You'd have thought stand up comics were the most messed up people in the world. And although it's true many of us are indeed a narcissistic, attention-and-validation seeking, insecure, and highly self-critical breed, don't forget we've got our own daily public "therapy" forum. You know, with a mic.
For eight years before becoming a stand up, I was a psychotherapist, practicing both in the US and the UK. In that time, I learned that everyone, at some point in their lives, can use a bit of help getting through life's challenges. Having ditched that "noble" profession for something entirely more self-satisfying, I am proud to report that the general state of my fellow comics' mental health on the circuit isn't really any different than the general public. Sure, we act more nuts because we can, but really, key personality differentiators aside, we're about as together as anyone else. Which in case you hadn't woken up to the realities of the general public, isn't all that impressive a statement. But fuck it, we're doing OK. Overall.
All this changes when we embark on the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. If you've never been to the Fringe, let me paint a little picture: imagine being an athlete headed for Olympics, except instead of training for the big event with daily exercise and drills, you down BLT triples, sleep weird hours, and drink like a sailor to cope with stress. Then you go compete against a slew of competitors where you not only have to rise above the stress of a month of intensive performing, but also have to go sell yourself in the rain for four hours a day just to get people to watch you, cuz Nike ain't got your back.
One of the greatest threats to well-being isn't any given diagnoses or ailment - it's actually the lack of outlet for honest expression and self-exploration. In the UK, a place where some would rather publically admit to having a sexually transmitted illness than having seen a psychotherapist, this kind of open communication isn't always the norm. Not that I'm saying us Yanks have it figured out; we just feel more comfortable delightfully bitching about everything. And let's not forget that the British reserve has created its own beautifully dark sense of humour, one of the most entertaining forms of coping I've encountered, and indeed what led me to switch professions.
The Fringe should be all about this exploration, and I daresay, having fun -- but it can become more about perfection, competition, and jumping up and down waving your arms for media and public attention till you've aged twenty years in two weeks if you're not careful. It's enough to drive a sane person mad, and none of us are really sane to begin with.
My first solo stand up show is about why I left psychotherapy to become a comedian, and what drives us to end up where we end up in the first place. I'm thrilled to have ended up a part of the Edinburgh Fringe and it's one of my favourite places on earth to be. My message to all of us, myself most certainly included, is this: remember that your experience and ability to cope with the Fringe is more important than how your show goes. After all, it'll either be the biggest source of stress or the best stretch of alternative therapy you'll ever have.
And if all else fails, come see me for a chat. I'll be in the pub crying over some chips.
Taylor Glenn's Reverse Psycomedy is at the Gilded Balloon August 1-26th (not 13th) 23:30. For tickets, go here.
See Taylor giving some "Fringe Therapy" to fellow comedians here:
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