This Wednesday night, the Canadian Mental Health Association of New Brunswick is hosting a fundraising effort at Moncton’s Capitol Theatre. Headlining the evening is Canadian comedian Mike MacDonald, a veteran of stage, film and television that has been keeping audiences rolling in the aisles.
A self-professed drummer that was consistently kicked out of bands for “being too funny,” MacDonald gravitated towards comedy on the advice of a friend. He shares that the first time he went on stage, he undertook an impressive 45-minute routine.
“I was lucky it went well,” MacDonald deadpans.
Since then, he hasn’t had the time or interest in looking back. What makes MacDonald’s story all the more compelling is the fact that his routine incorporates his battles with mental illness.
Diagnosed as bi-polar and manic-depressive in 1994, MacDonald, marvels at the progress at diminishing the stigma associated with mental illness over the last two decades.
“It has been a slow process, but I think we are getting to a point where the more we talk about it and continue bringing these issues to the forefront, the better it’s going to get,” he says. “We’ve gone from mental illness being something invisible to a topic that a lot more people are willing to speak about.”
Using comedy to broach a sensitive subject like mental illness is something that MacDonald says has always sat well with him. He notes that other comedians feel the same way, using David Granirer’s Stand Up For Mental Health program as an example of how laughter can perhaps serve to diffuse perceptions around mental illness.
Granirer is a counsellor, stand-up comic and keynote speaker who has battled depression in the past. Launched in 2004, what is especially remarkable about Granirer’s program is that it has taught stand-up comedy to not only those with mental health issues, but also recovering addicts and cancer patients. The program has worked in partnership with groups in more than 35 cities throughout Canada, the U.S. and Australia.
“What we are seeing now are people right across the board, from athletes to pop stars, that are willing to speak about their battles. That’s no small feat,” MacDonald says.
That sentiment is one echoed by Lori Wheeler, the Director of Communications for the Canadian Mental Health Association of New Brunswick.
“Mike’s story, and the way he has developed a routine around his battles with mental illness certainly is unique, but is also something that catches people off guard,” Wheeler says. “People probably question whether or not they should be laughing, but comedy has played an integral part in helping him deal with his issues.”
Acknowledging that MacDonald is not alone with respect to his public disclosure of his mental health issues, Wheeler notes that former One Direction member Zayn Malik, pop superstar Adele and actress Amanda Seyfried have each gone public with respect to their battles with various mental health issues.
She hopes the increased visibility being given to such matters will help show others that they do not have to suffer in silence.
“The more people from all walks of life come forward willing to speak about mental health, the less people will feel as though they have to suffer in silence. Especially those viewed as role models, where they are often in a position of influence, can help show people that it is less scary to be one person amongst a crowd of others than to step out on your own with respect to a matter like this,” Wheeler says.
Wednesday’s show is being put on with the help of Halifax-based company Funny Fundraisers. To date, the company has had a hand in raising more than $1 million for a wide range of organizations including women’s shelters, sports teams and more.
What: Mike MacDonald
When: Wednesday Nov. 9, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Capitol Theatre, 811 Main St., Moncton
Tickets are $20. Advance tickets are available at the Capitol Theatre Box Office, by phone (506) 856-4379 and online at capitol.nb.ca