THERE aren’t many topics that comics won’t touch, but our health and especially our mental health tend to be either too tricky or too taboo to make jokes about.
Not so for second-generation Irish comedian John Ryan, who says he is “chuffed to bits” about having his first research paper published in the Journal of Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.
Ryan started using health as a topic in his stand-up routines over eight years ago.
He studied health as part of his university degree, and when his uncle died of cancer he decided to get people to take their health more seriously using comedy to get the message across.
“Cancer is a scourge of the Irish community,” Ryan says. And having come from a working-class migrant community he says he sees first-hand how the Irish are disproportionately affected by cancers brought on by drinking, smoking and other lifestyle factors.
“It’s something close to my heart,” he adds.
The first Englishman to be born into his family, Ryan’s roots are in Longford (and he can do a cracking Longford accent to prove it).
In 2011 a short documentary he made about a women’s prison won him the Scottish Mental Health and Arts Film Festival Award and later he was approached about a project aimed at destigmatising mental health in the armed services.
Ryan began by holding a series of workshops with military personnel. “I sit in a room with a group of lads and ask them about their experiences, what they understood about mental health and where they would go to get help,” he explains.
From the anecdotes and stories that came out of the workshop he created his stand-up show and performed it in front of audiences whose reactions to the subject matter were measured.
The results show that post-show the participants were significantly less stigmatised, more able to answer questions about mental health and significantly more likely to discuss mental health and advise others about mental health.
Ryan is heading to Bahrain and Dubai to perform in a few weeks’ time, but he is already looking for funding for a new project about students and mental health here.
He told The Irish Post: “If there’s one thing I know as part of an ex-pat community it’s having that sense of belonging and identity. You can easily feel lost but we are all part of something.”