importance of mental health and well-being of our university family. Our vision is to be a community where we care for each other, learn and talk about mental health and well-being, receive support as needed, and individually and collectively realize our full potential.