I’d never met the Greene family before the premiere of Being Greene at the Park Theatre last Wednesday. I could immediately feel the camaraderie in the packed theatre. It made sense afterwards when I realized a good number of Winnipeg’s stand up comics had been in the audience. They came out in support of one of their own.
Comic and actor Quinn Greene was one of the family members showcased in the locally shot documentary. When the lights came up to strong applause there was plenty of hearty bear hugging between the crew, the family and friends. It was the culmination of more than two years of filming.
Dave, Quinn and Kane Greene were in attendance but their mother Roxie was unfortunately unable to be there. Numan Production Company had filmed the family’s struggles with various mental illnesses as they continued performing in the local arts scene. From an Elvis impersonator to a beatbox artist to a writer to a comic; this family is talented and takes chances onstage.
But it’s in their private lives they really face challenges. You wouldn’t know it if you’d met them at the Park Theatre, as I did.
They were almost giddy with happiness or relief that the film was well received. After the screening, they thanked the crew and implored everyone to take the time to reach out to others.
Kane became emotional while thanking his family, especially his brother Quinn. Always the performer, he then broke out his harmonica and they whooped it up onstage.
“Comedians are really in tune with their emotions and able to see the world in a different way,” said Quinn to me afterwards.
Then why do they commit suicide at twice the national rate? Local comic Big Daddy Tazz, aka Winnipeg’s Bipolar Buddha, uses his stand up act to teach people about mental illness. Others are doing the same.
A YouTube video called Confessions Of a Depressed Comic by Kevin Breel went viral with more than four million views and counting.
David Granirer is a Vancouver based therapist and stand up comic who believes that doing stand up comedy can help heal those suffering from anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses. He wishes it had been an option when he had his first depressive episode at age 16.
“In therapy you’re taking painful things from the past and talking about them in order to get closure in the present. In comedy, you’re taking those same painful things you may never have told anyone else and turning them into comedy and then telling them to a theatre full of people who don’t know you and think you’re great,” he explained.
Stand Up For Mental Health teaches comedy skills to people across Canada, the US and Australia. Granirer facilitates the classes over Skype, then emcees and performs in the comedy show at the end.
Quinn Greene’s day job dovetails neatly into his comedy gigs and he’s developed good coping mechanisms. Other members of the Greene family aren’t as lucky.
His mother’s struggle with Unipolar Depression has taken a terrible toll on her life. His younger brother Kane lost jobs due to depression and anxiety. When he had a bad day, it took over. That meant he didn’t get up, didn’t go to work, didn’t talk.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association he’s not alone. There are many others like him. One in five adult Canadians will suffer a mental disorder in their lives.
The film serves as a reminder that Mental Health Week may have ended on Oct. 8, but for those suffering it never really ends. For them, their families and friends, it’s Mental Health Week every week.
You will probably never know the challenges some sufferers face even though they can be people you work or live with.
“People with mental illness are the best actors in the world,” Quinn said. On the flip side, “They have a beautiful empathy for each other and for humans in general,” he added.
Reid Bricker personified that for me. I met him just two weeks before he disappeared. He took the time to ask if I was okay on a day when everything had gone wrong and during our conversation matter of factly told me he was suicidal. Or did he say he’d attempted suicide three times? I didn’t take in what he was saying at first as he said it so calmly, didn’t know which it was afterwards.
I felt overwhelmed and wanted to help him but didn’t know how. There’s been such a stigma around mental illness for so long that we don’t know how to talk about it. What do you say to someone feeling suicidal? Do you tell them that life will get better, that things will be better tomorrow? Do you know that they will?
Comedians are at the forefront of breaking down the barriers and initiating conversations about mental illness. Paul Gilmartin is a comic who hosts the weekly Mental Illness Happy Hour podcast. He interviews comedians, artists, friends and the occasional doctor – people affected by or interested in any of the mental health issues prevalent in the arts. You can download episodes of the popular and insightful series at mentalpod.com.
It seems laughter really can be the best medicine. Big Daddy Taz says just that, in his interview with Andre Picard of the Globe and Mail. “Comedy is the best therapy ever,” but he qualifies it with, “They say laughter is the best medicine and they’re right – but lithium is pretty powerful too.”
Be sure to tune into CBC-TV tonight at 9 p.m. to watch locally filmed Being Greene; an episode in CBC’s Firsthand Series of point-of-view documentaries. You’ll be getting an insider’s view of a wild and crazy family of local entertainers. You’ll see the love they have for one another and the care they show for each other. There will be many twists and turns and plenty of raw emotion.
In case you recognize worrisome characteristics in yourself or others you’re close to after seeing the documentary, CBC online has a page, How To help Family And Friends Cope With Mental Illness which has a list of mental health resources.