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They say that for every four people walking the streets of this country,
one of us suffers from mental health problems.
One in four,
to whom the world can seem a hostile and lonely place.
But something remarkable has happened.
20 years ago, mental illness was a taboo subject.
Now, it's a multi-million pound industry dominating the media
and selling out arts festivals, like this one at Southbank Centre,
with its Tai Chi sessions,
and countless mental health professionals
with their wise words.
Comedy, in particular, has always had an intimate relationship
with mental health.
OK, this is my new career in stand-up.
A man goers to the doctor and says, "Doctor, doctor, can you help me?
"I'm so miserable and depressed."
And the doctor says, "Well, I can think of something
"to cheer you up. Go to the park and go and see Bozo the Clown
"and he'll cheer you up." And the man says,
"But I AM Bozo the Clown."
Is that it?
She's killing herself!
It's a well-worn cliche, "the tears of a clown".
The sadness behind the laughter.
So, for my Artsnight, I am talking to two brilliant comedians,
both of them from America, the land of therapy,
but both of them living and working here
and both willing to talk about their battles to get, and stay, happy.
Ruby Wax's career
has spanned over 30 years.
She was part of a new wave of female comedians,
who held sway in the 1980s. She co-wrote and starred in hit shows
Girls On Top
-and Absolutely Fabulous.
-My doctor says I should
stop taking the pills,
but that's what a man would say. What do they have to do?
Let their belt out a couple of notches and join a golf club!
Then, she invented a whole new genre of TV interviews,
which shocked and delighted in equal measure.
-She does the funniest things!
-Did you do it?
-No, I didn't.
Now, she is a best-selling author and has just finished a West End run
of her new show.
Ruby, I was really sorry when you stopped interviewing,
cos I totally, genuinely believed that you were the best television
And you were so disarming,
but also so astute. I mean, you weren't just
being funny at their expense, were you? You were actually
getting them to reveal things.
-Do you proudly remember that period?
-Well, Imelda is my favourite.
A few weeks ago, I was interviewed and somebody says, "Mrs Marcos,
"you are still on cloud nine, you are still dreaming
"and fantasising. Actually, we think you are crazy.
"Are you crazy, Mrs Marcos?" And my answer to them,
I think I am.
If you are interviewing somebody with, sort of, zero sense of humour,
-like Madonna, possibly...
-Oh, yeah. Interesting.
-And he has no... You can't...
-He has nothing.
Well, I made him funny, cos I said he had one nose hair and then he
winds it, winds it, winds it, winds it around his head.
-But as a man...
-Yeah. ..oh, my God!
The arrogance and the self-belief.
-You are so obnoxious!
-I know, I know!
She's a reporter for BBC. She's the world's most obnoxious reporter.
You know this woman? Big reporter in England.
She means nothing over here.
So, that was a bad interview and he then said, I heard,
-"If I ever see her again, I'll kill her."
Cos I said, "Screw you!"
I always think that is the best compliment an interviewer can have.
-How many have you gotten?
-Two or three. It's quite good, isn't it?
# I'm as frisky as a... #
You'd never know it, but Ruby has always suffered from anxiety
When the TV work dried up,
she turned her energies to her mental health
and discovered mindfulness, a form of highly-focused meditation
that has taken off in recent years.
The only reason I went into mindfulness, the only reason is,
seven years ago, when my career did disappear, I was knocked out.
I'm not going to complain. It's like being a leaf and it's winter -
you fall off. Isn't that beautiful?
-I made that up.
I couldn't do it any more and then I got...
Depression, I had since I was a kid.
There is sometimes a trigger. You could have just won a BAFTA...
-Not that I did!
..and still have it.
I was always interested in psychology, so I thought,
"I'm going to research this." I started looking in science journals.
So, what had the best evidence was cognitive and mindfulness
-and I had never heard of them.
So, I found one of the founders of it.
He was the professor at Oxford.
I said, "Don't give me the fluffy stuff. Just tell me what is
"going on in the meat. I want to know, if you do this,
"cos I haven't got time, sweetheart, what would happen in my brain?"
He said, "You have to get into Oxford and get your Masters."
So, I did. My dissertation became the book, (except with comedy!),
and I said, "Me learning about neuro-sciences was like Peppa Pig
-"learning about quantum physics."
So, this show and the book is really about how we think our brains work,
what evolution did, you know... how our brains cram up,
how envy eats away at us. But I am always using comedy,
otherwise, I'm whining.
Do you know, if you're not accepted on Facebook,
it actually activates exactly the same part
of your brain as real physical pain.
So, if you don't get a lot of Likes...
Then, you get even more critical thoughts - "Oh, my God,
"nobody likes me! I'm too fat to wear tights!"
Mindfulness asks you to focus on your breathing
or your physical senses,
to give your mind a break from the chaos.
But isn't it just the latest craze
in a long line of self-help therapies?
I think I first interviewed you, I mean, a million years ago
and I remember you raving on about your flotation tank.
-Do you remember your flotation tank?
I used to use therapy, alternative ones, for AbFab,
so you do see the float tank in it. That's my float tank.
-And all these things are great for comedy.
Yes, they are good. I had to have this one imported from LA.
-No-one over here has got one.
-I heard Fergie had one.
God, I'll have to get rid of it now!
I slightly suspect that you are always chasing the latest fashion
and it happens to be mindfulness now
and it happened to be flotation tanks.
In my day, it would have been transcendental meditation,
which is quite similar to your thing. Or yogic flying.
-Did you ever do yogic flying?
-No, I didn't.
-Did you, Lynn?
-I see you doing it!
-I see you floating above this.
-Well, all the things you say about
mindfulness - take five minutes here and think - it's smoking to me.
You know, I have a cigarette and all these things are achieved.
Well, you might be quite, you know, present with your cigarette.
-Yeah, I am, yeah.
-Well, there you go.
It's done wonders for you, the smoking! Wonders!
Well, but I mean, I am just saying, that a lot of things that you
claim that you have to do, this mindfulness thing for...
-..are just to do with sitting down for five minutes
and collecting your thoughts, really.
Well, I don't think that's what it is. If it looks like that,
I can't... You know, you go and see a shrink, you could say that is
-just two people sitting on a chair.
-Yeah, I see what you mean.
I think I have a real practical idea of what's crap and what might be
the real thing. I have a really good...marker.
So, I switched my career three years ago, cos I thought,
-"Well, at least I can smell science."
There is the empirical research. Because if I don't taste it,
I don't believe in it.
Now, cortisol is good in small doses,
but if you leave it on too long, it won't just stress you out,
it will kill you.
It contributes to certain cancers, diabetes 2, heart disease,
infertility, obesity and premature ageing.
All this, you can give yourself.
It's slightly sounds from your book as though, what you suffered from
for years was this over-active, racing mind.
It meant you couldn't sleep, you were always worried.
When you are really ill, you can't move, but, yeah, before that,
you have a racing mind. Before it. Eventually, you have no mind at all.
But on the way down, I started showing up at events,
expecting to show the world, I'm perfectly fine and look how popular!
So, I ended up at a charity for Save the Puffin
and there was a Scottish woman in a, kind of, cathair sweater, saying,
"It was so difficult for the puffins to find a rock to land on,
"because of the high winds." That's when I knew I was crazy.
I wanted to say, "Just shoot the puffins.
"This is madness."
But it is the joke version. I really did those things,
-but when you have depression, there is nobody home, you know?
There is no pen. You can't write anything.
But I can't write a book saying, "I was a blank space" for 500 pages.
-So, I did the comedy, knowing that, underneath,
there is a sickness.
Then we have vasopressin. This makes men less aggressive
and turns them into loving, faithful creatures,
who write Valentine's Day cards. We should sprinkle vasopressin
in their food.
But one of my favourites is adrenaline.
Oh, yeah, I love that one.
You say in your book that you like being late cos you like that
adrenaline rush of, sort of,
getting in a panic and when you already knew that
you were supposed to be there at five o'clock
-and it was five o'clock...
-You're killing my comedy, Lynn.
You're killing my comedy.
-I was talking about adrenaline and I said,
"Sometimes, I call a taxi to take me to the airport...
and when it gets to my house, then I start packing.
'It doesn't mean I do it all the time. I'm filling a book'
-with comedy lines.
-Oh, really? What, you're denying everything?
-It's all lies.
-No, I do do it, but when you do comedy,
-you got to bump it up.
Otherwise, what are you looking at?
I get into my car and I am driving the wrong way down a one-way street
and the devil voices in my head are now coming out of my mouth
and I am going, "Fuck you!"
"Fuck you, you fuckhead!
"Fuck you! Your mother looks like a watermelon!"
"I hope they tear her eyebrows off and then they throw 'em out
"of a helicopter!" I don't know what I'm talking about.
-I can totally see that
mindfulness is helpful for this, sort of, racing, anxious brain,
but it wouldn't necessarily help, sort of, deep, flat...
-The, sort of, flat of depression, would it?
So, it's not full, then?
If you are in the, you know, down there, at the equivalent of a log,
with very little personality, you know, people say,
"Get up and jog!" or you should eat nutritiously,
-tell them to go to hell, because there is no brain.
So, mindfulness is when you know, again, if the drugs worked,
forget everything else, but when those drugs start to lift
-you up, then you had better do some mindfulness exercise.
Otherwise, it is going to slam you down again.
The fans who flock to her shows
are also treated to an intimate
question-and-answer session, after the interval.
When I came to the show, it seems to me an odd...an odd mix,
because, basically, it is very funny in the first half,
then you take questions from the audience, which I imagine
could be quite a nervous moment.
But also, I had a feeling of almost like a revivalist meeting,
the sort of waves of love and gratitude and everything and people
saying that you had been their inspiration and they don't know
where they would be without you and they might have committed suicide
without you. I mean, that is quite a heavy responsibility,
-do you not feel?
-Well, I didn't... I wasn't expecting that.
Seven years ago, people would not stand up. This was taboo.
I don't ask them to reveal anything, cos it could just be
-a discussion about the weather.
-I hope not.
But now, I have to shut people up.
It's, sort of, an awkward, I think, sort of,
compromise between a comedy show, where we are invited...
Were you uncomfortable? I bet you were.
-I was in the questions, yeah.
-I bet you were.
-That's my English reticence...
-I bet that sphincter was tight!
One thing that really struck me in your book, actually was that
you said, very sweetly, that your children have grown up OK.
And I thought, "Well, she can't be as bad as she makes her out...
"as she makes herself out", because, if your children are OK,
basically, that means you did OK, didn't it?
-Well, I selected my husband...
-..cos I knew he had the right genes,
so on my way to the registry desk, I told him three things.
I told him, one, how old I really was.
Two, that I had been married a couple of times before.
And, three, I was mentally ill!
So, I knew he would probably breed some pretty successful children.
Whereas, my family, all the way back... But on the other hand,
it's not a guarantee because if my mum had five kids,
-we wouldn't all have it.
-So, it's nature and nurture.
-You don't know.
-Yeah, yeah. I probably shouldn't...
I'll make a million enemies by saying this, it does strike me
that a component of depression is self-obsession, do you think?
-Well, it's exactly like a physical disease.
-And nothing goes with it. It is just something broke.
Something broke. They lost... They lost chemicals, they got chemicals.
Nobody knows the answer.
It's like I always say, it's saying to somebody with Alzheimer's,
"Come on, snap out of it! You know where you parked your car."
-Yeah, yeah. Not very helpful.
-It's the same thing, yeah.
Well, then, I think the answer is, I'm not very helpful.
-On the other hand...
-I'm not going to you when I have depression.
I'm not coming for the dinner party.
No, I'm not the right person, definitely.
"Lynn, hi. I'm really getting depressed. Can I come over?"
The other thing is, I've had some friends
who have spent almost 50 years phoning me up in tears,
saying they're so depressed
and then quite recently,
they've had terrible things like serious cancer,
or serious bowel problems.
They are far more stoical with, as it were, physical illness than I am.
The depression is worse.
The cancer, I want to live, and the depression, I want to die.
So, I can see where it's almost...
At least they know it's cancer.
With depression, you're gone. So, I get it.
I get that cancer would be easier to bear.
Do you seriously think that this mindfulness regime
will keep you on the rails for the rest of your life?
You know, nothing is 100%,
unless you're some fantasist that thinks there is the elixir.
I have this disease.
If you have it more than three times,
chances are pretty good you're going to get it.
-Yeah, I'm waiting.
The clock is ticking.
Probably when this interview is over, I ask you for help...
-I'm the wrong person!
-I know you are.
-If I need therapy...
-You won't, you won't.
And if you need it, don't come to me.
You interview me again and I could interview you,
if I ever get a fucking show again.
'Stand-up comedian Rob Delaney is best known here
'for co-writing and starring in Channel 4's Catastrophe.
'Set in contemporary London,
'it's a brilliantly funny and filthy comedy of manners.'
You let me put my penis in your mouth,
but you won't let me put my T-shirts in your drawer?
-Please don't rush me, Rob!
'And this month, he was a speaker at Southbank's Changing Minds Festival.
'Rob was a jobbing actor with an alcohol problem.
'Then, a near-fatal car crash when drunk at the wheel
turned out to be a catalyst, in more ways than one.'
The next year after you came off alcohol,
-you had a really, really bad depressive breakdown.
-I did, yeah.
And you also said, very interestingly, that that gave you
a sort of fearlessness that enabled you to do comedy, is that right?
-That is true.
-That nothing so bad could happen?
-That is true.
I started to do comedy not too long after I got sober.
After I had my last surgeries from the car accident and stuff,
then I started to do comedy, then I got walloped by depression,
so, yeah, it's fair to say that comedy very heartily pursued
and depression started around the same time.
So, let that be a warning.
So, does doing comedy sort of cheer you out of your depression?
Yes, it does.
And I've had two very severe depressive episodes
and even when I was in the throes of that,
getting on stage still felt good
and definitely gave me powerful serotonin blasts, as it were.
-Does it really?
-Some of your stand-up is filthy...
Some of it is, yeah.
There's a really funny ongoing bit about anal sex
and how nervous you are of how reluctant you are to approach it.
So, I now know that there are people in this world
who don't want a hard penis
thrusting in and out of their asshole
and I'm among them.
I am one of those people.
So that's why, even if it's my birthday,
-I'm not going to be like, "Hey, baby..."
Unless that's your thing -
if you like being fucked in the butt, I'll fuck your butt.
I'm not a monster.
But you decide that -
you're the boss of what goes in and out of your butthole.
I think that filthy humour is wonderful
and I no longer feel embarrassed about it or apologise,
because I think that stand-up about the body and its functions
and how it betrays us and how we try to harness it and control it
is such a great shorthand for our other, more complex emotions.
If you talk about things in a way
that both men and women can appreciate and just relax together,
I think it's a nice thing to do.
Well, yeah, because I noticed that
lots of women are laughing as much as the men
and often, male stand-ups talking about sex
is rather cringe-making, if you're a woman.
-It can be, yeah.
-It's often quite aggressive, isn't it?
To that, I will say,
I want to be the best comedian that I can possibly be
so shame on me if I'm not doing comedy for women and for men.
If I make a group of men laugh, but not women,
that wasn't funny enough. And that's not...
Although yes, I'm a feminist, that's not a feminist approach.
It doesn't come from a feminist place,
it comes from a utilitarian place.
I want the loudest laughs because I'm a laugh junkie
I'd better be extruding them from the women as well or go home.
Because in Catastrophe as well, you manage a very rare thing,
which is being both sexy and a feminist new man.
The belief is that men who change nappies
aren't actually any good in bed.
Women raise kids on their own all the time,
but what about when you want to take a shit or get a haircut?
And independent of that, can you, for a second, accept the fact
that I like you and want to be with you, you fucking idiot?
When you had your terrible car crash, you were given the choice,
I believe, of either a custodial sentence or going to rehab.
So, obviously, the American law recognises
that alcoholism is a psychiatric illness that needs treatment.
-And that was your salvation, really, wasn't it?
Yes, they gave me an option - I could go to more jail,
or, for a longer period of time,
I could go stay in a psychiatric hospital.
And I knew that I needed that.
I wanted real downtime,
where I could begin to address the stuff
that had made me want to drink that much for that long.
You're quite keen on talking about mental health issues, aren't you?
-Did you ever actually feel suicidal?
And what stopped you?
What stopped me?
You know, this might sound silly,
but I sort of took myself out of the driver's seat.
I said, you know what?
I've got a big ego, I've got a big frontal lobe,
I've got all that crap that people identify as being smart,
so I knew I had to give that a rest,
because I could intellectualise reasons
why I should blow my brains out.
But I knew that that wasn't the best part of me,
so I knew it just had to be paused,
so I wasn't going to listen to it for a while.
Who I would listen to are family members who loved me,
and I would listen to friends,
and I'd listen to people who'd been through alcoholism and depression
and I would imagine myself asking them,
"Do you think I should kill myself?"
And them being like, "No, no, I don't think so."
Or I thought, if they were feeling what I'm feeling,
and they said, "Should I kill myself?" What would I say?
I wouldn't be like, "Yeah, probably."
I would say "No, you moron."
You said that libido is the litmus test of mental health.
If you don't want to wank, then you know you're depressed.
Yeah, I'd say that's one of them.
For me, my first depression happened when I was 25, 26 and I knew...
When you're a 25 or 26-year-old guy, you should be masturbating...
almost the whole time.
And if you're not, then that's sort of the canary in the coal mine.
I would say, probably the first scary thing
is sleep going out the window,
cos that's always distressing
and then realising, "Wow, I don't want to wank?"
That's a big red flag.
And then I think once food, the desire to eat goes,
then there is the trifactor - food, sleep, wanking -
it's already too late.
It's not already too late to get help,
but then you're firmly entrenched in some sort of episode.
You don't really have any comedy routines about depression, do you?
-No, not yet.
-It might happen?
It could happen.
But it hasn't yet, and I wouldn't force it.
For the moment, I'm comfortable keeping them separate, you know?
I hope that my stand-up has some alchemical properties,
which is to say, I hope that it can take pain and stress and difficulty
and turn it into laughter and happiness and all that.
But nothing explicitly, like,
let's take a look at this depressed guy
and live through some weird narrative structure.
"Now he's happy - and here's how we did it!"
That, to me, would be a little forced.
Hey, let me get yours.
It'll make me feel better about being in line for just a Coke.
You don't drink?
No, I quit a few years ago,
after I shit my pants at my sister's wedding.
you are a man called Rob who is a recovering alcoholic, which is you.
So, did you decide right from the outset
that it was going to be you, more or less?
No, in fact. The fact that my character is sober...
Sharon Horgan, my writing partner and partner in the show -
she thought it would be a good idea to have him
retain that actual fact from my life.
In the second series of Catastrophe,
there's some very funny scenes with your character's friend Dave,
who is sort of snorting cocaine
and generally misbehaving like mad.
Was it fun, writing that? I mean, did you feel nostalgic?
Yes, it was very fun, writing that.
But then, we had to shoot it
and I found some of it quite distressing.
Wake up, man.
Wake the fuck up!
'There's one scene where I discover him in rough shape
'after an evening of excess.'
-Passed out on the...?
-Yes, he's passed out on his bed.
And I hated seeing that.
Are you breathing?
Are you breathing, you fucking 45-year-old heroin partier?
Seeing him in trouble - that was just too much for me.
And it was the one time in the two series' shooting
that I actually cried.
I have an OD. My friend OD'd.
Do you need to make people laugh?
I mean, if you're going to a dinner party,
do you feel it's your job to amuse people?
I think one fantastic thing about me
is that I don't need to, when I'm not on stage,
be the clown.
I find comedians who are that way to be tiresome.
You know? Relax.
Cos other civilians are funny, you know?
And that's one thing I love about living in the UK,
is that your average civilian is funnier
than your average American civilian.
I would rather just hang out at a dinner party and be amused,
or at least let other people talk.
You said that nothing comes close to the thrill of doing stand-up
and that you'd fear for your own survival without it.
-Would you actually fear for your sanity without it?
I must make people laugh.
That's not a good thing, that's just a compulsion.
So, stand-up is the easiest, fastest
and most immediately gratifying way to do it.
Also, making television is wonderfully gratifying,
so as long as I'm engaging in one, I'm OK.
Well, thank you very much.
-Will you sign my book?
MUSIC: Don't Stop Me Now by Queen
So, that's about it for my edition of Artsnight.
Last year, a Dutch neuroscientist worked out a mathematical formula
to decide the most feel-good pop song of all time.
So, here it is, accompanied by a bit of therapeutic Tai Chi
from the Changing Minds Festival.
# Oh, burning through the sky, yeah
# 200 degrees, that's why they call me Mr Fahrenheit
# I'm travelling at the speed of light
# I wanna make a supersonic man out of you
# Don't stop me now
# I'm having such a good time I'm having a ball
# Don't stop me now
# If you wanna have a good time Just give me a call
-# Don't stop me now
-Cos I'm having a good time
-# Don't stop me now
-Yes, I'm having a good time
# I don't wanna stop at all. #