Kings College London

Jo Brand talks Comedy Slam!, mental health, and life lessons 

Award winning entertainer Jo Brand is best known for her work on programmes such as QI, Getting on and Jo Brand' s Big Splash. Before venturing into comedy, Jo spent ten years working as a psychiatric nurse.

Jo chatted to us about mental health as she gears up to host the upcoming Comedy Night in aid of South London and Maudsley (SLaM), part of King’s Health Partners. SLaM provides the widest range of mental health and substance misuse services in the UK, treating people in South London and offering specialist services to people from across the country.

She is headlining their upcoming Comedy Slam! night happening 23 October at the Southbank Centre in London. The line-up is set to include the ventriloquist Nina Conti, stand-up comedians Alistair Barrie, Robin Ince and Daniel Simonsen, and many more.

For more information and to book tickets for Comedy Slam!, visit the together we can... website.

Making people laugh is your career. Do you think humour is an important part of maintaining good mental health?

I think humour is a good way of breaking the ice with any group of people and also something that we can all share. It also diffuses tension and releases endorphins.....so yes!

Why did you want to be a psychiatric nurse?

Several reasons...Firstly, when I was a kid , my mum worked in a psychiatric hospital and we used to go there regularly to play badminton. I always felt comfortable and not scared which some people do. Secondly, my dad had suffered from depression for many years and so I suppose that was a contributing factor. And thirdly, I like people and I was interested in a job in which I could feel I could make a positive contribution to people's lives.

What were the most difficult and most rewarding parts of the job?

As I was in a 24-hour emergency clinic, I suppose dealing with people who were at the end of their tether could  be very difficult at times and when people are desperate they tend to behave in unpredictable ways, so there was some violence and abuse at times. I also found it incredibly sad too, sometimes. The rewarding bits were the times when I felt that I'd done something to make someone's life better whether it was arranging admission, doing some counselling or making them a cup of tea.

Do you have one or two inspiring stories you can share with our readers from your time as a nurse?

I was inspired by people who came from very damaged backgrounds yet still managed to hang on to some humanity despite the huge struggles they faced. The nurses who inspired me were the down-to-earth unqualified staff who had huge dollops of common sense, a brilliant sense of humour, unending kindness and an ability to deal with very tense situations.

Are there life lessons you learned as a nurse that you apply to your work today?

I learned it's important to treat everyone the same and with respect, even when you don't get it back. In stand up, the lesson that it's important to look calm, even when you're not, was very useful.

Although one in four people experience mental health problems in any year, mental health disorders are still not widely understood and many people are confused about how to interact with friends or family members who are suffering from problems such as depression. Any advice for these people?

I suppose it's important to treat people the same as usual, to actually ask them how they would like you to be and to be aware that there isn't really a manual, you just need to care about them and not behave weirdly round them!

London can be a particularly high-pressure place to live. As a Londoner, do you think life in the capital – or any large city – can exacerbate its residents’ mental health problems?

London can be a lonely place, although not the emotional desert some people assume it to be. There are many small communities in London who care about their members, but it's easy to be lonely in places where there's no sense of neighbourliness. I don't think many people's ignorance helps.

If you were a benign dictator, how would you change how the UK treats people with mental health issues?

I would make sure people were better educated about mental health issues, have a person with mental health issues on every decision making legal/parliamentary panel and provide more supportive housing and a better support system generally.

How do you cope with day-to-day pressures? Who or what are your support mechanism?

I am a very emotionally blunted person and that helps!

Do writing and performing help you channel your energies and frustrations?

Nope!

What inspired you to do the comedy night in aid of South London and Maudsley?

I'm not sure ‘inspired’ is the right word to use! As an ex-Maudsley employee, I am very fond of the place, so it wasn't a difficult decision to make.

 

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