Comedy is Kindness

Posted 22/05/2020

The theme of this week is ‘kindness’. That means, we can all be kind for 7 days, and then get back to being cruel, nasty and inconsiderate.

Of course that’s not the idea, but if you head to social media it’s a veritable wish list of benevolence. Some of the suggestions I’ve seen so far have been: 

  • Pay for the shopping of the person behind you in the supermarket
  • Buy flowers for someone
  • Cut someone’s lawn

To me this implies that in order to be kind you need to be loaded, guilty or a freelance gardener.

Sure, big dramatic acts of kindness are amazing (and if anyone wants to pay for my shopping I’ll happily take you up on that offer - especially as I’m earning less than a Bill Clinton impersonator at the moment) but it’s a little bit unrealistic. With the kids off school, workloads increased and companies furloughing staff like there's no tomorrow, your average Joe doesn’t really have time to go around playing Fairy Godmother.

So I want to point out that kindness comes in many forms. And, in fact, just making someone laugh can be one of the kindest things of all.

People think I’m mad when I tell them that comedy is based in kindness. As a standup comic, I know that whenever people filter into a comedy club they always avoid the dreaded front row for fear the comics will pick on them. But, from the other side of the mic, people forget that all comedy has one aim - of making people laugh.

The late, great Robin Williams once said:

“I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy, because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.”       

When I developed my anorexia everything felt very serious. It’s hard to have a joke over the dinner table when you’re trying to tot up the calories on your plate. My eating disorder became my escape from the world, but humour was a reminder that reality wasn’t so bad.

I’m now well into my recovery, and one of the things I find most difficult about telling people about my anorexic past is the ‘tone shift’. There’s a small intake of breath, averted gaze and then a rapid check if anything said previously might be seen as offensive or unhelpful.

This comes from a place of compassion, of caring and of kindness. I understand that. But I also understand that sometimes we can accidently treat mental health sufferers as patients, not as people. We know that eating disorders can make people feel isolated. And I can’t help but wonder if it is this ‘tone shift’ that’s part of the reason.

I remember, when I was a teenager, one of my mates broke his arm playing rugby. We made changes in the things that we did with him at school (I personally tried to bunk off P.E for “moral support” but the teachers were having none of it) but we didn’t make changes in how we treated him. He was still the same guy, and because he’d got a broken arm didn’t make him any different.

That’s where humour comes into mental health. This is why I wanted to use sensitivity comedy in order to talk about eating disorders, because when people are laughing they’re listening, and when they’re listening, they’re learning. I wanted to use that to help reach out and educate people about eating disorders who are lucky enough to have no experience. But also to give a bit of light relief to the people who know what it’s like to live with an eating disorder.

Kindness comes in many forms. It doesn’t only have to be grand gestures. Sometimes the little things can matter the most. I know that when I was going through my anorexia, having a laugh with a mate and being treated like a person, not a patient, was one of the kindest gestures anyone could pay me.

Contributed by Dave Chawner