What is it like to expose your psychotic hallucinations, live on a comedy stage?

Juliette and I talked at King’s Cross station

Some say you can never be too intrusive when recording…

In the absence of comedy critic Kate Copstick, who is cyber-trapped in Kenya by a malfunctioning computer and an eccentric mobile phone, I recorded our weekly Grouchy Club Podcast in London yesterday with comic performer Juliette Burton at King’s Cross station.

Last month, Juliette started a ‘new material’ comedy club in London – Juliette Burton’s Happy Hour. It is billed as “a night of positivity and happiness guaranteed to leave the audience uplifted”. She is the compere and, in the first show, she described what she saw when, as a teenager, she was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and had psychotic hallucinations.

Although she has mentioned these in this blog, she had never before described them on stage in front of a live audience.

Here is a brief extract from this week’s 39-minute Grouchy Club Podcast:

John
Whenever comedians expose themselves, as it were – psychologically – they feel very nervous about doing it. But I always tell them the person doing it feels empowered and the audience feels uplifted in some way – because someone else has survived something worse that they have experienced. At the first Happy Hour, you did a piece about your hallucinations, didn’t you…

Juliette
Yeah.

John
… and you had never done that before. I think you said you felt nervous about it, didn’t you?

Juliette
I felt terrified.

John
What is it like to, as it were, expose yourself? Because all comedians, by and large, are insecure and there’s nothing more insecure than exposing your actual deep psyche when people may reject you. People may laugh at you rather than with you. So what was it like to expose yourself or know you were going to expose yourself… and then do it?

Juliette
Yeah, I went naked in my last show and this time I’m actually going psychologically naked.

John
When you say you went naked in your last show, that was a magazine thing, wasn’t it?

Juliette
A magazine thing, yeah. I did a body confidence naked shoot for Cosmopolitan magazine.

It (the recent Happy Hour show) was weird. It was the first time ever that I had stood on stage and said: Right, this is what I hallucinated and I’ve spoken to friends about it and actually this whole experience (the hallucinating) was what eventually, I think, led me to comedy. Because I realised, if I wanted to talk about these hallucinations, the only way people would listen was if I could get them to laugh about it – because conversations with laughter last longer.

I was really nervous because they are very ‘out there’. I talk about seeing God and the Devil and these are big words that are terrifying anyway – I don’t know if I even believe in God and I’ve seen him – him/her, whatever.

You are right inasmuch as the audience seemed to really, really like it. I would say that actually it turns out that people want to talk about these things or want to listen about them now. It took me 13 years since the experience to want to stand on stage and talk about it, but it took Society about 300 years to want to listen.

Somebody came up to me after the show saying they, too, had been sectioned. Somebody else e-mailed me saying they, too, have had hallucinations – and that was in a relatively intimate audience. It was a packed-out room, but it’s not a huge room and, out of those people, already two of them had felt able to open up to me about their experiences and they had had similar ones.

I think people want to listen now; it’s just we need to be brave enough to actually stand out there and be more honest and truthful and I think the comedy I like most is the daring stuff – talking about things that people might not want to talk about in everyday conversation. I think it’s the most real and most truthful and the most raw and the most interesting because it’s honest and people respond to honesty.

********

On YouTube, Juliette has started to post a monthly video called BAHH – Backstage At Happy Hour.

In the first, she talked to performers Doug Segal and James Hamilton:

She also posts a weekly blog called TWIL – This Week I Love. The latest is HERE.

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Filed under Comedy, Mental health, Mental illness, Psychology

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