Comedy is a uniquely exhilarating communal experience. Laughter releases tension, and watching comedy night after night presumably makes your brain release all sorts of happy chemicals. It’s great for the audience, but not necessarily for the comedian. Not to get all Pagliacci about it.
Like any hobby, comedy has given me a sense of purpose. I was never good at sport, music or art, so when I found comedy it felt like I’d found “my thing”. Having a thing is very handy in small-talk and job interviews and also provides you with the rewarding experience of gradually improving at something. It’s the same satisfaction you might get from knitting or restoring an old car.
It’s also stress-relieving in being a dual creative and performative outlet where, crucially, you can express yourself as explicitly as you like. In my set, I’m often giving my opinion on subjects and afterwards feel like I’ve got them off my chest. It’s therapy-esque. (I would say ‘therapeutic’ but people use that word on warm baths and popping bubblewrap.)
I used to laugh when people told me they started comedy to help their confidence, as bad gigs used to completely destroy my confidence. However, the more experienced you become, the more comfortable you become with messing up. I’ve realised this is the real key to confidence. Comedy is like exposure-therapy to intense humiliation.
There’s also a social aspect to comedy that can help with mental health. Comedy is a small world and you make friends with comedians, promoters and audience members along the way. You make funny friends too, and funny friends must be treasured.
However, as Janis Joplin once said “On stage, I make love to 25,000 people, then I go home alone.” The rush of a new joke working, or fruitful dialogue with the audience, is thrilling. Being onstage can make you feel like a God. But comedians often talk of the “crash” after a gig, when the adrenaline leaves your system. That temporary rush can feel like taking a drug. As such many comedians talk of being “addicted” to comedy.
Looking after your mental health is about maintaining emotional stability, whereas comedy features incredibly high highs followed by low lows. I wouldn’t recommend comedy for mental health, just as I wouldn’t recommend gambling for mental health. As comedy transitions from hobby to a career, the highs are higher and the lows and lower. The more comedy…