In this guest blog, comedian Ray Peacock writes about his experiences of depression, and why it should be remembered that people in other professions are just as prone to it as comedians are.
For the past seven years I have been intermittently ambulanced off to hospital with the agonising symptoms of kidney stones. It’s very difficult to explain the level of pain to somebody who hasn’t experienced it; the best I can do is ask you to think of the worst pain you can possibly imagine. Got it? Right – well stop being such a baby because that’s nowhere near the pain of kidney stones. Just… agony. Really bad. There has been a constant every time I’ve been taken in though, at some point – after the ordeal – a kindly, presumably well-meaning nurse or doctor will tell me in a reassuring manner that the pain I just experienced was worse than childbirth.
Now, I’ve no way of knowing this, and I’ll bet my house on the fact that me even writing this has raised eyebrows in certain readers, but that’s just what I’ve been told. I’m not showing off, I assure you it makes no difference to me at all, but I believe the purpose is to reassure me, to validate that they understand that even though kidney stones sounds pathetic, it’s duly acknowledged as intensely painful. I mean, I’d personally rather just not be in the competition, but I guess I appreciate their intention.
Likewise, in my other lovely, more regularly visited affliction, I am similarly assured that depression is a common side-effect in creative and artistic people – particularly comedians. People will throw up names like Tony Hancock and Kenneth Williams in the belief that this – in some way – adds a spoonful of sugar with the implied affirmation that I too am one of those sullen comedy geniuses, giving me carte blanche to play the role of tortured artist while those boring, normal people look on with twisted curiosity and dark attraction. It’s difficult to not be sometimes taken with this ideal, but most of the time – again – I’d sooner not be in the competition.
We all know that comedians are prone to depression, nobody is claiming a scoop with that statement, but let’s make it again anyway for emphasis; comedians are prone to depression. In the interest of fairness, I should say that butchers are also prone to depression. Ditto bakers and candlestick makers. You get the idea. This oft-perpetuated tears of a clown stereotype – whilst serving us comedians well in mythology – does little more than insult the people afflicted who were intelligent enough to get a proper job. It undermines them. As people look at comedians and say “well of course they are depressed, that goes with the territory of being the conduit of laughter for others…” nobody is going to say “well of course Barry is depressed, he is in charge of changing the toner on the photocopier”. It’s not fair and it makes me feel guilty. And I assure you I feel enough rubbish things without chucking guilt into the equation.
In fact – I’ll whisper it – there’s an argument that comedians should perhaps be a little lower in the pecking order for your sympathies with regards to depression, because, from my experience, we are afforded some slight luxuries within the darkness. We get to ‘exploit’ this illness by integrating it into our onstage exploits, or write articles using it to promote our latest tours (hello).
The main luxury though, is that we get an all too brief escape from reality when we step onto a stage. Like the kidney stones, it’s hard to explain to those who haven’t experienced it, but even in my darkest, most desperate times, the sanctuary of the stage protects me. It’s an entirely different existence, and the very reason why comedians will feel bulletproof once holding the microphone, acting in a way that few of us would even consider in real life. I’ve had moments as I approach the end of my act where I’ve vividly thought I simply did not want to leave the stage. Not due to the enjoyment of my job, but that I really didn’t want to leave and go back to that. The thing that I felt mercifully excused from in my brief time under the lights. If it could be put into pill form then Cymbalta makers would be bankrupt in hours.
It’s yet another problem of understanding. It’s not ridiculous that the mythical link between creativity and depression has gained a romantic momentum, but it is ridiculous that it’s been stated as fact so regularly. It’s a problem for people en masse, not particular careers. Some people have depression, and some of those people happen to do comedy. I appreciate one may be more liable to reactive depression in certain occupations, but I’d have to dispel the idea that messing about and having a laugh on a stage is one of them.
Ray Peacock is touring ‘Here Comes Trouble’, which includes a run at the Soho Theatre from 2-4th April. More info and tickets available here www.raypeacock.co.uk