Tag Archives: mental illness

Madness in Edinburgh – It’s not only comics who have psychotic interludes

cropped-blackfordhill1.jpg

As per several of my blogs last week, madness reigns and financial damage to performers comes ever closer as the Edinburgh Fringe approaches because of a tussle between the Freestival and the late-to-arrive PBH Free Fringe organisation, both claiming to have rights to programme the Cowgatehead venue.

Today, there is a meeting to try to sort it out after a compromise was suggested by the Freestival – although, in correspondence last week with critic Bruce Dessau, Peter Buckley Hill (the PBH of the Free Fringe) said: “Such a meeting is not on the cards. There is no compromise deal on the table… There is no meeting.”

So someone somewhere either has to be telling porkie pies or is delusional.

I merely report the facts as a detached observer with a raised eyebrow.

But – surprising as it may be to some – there are other people in Edinburgh during August in addition to comedians and, indeed, some of them actually live there. Lucky them.

I have been going to Edinburgh every year since I was an embryo. When I was a kid, we used to go up every year to visit my father’s aunt who lived there. My mother also had a cousin living there. And, later, my father’s sister lived there.

I also – again surprising as it may be to some – know people other than comedians.

And psychotic interludes are not restricted to comedians.

Take my chum Sue Blackwell (not her real name).

“Have you ever wanted to be a performer?” I asked her on Skype yesterday.

“No,” she told me. “I was in three AmDram plays in the 1990s. I wanted to just try it. The minister at the local church was a very flamboyant character and held the rehearsals in his manse. It was fun. It was an experience.

“I did enjoy it but, at the end of the third one, I became ill. That’s when it started. They held a barn dance after the third one and I went feeling I was alright. The next day, I was telling people I had been hypnotised. It was a quick as that.”

“Did someone,” I asked Sue, “spike your drink?”

“Well, that was what the psychiatrist asked me, but I don’t think so.”

“Had you,” I asked, “had any psychotic incidents before this?”

“No. But I was in a marriage that was particularly bad and abusive and I had probably earned it after 20 years of what was going on. I think I had probably decided to do the AmDram to distract myself.”

“How long did these psychotic incidents last?”

“I was away from work for three months.”

“This was,” I asked, “hallucination stuff?”

“Voices,” Sue told me. “The first voice I heard was a man’s voice. It’s hard to describe. Eventually, I went to see a psychologist. Then I said: I want to see a psychiatrist.”

“Why did you want to change from a psychologist to a psychiatrist?”

“There was no rational rhyme or reason to my thought processes. But I did see the psychiatrist and I took a newspaper with me. I could no more have read that paper than fly to the moon, but I wanted to appear normal. I wasn’t thinking rationally. My daughter was with me and I was telling the psychiatrist this story about feeling different after the barn dance and she said: You’ve been odd for ages, mum.

Odd? Me? I said. And so it went on and eventually I left my home and went to stay with my daughter. I had this man’s voice in my head and it was really scary. I was still telling friends I had been hypnotised and some of them believed me. It felt like I had walked into the barn dance that evening OK but, looking back now, I probably wasn’t OK.”

“What were the voices like?” I asked. “Was it like listening to me now, in reality? Sometimes, when you dream, other people talk to you in the dream and…”

“It was an actual man’s voice,” explained Sue. “Lots of things I do remember, but I can’t remember the nature that it took. It was very unpleasant to me. It must have been me. It didn’t tell me to kill my husband – it only approached that once. But I was very frightened of the voice.

“It went on because it was not treated and, eventually, I went for treatment and they put me on amitriptyline and the voice dampened down. Then I went back to where I was living with my daughter and then it all started again, except it was a woman’s voice, which was softer. It wasn’t so harsh. There wasn’t the aggression in it.

“Eventually, I went to live with a gay friend of mine. I couldn’t talk about it by this time. I disassociated myself to cope. It was like a big egg. I was outside of it and I was not in contact with what had happened to me. Every time I did attempt to talk about it, my whole body would shake. I had been living in a place where I was scared of the person I was living with.”

“Your husband?” I asked.

“Yes. So I went to live with my gay friend and never went back and my gay friend was just amazing. He said: You need a bloody good scream, dear. So he took me out – but trying to find a place to scream in a city… We were driving around and eventually went up Arthur’s Seat but there were people parked in cars and we thought: We can’t do it here. People will call the police. So we drove down to the Blackford Hill in the south of Edinburgh and drove up to the Observatory car park and it was dusk and we walked round to look at the panorama of Edinburgh, where I know you like to go, and I just screamed my head off.

“We had also both been screaming while driving there. We went out a couple of times and screamed from the top of Blackford Hill and my gay friend was probably right. It helped on some level. Eventually, it got better.”

“Did the problem go away as quickly as it had started?”

“No. I went and saw another psychiatrist and I was barely… I can only remember bits of it. Going into the mental health unit. I accidentally went next door, which was a solicitor’s and I thought they were doing that to trick me. I was OK when I was talking to somebody. I told the psychiatrist: There’s a tiny part of my mind… I probably sound normal… rational… But inside I’m not. He gave me Seroxat.”

“Jesus Christ!” I said. “Did you read my blog about The Amazing Mr Smith committing suicide when he took Seroxat?”

“Yes, I know. But for me it worked. It started to dampen down the voices.”

“What were the voices telling you?”

“Every notice I saw… My anxiety was through the roof… I was getting panic attacks and God knows what. I would see a notice for a jumble sale and I would think it was somebody targeting me.”

“What for?” I asked. “To get jumble?”

“Not necessarily. Any old notice.”

“You thought they were criticising you?” I asked.

“Or something. It was all linked. I said to the psychiatrist I’m a schizophrenic and he said Oh no. that’s a totally different thing. He said: If you want a diagnosis, I would say you were very, very deeply depressed. But I had been functioning in the depression. I can look back now and think I was almost becoming manic. I couldn’t cram enough into my life.”

“To cram so much into your life you would not be aware of your depression?”

“Probably. I didn’t feel depressed but I suppose I was distancing myself from myself. Also another big thing was that I’d had these mental ‘absences’. If I went into the bathroom when I was living with my daughter, I might go into a… you know sometimes people are… just not ‘here’ for a minute. Then my daughter would say: Mum! Mum! and I had a sense of being pulled back from this other place, wherever it was, and I would feel a sense of almost anger.”

“At being pulled back?”

“Yeah. It was happening a lot. It was a deep ‘away’. I couldn’t help myself. It wasn’t just absent-mindedness. It was like going to a safe place.”

“But this was 15-20 years ago and you’re OK now.”

“Maybe that long ago. I don’t know. I can’t remember. I don’t put myself under huge stress now. It’s a difficult thing, mental illness. Because it’s all on the inside. It doesn’t show.”

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Filed under Edinburgh, Mental health, Mental illness, Psychology

Comic critic Kate Copstick on a wibbly

Kate Copstick remembers an incident...

Kate Copstick remembers when she got on her bike…

Today is the last in Mental Health Awareness Week.

Coincidentally, this week’s Grouchy Club Podcast includes my co-host Kate Copstick talking about depression:

COPSTICK
Your brain or your mind just becomes detached from everything else and you can’t make it work any more. I was a bit like that for a while. I had a couple of wibbly times when I was in my teens and my twenties and my thirties – I’ve been wibbly quite a lot. It’s the kind of thing that, when it gets bad, you would sit there and, if somebody came and just punched you in the face, you would just sit there and let them punch you in the face and, inside your head, you’d be going: “He’s going to punch me in the face”.

In The Bell Jar, I think Sylvia Plath’s description is pretty fucking good.

Anyway, this night after that – and there were a couple of other incidents – I don’t know… I had a bit of a moment and I wanted to sort of feel something. So I got on my bike .

JOHN
A motor bike?

COPSTICK
No. Push bike. Dressed in black, of course. No surprise there.

JOHN
Of course.

COPSTICK
And I cycled down to Shepherd’s Bush Green and Shepherd’s Bush roundabout.

JOHN
That’s the big roundabout with almost a motorway spur going up to Westway.

COPSTICK
Correct. And I cycled round it the wrong way, into the headlights of cars.

JOHN
And this is a serious roundabout. It’s almost a motorway spur.

COPSTICK
I had no lights or anything on my bike and they all swerved and everything. It was about one o’clock in the morning. The cars were going a bit faster and I think I just wanted to see if I could be frightened or panicky or that something would click and I’d go Oh, good grief! I’ve come out of it now and it’s all marvellous!

And what happened was it was a white van man who screeched to a halt in front of me: “What the fuck? Wah! Wah! Wah!

FULL 29-MINUTE GROUCHY CLUB PODCAST IS ONLINE HERE

Shepherd’s Bush roundabout from Google Maps

Shepherd’s Bush roundabout from Google Maps

 

 

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Filed under Mental health, Mental illness

An interesting William Burroughs type piece of spam I received this morning

Photo of traumatic brain damage on Wikipedia (Photograph by James Heilman MD)

Photo of traumatic brain damage on Wikipedia (Photograph by James Heilman MD)

Occasionally, I take at look at some spam messages because they can be interesting.

Sadly I am no longer targeted by people who have several million dollars tied-up in Nigerian bank accounts.

Nor do I get spam suggesting (despite the fact I have a male name – John) that I should consider various new breast enlargement techniques. I got those messages for about six months. I think, at my age, my breasts are already too large.

But, this morning, I opened and read the humdinger of a spam message below. 

I did not click on the no doubt useful link to Reuters which accompanied it. One can take an interest in human psychology too far.

I was never a fan of William Burroughs’ writing technique, but I think this message runs along a similar stylistic path and speaks for itself.


Dear Honey bee La’me:

Hit a nerve on that last one and there were so many new idiots in my mail room I could barely open a new window. I have a SS tank with about 50 gallons of apple jack in it with just a cloth over it sitting with a thin mother on it to make vinegar.

These is a very sweet batch of last fall’s apples and is barely started to taste like vinegar yet and has such a smooth apple juice taste to it that u never notice what hit you but when sampling 2oz of it knocked me for a loop, about like these smooth talking child molesters on the Elijah list who have a bunch of starry eyed mku children.

My 72 trace mineral was a threat to big AG including Simplot and I know of someone who locked a ball mill for making lime stone so fine it would flow down to the roots with water. They never patented it, but locked it in a safe because of Simplot.

So before we talk about bringing the price of apples down to 2 bits per pound I will need to talk with you or a bunch of people in the valley will try and kill me again because I can put most of the tree and fruit nurseries out of business and grind their gold apple into dust and then make them drink it to the last dregs, by using a black willow switch on them when I tan their evil hides.

So this will probably be the last time I email you John Schultz because of all the peeping toms in my mail box. The word cretin was not on the net until I put the meaning out there. I heard it from the crowd of youngsters I grew up with at Albany Mennonite Church where your parents attended. He may have driven a Schwans Ice Cream route.

Darrell Fisher of Fisher Construction Albany Org used that word freely all the time as in ‘You cretin you!!’

It was in our high Swiss German language from Alsace Lorraine before Paul put it in the Bible to avoid these kind of people controlling things in your midst.

It means ‘You cock sucker you’ because that is what they did and they had a cock sucking lip like a baby has when it nurses its mother’s breast. Or they look like Bill Johnson, of I Bethel Vineyard Redding, like a Kraybill (flesh eating crow on the black mass slaughter hill of the raven flag).

They normally are licentious which means they fuck members of their own family and may even be mother fuckers like some Mormons.

We took a pounding yesterday and today on the electron meter which means you got beamed on with UV rays.

Here is the xchart and I do not know how to freeze it to this one spot in time. That last bit of excitement over the radar towers stifling my much needed 2-inch rain sent the UV rays spitting from the sun as the demons in butt fucking and fucked brains screamed at exposure and fear and drew down a snap from the sun.

Child molesters from the top on down are to be exterminated if they do not confess and repent and get put in lock down because the molestation pattern is ingrained in their psyche.

I do not believe it will even be necessary to round all you tares up because your delusion will be shattered when your income ceases and your utter panic will draw in a strong enough flare to fry all your shit filled brains into drooling idiots or zombie vegetables.

That is all the Borntraegers could talk about was shit and toilet seats around their necks while their mother supervised their incest on the floor in front of her.


I think that is all, pretty-much, self-explanatory and it would be difficult to argue with the logic therein. Everyone has their own logic.

 

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Filed under Mental illness, Psychology

How to survive being attacked with a miniature flame-thrower for being gay

Simon Jay and Myra Dubois performing Jennifer’s Robot Arm last month (Photograph by Antony)

Simon Jay (right) & Myra Dubois performing Jennifer’s Robot Arm by Mr Twonkey last month (Photograph by Antony)

Simon Jay appeared peripherally in this blog last month, when he staged and directed Mr Twonkey’s play Jennifer’s Robot Arm.

“What’s the attraction of Mr Twonkey?” I asked Simon Jay this week.

“He says the most ridiculous things,” Simon told me, “in a very naturalistic, deadpan way and the detail of his fantasy world fits very well with the way my mind works. In fact, my partner says: It’s almost like someone has put your mind on stage. It’s the non-sequitur humour that I love – talking about a character that’s half witch/half accountant or the House of Cheese or the Wheel of Knickers. Very specific details and lots of stuff that comes from a really dark place, which I really respond to.”

Simon’s autobiography – Bastardography – was published this week.

The blurb reads:

Telling this story is important for not only a generation affected by mental health and sexuality issues, but also for anyone who has ever felt like an outsider looking in. Growing up with a Combat Stressed Naval Officer Father, a neurotic Mother who flosses her teeth with her hair and an extended family of alcoholic eccentrics is bad enough, especially on a rough South London estate in the 90s. But that is just the tip of the trashy iceberg. Life in such a place is barely tolerable if you tow the line, but Simon didn’t even know where the line was.

“Why call it Bastardograhy? I asked.

Simon Jay’s tell-all Bastardography

Simon Jay’s tell-all Bastardography

“Because I’m completely unflattering about everyone, including myself. It’s about how creativity kept me going – just writing and performing.

“I first went with my parents to a psychiatrist when I was thirteen or fourteen for ‘family therapy’ because I wasn’t sleeping and was up at 3 o’clock in the morning. This was before I ‘came out’. People like to re-write history and say Oh! It was because you were being bullied at school! But this was before that. I was already fucked-up.

“I ‘came out’ when I was 14, at a really rough all-boys school near Sutton in South London. Added to which, I was very mentally unbalanced as a child, which wasn’t treated until my late adolescence/early twenties when I started having breakdowns and going into hospital.”

“You ‘came out’ at 14??” I asked.

“I announced it in a history lesson,” replied Simon. “Well, I didn’t announce it… In an all-boys school, everyone is obsessed with everyone’s sexuality and, in this one lesson, this boy – the skinhead boy – was asking everyone if they were gay.”

“Why in a history lesson?” I asked.

“Because,” explained Simon, “they were going on about What if Hitler was gay…because there was this rumour that Hitler was gay and that’s why he committed genocide… So this skinhead boy went round the classroom and everyone was saying: No… No… No… No… and I said Yes, just because it was the truth and I didn’t really think about it. And then there was this massive backlash and it just spread. It was my first viral hit. There were 1,000 kids at that school. By the end of the week, everyone knew who I was. I was infamous already.”

“That sounds great if you’re a 14 year-old,” I said.

“Until they start beating you up,” Simon pointed out.

“What did the history teacher,” I asked, “say when the skinhead boy was asking everyone if they were gay?”

“He didn’t hear it. Teachers are oblivious to what students talk about.”

“So you were bullied at school for being gay,” I said.

“Most of it was verbal,” said Simon, “but there were times when stones were thrown at me, aerosols sprayed over me and they tried to set me on fire; it was very creative.”

“Tried to set you on fire?” I asked.

Simon Jay - always comes straight to the point

Simon Jay – always comes straight to the point

“There was a boy who sat behind me in the tutorial lesson and, one day, I could feel this wet at the back of my neck and a tschhhhhhh sound. And I thought: Why are they spraying an aerosol at the back of my head? and then I heard a match being struck. They lit the match while they were spraying the aerosol to make a little mini flame thrower. At the time, none of it seemed very remarkable. When you’re a teenager, you’re resilient; you’re invincible; you don’t feel threatened by…”

“…the miniature flame thrower?” I suggested.

“The worst one,” said Simon, “was having stones thrown at me. Big stones.”

“What happened when they used a flame thrower on you?” I asked. “It sounds like it might have had an effect.”

“Luckily, it just singed hair, because I moved out of the way in time.”

“There was teacher present?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“And…”

“They did nothing. Sometimes they laughed when I was bullied. Sometimes they purposely turned a blind eye and went out of the room. There was a Christian art teacher who liked to laugh at one boy who liked to revel in very gratuitous homophobic rhetoric. It was just fun for him.”

“You said you were mentally unbalanced as a child,” I said. “Isn’t everyone mentally unbalanced at 14?”

“To some extent,” agreed Simon, “But I was very withdrawn as a child and was obsessed with death and had existential crises.”

“That still sounds normal for a 14 year-old,” I said.

“It is normal – or maybe you’re just as weird as I am. No, it is normal, but I didn’t function very well and I wasn’t very happy and it progressed into adolescence.”

“What do you mean you didn’t function?”

“I didn’t interact with the world in a way that would ensure survival. I didn’t eat or sleep properly. Didn’t urinate properly – never urinated in the toilet, just in the bed. I was a very strange child in a very quiet, unassuming family.”

Sion’s father was in the Navy

Simon’s father was in the Navy

“Did you come out to your parents before or after you came out at school?”

“Six months later. I did that by letter. I left it on the kitchen table. Saying what had gone on for the last six months: that I had come out and I’d been bullied because of it. I was very passive. Once the other kids realised I wouldn’t fight back, they saw it as open season on me.

“I left secondary school after taking seven months of being bullied. Then they put me in a ‘special’ school when I was 15 for the rest of my secondary education and I failed all my GCSEs: I could do them, but I was completely detached. I was completely out of it, not in the real world any more. Completely separate from reality.”

“Drugs?” I asked.

“I started smoking,” said Simon, “but I’ve never really taken (recreational) drugs.”

“So you started smoking weed?” I asked.

“No, no. Cigarettes.”

“That’s bad,” I said. “Weed OK; nicotine bad. So why haven’t you taken recreational drugs?”

“Because my mum said: If you take drugs, you die. And I’ve always been frightened I’ll have some sort of seizure.

“Anyway, I flunked all my GCSEs, then I broke down and didn’t sleep for a couple of weeks and thought my parents were ghosts. I had a complete mental breakdown. So they popped me in the hospital – the psychiatric unit – and that was the beginning of my recovery, really.”

“They filled you full of uppers?” I asked.

“Oh yes. An anti-psychotic called olanzapine that makes you like a zombie.”

“But you weren’t seeing visions?” I asked.

“Vaguely seeing visions. I thought I was a woman at one point. I thought I had ovaries they were not telling me about. One thing that was not a vision was I had to have a Northern Irish male nurse scrub me down. But I was so fucked-up I couldn’t enjoy it.”

“Just scrubbing you down?” I asked.

“I had pissed myself. So I was covered in piss and they had to put me in a shower and I couldn’t wash myself, so they had to do it for me. But I wasn’t into it because I wasn’t there. That’s the most disappointing moment of that era: the lack of male nurse action.

Simon at the Freshers’ Fair in 2009 (Photo by Sarah-Jane Bird)

Simon at the student Freshers’ Fair in 2009 (Photograph by Sarah-Jane Bird)

“Then, as I was getting better, I went to college and did an access course which allowed me to go to university without having GCSEs. I was going to do drama, but I was 15 minutes late to be auditioned, so I did Media Studies instead – Screenwriting for Film & Television at Bournemouth.”

“At what point did you want to be a performer?” I asked. “All this mental stuff sounds like it’s pushing you towards performance.”

“I was a complete neurotic fuck-up,” agreed Simon, “until I got in front of people in a theatrical way and I was safe then: because I had control then.”

“When does the book finish?” I asked.

“Last year – 2014, when I had my last breakdown and finally recovered properly. I had a really bad breakdown in 2013 and nearly died.”

“Why?”

“It was almost like a mid-life crisis. Basically everything broke down. I think it was worse than the one I had when I was a teenager.”

“You’re still with the partner you met at university?”

“Yes. But I should say my book is not a misery memoir. It’s a very funny book. There are jokes on every page.”

“Did I tell you,” I asked, “that my blog has been nominated as the Funniest Blog in the UK?”

“Yes,” replied Simon.

“I am not convinced they have read it,” I said.

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Filed under Comedy, Gay, Mental illness

Juliette Burton: the writer-performer who can make psychosis hilarious

Juliette Burton with Nick Clegg in background

A Juliette Burton selfie + Nick Clegg in the centre background

Comedy performer Juliette Burton was recently invited to Whitehall to meet Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg at an event giving out awards to ‘Mental Health Heroes’.

“Were you up for an award?” I asked.

“No,” she told me. “I was invited as a ‘celebrity ambassador’ for the mental health charities MIND and Time To Change. At the event, I met this guy called Harry who worked for the Department of Health who knew all about me. He knew I do voice-over work and shows and I was rather confused but also kind-of liked it. The explanation was that apparently I was one of only seven people there the staff had access to biographies of.”

“Did you meet Nick Clegg?”

“No. But I did slurp my wine very, very loudly during his speech, which I felt was opposition enough.”

Juliette has just moved down to London from Edinburgh, where she lived for three years.

“All of the industry is centred in London,” she explained, “so it’s a lot more practical living down here, but I do miss Edinburgh desperately.”

“Until recently,” I told her, “I’d always had relatives in Edinburgh. It is the place I’ve always felt most at home and the irony is I’ve never had a home there. I always reckoned, if I won the Lottery, it would be a house in Edinburgh and a flat in London.”

“I loved living in Edinburgh,” said Juliette.

Juliette Burton: Edinburgh-London, King’s Cross

Juliette Burton talked to me at King’s Cross…

“But now,” I prompted, “in April, you’re starting a new monthly comedy show in Shoreditch.”

“Yes. Juliette Burton’s Happy Hour.”

“And how long,” I asked, “does Juliette Burton’s Happy Hour last?”

“About two hours.”

“So that’s interesting,” I said.

“Well, yes,” agreed Juliette. “Happy Hour is longer than an hour and it’s hosted by someone with clinical depression.”

“Are you going back to the Edinburgh in August with a new Fringe show?”

“Not this year. I’m doing last year’s show Look at Me for eight days and I think I’ll also be doing some performances with Abnormally Funny People and some other things with other people.

“I’ve been working on Look At Me with Kevin Shepherd, who’s directing it. I’m doing it at Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival on 22nd February and at the Brighton Fringe on 28th of May.”

“Ah,” I said, “that’s your broadcast journalist background showing. Getting the plug in… So why do you need a director now for Look At Me? Is it slightly different from the version that played the Edinburgh Fringe last year?”

“Yes. I’m being a bit more free with my ad-libbing.”

“How?” I asked, “given it has to run the same length.”

Juliette Burton - Look at Me

Juliette Burton says Look at Me ad-libbing more

“I’m cutting out some things and allowing myself to be a bit more ‘me’ – so a bit less ‘performer’ and a bit more ‘me’.”

“Why?”

“Because Kevin tells me I’m naturally funny, which I never thought I was – and I’m still a bit skeptical about that. He tells me I can relax a little more and not hide behind a script. “

“But why no new Fringe show this year?” I asked.

“Because the three new shows I am working on are all rather complicated and will take longer to put together. I’m going to try to get one, if not two, of them at a preview stage by autumn this year.”

“You had a plan of seven shows, didn’t you?” I asked. “And, so far, you’ve done the first two – When I Grow Up and Look At Me. What are these next three?”

“There’s The Butterfly Effect, which is about how much impact somebody can have on the world and about how, if we want to see change in the world, we need to be the change we want to see in the world. Something like that. The Dalai Lama and all that.”

“He’d be a good audience for a comedy show,” I suggested. “He giggles a lot.”

“And then there’s Daddy’s Girl,” Juliette continued, which is one I really want to do.”

Daddy’s Girl Juliette retains some secrets

Daddy’s Girl Juliette still retains at least one secret off-stage

“And which I know we can’t talk about,” I said.

“Yes,” said Juliette. “It’s about something I can’t yet divulge everything about. It’s something that is extremely close to my heart and I’m really keen to do it. But there are lots of other exciting things happening at the moment. I think Dreamcatcher is the most likely show to be ready first, though a lot might change in the coming weeks. It’s a very exciting year.”

“Why are you doing THREE new shows anyway?” I asked.

“Because I have lots of ideas and I can’t stop myself.”

“But it’s a lot of psychological pressure,” I suggested.

“I love that kind of pressure,” said Juliette. “I love creative pressure. Dreamcatcher is about our relationship with reality – and it’s funny. It’s how to make psychosis hilarious. I want to take time to make sure it’s fun and that I don’t try to cram too much into an hour. I need to make it the most accessible and light show I can while keeping real meaning. There ARE ways to make psychosis funny and you were the one who inspired me to do it.”

“I made you psychotic?” I asked.

Juliette Burton’s first So It Goes blog

Juliette: So It Goes

“When you did your first blog chat with me, I was so scared about telling everybody about my psychosis because I thought they would all judge me. But the reaction they had was so warm and welcoming that I thought: Well, maybe I could be a bit braver with this. And then a bit braver and a bit braver.

“Then, at the end of last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Paul Levy from Fringe Review asked me if I thought I was unravelling more and more in each show. I thought that was very astute of him and it has stayed with me for the last few months because there are so many people out there doing all these amazing shows that do not involve them psychologically challenging themselves.

“Recently, someone said to me: Are you sure you want to be exposing yourself so much psychologically on stage? And I have been thinking about that and I think I want to really connect with people in a meaningful way and the truest stories are the most exciting. So why not just tell the truth? But make it funny in the process.”

“When Paul Levy said were you unravelling,” I asked, “did he mean Are you going loopy? or did he mean Are you revealing – unravelling – more secrets – more of yourself – in each successive show?

“I hadn’t thought of it like that,” said Juliette. “I might choose to hear it that way next time I hear it in my head. I thought he just meant Are you unravelling mentally?”

“Did you tell him Yes or No?” I asked.

“I think I said Yes. If we’re all going to go through life and it’s all going to be a little bit painful, then why not connect with other people about what you’re going through, so that you’re not alone?”

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Filed under Comedy, Mental health, Mental illness, Psychology

Ariane Sherine on why she gave up comedy and turned to Beautiful Filth

Ariane Sherine yesterday

Ariane Sherine was at Soho Theatre yesterday

Yesterday, the Guardian ran an online piece by Ariane Sherine, one of their regular writers. It was headlined:

I’D BEEN UNEMPLOYED FOR A YEAR… SO I FORMED A BAND, OF COURSE

and the subtitle was:

What’s a 34-year-old single mum on benefits meant to do when all else fails? Pursue the most unrealistic career path imaginable!

So, of course, yesterday I had a chat with Ariane.

“I did nine months on the comedy circuit in 2002/2003,” she told me.

“Why?” I asked.

“It’s just the most amazing thing to make a crowd of people laugh,” she told me. “I always think comedy is the truest art form because people can’t fake laughter. Anybody can clap after a performance out of politeness, but people don’t tend to laugh out of politeness. Not real, proper belly laughs. It feels wonderful and it feels like a validation of your own personality. If you think something’s funny and other people think it’s funny too, then they identify with you and it’s amazing, it’s wonderful and I loved it.”

“It’s like being hugged on stage?” I asked.

“I don’t know about a hug. It’s certainly warm.”

“But you stopped,” I said.

Arine Sheine was worried by a website

Ariane Sherine: worried by website

“I stopped comedy because I was so scared Steve Bennett might give me a terrible review on his Chortle website. I gave it up because I was scriptwriting and thought I don’t want producers to Google me, find this hypothetical Chortle review and think: Oh, she’s not funny.

“I still wanted that validation through my writing. I started writing for sitcoms. I wrote for Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and My Family and material for Countdown. But you don’t really get credit for that: it’s never really your own because, on sitcoms, you have script editors who may ask you to do eight re-writes based on their notes and, by the end of it, it’s not your script any more. I have no particular wish to go back into scriptwriting, but I do really miss comedy.”

“So why not go back to it again?”

“Because the circuit is a harsh, cruel place,” Ariane laughed.

“So you’ve been sitting around doing nothing…” I said.

Beautiful Filth by The Lovely Electric - do not try this at home

Beautiful Filth by The Lovely Electric – smutty, maybe nutty

“I’m looking after my three-year-old daughter half the time,” replied Ariane, “and, the rest of the time, I’m always working on projects. I’ve been working on this album since January.

“Ah yes!” I said. “It’s you and a friend, you call yourself The Lovely Electric and the album is called Beautiful Filth. Out today.”

“And it’s available on iTunes and from Spotify,” said Ariane. “I wanted to do comedy songs because I missed doing stand-up.”

Tracks on her Beautiful Filth album include:

Don’t Have Sex With a Goat
Thank You For Not Smelling of Fish
I Think His Penis Died

The opening lyrics to the track Cum Face are:

You are so beautiful
I’d watch you at the IMAX
I love the way you look
Except for when you climax
You flare your nostrils out
And, for what it’s worth
You scrunch your cheeks up
Like a hamster giving birth

I don’t want to see your cum face
I don’t want to watch you come
I don’t want to see your cum face
So let’s do it up the bum
I don’t want to see your cum face
I’d rather watch my mum
I don’t want to see your cum face
So let’s do it up the bum

There is a video for the song Hitler Moustache on YouTube.

“My politics are very left-leaning,” Ariane told me, “and I think a lot of people I like might not like the album, because it’s very smutty.”

“So,” I said, “you decided to record a pop album whose lyrics are untransmittable on radio. Why? That’s no way to make money.”

“Well, you never know,” said Ariane. “Tim Minchin is pretty successful. But it is true Beautiful Filth is an album about sex. We don’t have any clean songs on it.”

“But why,” I asked,” write an album about sex in such a way that it can’t be widely disseminated?”

“Because it’s funny and the humour I enjoy is really rude. Think of Monty Python – The Penis Song. (There is a version on YouTube.)

Charlie Brooker reacts to Ariane’s Hitler Moustache

Charlie Brooker reacts to the Hitler Moustache

“How come Charlie Brooker is in your Hitler Moustache music video?” I asked.

“I met him when I was working in telly,” explained Ariane, “He’s the loveliest bloke. He has just helped me so much. He gave me my start in journalism because the Guardian asked him: Do you know any good comedy writers who could add a bit of levity to the comment pages? and he suggested me. So he’s basically responsible for my whole journalistic career. Then he gave me a quote for my last book, he gave me a quote for this album, he wrote for The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas, which was a book I edited, got me a job on Big Brother – writing the website stuff.”

“So why do you want to be a singer-songwriter now?”

“Because it’s fun and because I did a music degree. It culminated in work experience at the NME.”

“And you started writing at the NME?”

“Yes. Then I was runner-up in the BBC New Sitcom Writers Award. I started writing for Children’s BBC and other places. I’ve always been a writer in one form or another. But then I had a nervous breakdown in 2010.”

Ariane wrote about her feelings

The Guardian piece

“That,” I said, “was well before your daughter – who is now three – was born.”

“Yeah. I wrote a Guardian piece about it. Basically a load of really horrible things happened. I had had a very violent, disturbed childhood, so I got depressed in my teens – started cutting myself and became anorexic – and was put on a load of anti-depressants that didn’t help.

“I was pregnant when I was 24 and my boyfriend turned violent and hit me in the face and caused my ear to bleed and then he suffocated me and it was horrible. So that happened and then I kind of picked myself up from that after about a year but was still very depressed. I was 24.”

“You’re 34 now.”

Ariane at Atheist Bus Campaign launch with Richard Dawkins (Photograph by Zoe Margolis)

Ariane at Atheist Bus Campaign launch with Richard Dawkins (Photograph by Zoe Margolis)

“Yes. I was 24 and carried on writing for telly and then the Atheist Bus Campaign came out of a piece I had written for the Guardian. I got lots of threats when I did that. Random strangers. Religious people who didn’t like the campaign. I really, genuinely felt a bit… and I couldn’t work for… I didn’t feel able to do anything in public for over three years. My Guardian pieces stopped in August 2010 and it was only in December 2013 that I started writing again. It was a big chunk of time to lose, but…”

“What made you start again?” I asked.

“I was put on some anti-depressants that were Tricyclics, so they were different from the SSRIs that I was taking before.”

“SSRIs?” I asked.

“Things like Prozac and Seroxat. But now I’m on this amazing one. It’s amazing and it has just made life worth living again.”

“There was,” I said, “an act I knew called the Amazing Mr Smith who was given Seroxat. Last year, he took it for two nights and then killed himself by jumping off a cliff.”

“Sometimes they can make you a lot worse before they make you better,” said Ariane. “When you read the leaflet and you read This medication might induce suicidal thoughts you think Well why am I taking it?”

“But you’re OK now?” I asked.

“Well, I’m on three different medications now: anti-psychotic ones, anti-convulsant and anti-depressant.”

“Anti-psychotic is different from anti-depressant,” I said.

“It’s a horrible thing,” said Ariane. “I was convinced people were trying to kill me. I was convinced the government and MI5 were out to kill me.”

“As you were working for the Guardian,” I said, “maybe they were.”

“I remember the caretaker in my block of flats,” said Ariane, “was scrubbing the walls outside and I was convinced he was doing it to spy on me. When you get to that state that you’re convinced everybody’s out to get you, you can’t walk down the road because you’re scared and I desperately needed help and I got put on these anti-psychotics, but they alone didn’t make everything better.

“Then I got pregnant and I couldn’t be put on anything else. So I spent my pregnancy planning my suicide.”

“How were you going to kill yourself?”

“Helium.”

“You were going to laugh yourself to death?” I asked.

“I’m glad I can laugh about it now,” said Ariane.

“I’m interested in comedians,” I said, “because they’re all mad as hatters.”

“Well,” said Ariane, “for years I was so terrified of letting people know I was struggling with mental illness but, as soon as I did, there were all these journalists and comedians who told me: I’ve had the same thing. It was amazing,

“I think these pills I’m on have actually given me courage I would not have had ordinarily. So I don’t see it as brave to come out as mentally ill – it’s just these pills I’m on. There’s no way I would ever have been able to do it without the pills.”

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Filed under Comedy, Mental health, Music, Psychology, Television, Writing