Universal Comedy, set up in Finnieston in 2004, has secured a three-year grant of £62,500 from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation. Among those to benefit will be individuals living in Greater Glasgow, Edinburgh and the Lothians. The grant will allow the charity to provide free comedy courses aimed at improving confidence and self-esteem, as well as reducing the social isolation and depression that ill health – mental and physical – can cause.
Patsy Morrison, founder of Universal Comedy, is delighted by the news. She said: “Although we have been providing comedy workshops to people with health problems since 2004, most of the participants have been referred through partner organisations which means some people wishing to access our services have been unable to do so.
Many people with mental health issues are very creative but don’t have an outlet for it. Comedy provides that for me
“This funding will change that by making our services more accessible to all.”
Among those to have already benefited from the scheme is professional singer and music student Linda McGee, who has suffered mental health problems since 2000.
Ms McGee, 42, from Dennistoun, Glasgow, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder following a breakdown after being attacked. She subsequently spent six weeks receiving psychiatric treatment at Parkhead Hospital.
Although she has since recovered, Ms McGee says her illness had a long-lasting effect on her confidence, including her ability to interact with an audience while on stage. Last year she attended a Universal Comedy taster workshop, followed by a course at Glasgow East Regeneration Agency.
“I decided to put myself out there and give it a go,” she says. “I used my own experiences of ill health as the basis for my comedy material, talking about some of my bipolar episodes, including one where I was arrested in a pizza shop.
“Speaking about it in a humorous way not only addressed some of the common misconceptions about bipolar disorder, but I found doing stand-up comedy helped my confidence and presentation skills, not least being able to interact with an audience.”
Since the course ended Ms McGee has performed stand-up at several events including a Universal Comedy showcase event at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and is now leading her own comedy group of people from all over Glasgow.
“I would highly recommend other people to give it a go,” she says. “Everyone I know who has done it says it has helped build their confidence and self-esteem where before they felt isolated.
“There is still a stigma about mental health and, for a lot of people doing the workshops, there was the initial fear that the audience would be laughing at them, not with them.
“The response, though, was fantastic. One of the sketches we did was about two neds getting married and putting a tag on each other instead of a wedding ring, and the audience loved it. Many people with mental health issues are very creative – they just don’t have an outlet for it. Comedy provides that for me.
“I found speaking to a psychiatrist didn’t work for me because I felt they asked superficial questions that didn’t really relate to how I was feeling.
“I’ve kept myself well since 2002 by eating properly and making sure I get enough sleep – comedy is now a big part of that too.”