Living with Laughter Keynote Address.

Keynote address title:                         Living with Laughter

Can the Comedy Industry help reduce stress, depression, and ultimately suicides?

Written by:                              Mark McConville

                                                Founder & Creative Director

                                                COMEDY UNLIMTED®

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s almost every single week I’m being told of another unfortunate instance of someone taking their own life, someone that for whatever reason had come to the decision that they just couldn’t go on.

I talk to you today not only as a business owner within the comedy industry but as a man who has experienced first-hand the various treatment methods for depression.

What I’m offering you today is an alternate idea as to the way in which we approach this problem of suicide. I’m not about to stand here and criticise the medical professionals who work in this area as I know for a fact that I may not have been standing here today if it wasn’t for their help and treatments. 

 What I am saying though is that the current methods of treatment are reactive.

We wait for someone to display the symptoms of depression or anxiety or self-harm then, and only then, do we offer treatments.

 What if we took a step back in order to take a step forward?

What if we looked at the bigger picture? And I’m talking the much bigger picture…

What if we were able to have FUN in our lives, free from the fear of recrimination and ridicule?

 The overall theme of my talk is to discuss how the comedy industry can play a significant role in regards to helping reduce the suicide rate.

 I am proposing that educating people on the importance of having comedy and laughter as a part of their everyday lives could help reduce stress levels, depression and ultimately suicides.

 In my opinion, and that of many others I have spoken too, the ever increasing focus on political correctness has reached the point where it is now doing society more harm than good. We are now constantly being told what we can and cannot do or say, and this has resulted in the diminishing of the sense of fun in modern society.

In his paper entitled:

Looking for fun in Cultural Science

Professor Alan McKee from QUT states the following:

 Fun is a medicinal bath

Having fun is the valuable end in itself. Politics is important only to the extent to which it enables more people to have more fun, more often.

There is not enough fun in the world, and what there is is distributed unequally. Politics must address this.[i]

 In the paper entitled:

An Evaluation of Humour in Emergency Work

Professor Carmen Moran from Charles Sturt University and who is also a member of the review panel for the Australasian Humour Studies Network

 Professor Moran writes:

 Appreciation of humour refers to the ability to see humour in the environment, whereas generation of humour is the tendency to make humorous comments or act in a humorous manner in a situation. Research suggests that generating humour is more psychologically protective than simply appreciating humour. [ii]

 Professor Moran goes on to say:

Humour and laughter are considered important contributors to our wellbeing and thus add to our contention that humour in the emergency environment deserves serious study

Professor Moran is talking about frontline emergency services personnel who are exposed daily to high levels of stress and trauma. In this paper Professor Moran explores the use of humour as a coping mechanism for stress and anxiety.

In his article:

Using Humour to Cope – Laughing in the Midst of Stress

Paul McGhee, PhD from The Laughter Remedy in the United States explains:

People who have access to their sense of humor in the midst of stress are much more resilient than the rest of us. They are emotionally more flexible and can bend without breaking in the midst of the most difficult circumstances.[iii]

When someone dies by suicide unfortunately they have reached that breaking point, and gone past it.  

The association between depression, mental illness and suicide has been well documented around the world, to the point where we now have many countries, including Australia, that have adopted individual National Suicide Prevention Strategies.

Let’s talk briefly about the two main treatments for depression and mental illness in this country: medications and counselling.


From the research paper:

International Suicide Rates – Recent Trends and Implications for Australia.

Published by The Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention (2003).

I quote:

“Although Antidepressants may be effective in the treatment of depressive symptoms, the current evidence strongly suggests that antidepressants have no effect in reducing the risk of suicide attempts or completions ”.[iv]

And they back that statement up with the following facts:

“A review of toxicology findings in a sample of 5,281 suicides in Sweden revealed that 45.3 per cent of suicide completers had psychotropic medication and 16.5 per cent had an antidepressant in their system at the time of death (Isacsson et al., 1999)”.[v]

This is the reality of being on antidepressants.

Let me tell you a quick story.

A few months ago a friend of mine called me up on a Sunday night distraught because the husband of one of her girlfriends had suicided earlier that day.

My friend was going through the usual range of emotions you’d expect but one in particular was taking hold - the emotion of anger. Apparently he had attempted suicide five years previously and had subsequently been prescribed antidepressants.  She was angry because he had stopped taking his medications, repeatedly, opting to go on and off them sporadically of his own accord. . My friend kept saying to me:

“Why couldn’t he just have stayed on the pills? Why would he do that??”

So I asked her,

 “Do you know much about antidepressants and what they do to you, in particular the affect that they have on a man?”

“No, I don’t.” came the reply.

“Well” I said, “Let me tell you the reality of being on antidepressants, from a man’s perspective.”

To start with there are so many antidepressants on the market and they each come with such a range of side effects and effectiveness that it can literally take months of trying different ones before you find a medication that works for you. And the side effects can range from everything to headaches, nausea, insomnia and drowsiness. But I think by far the hardest side effect to deal with is that of taking away your sexual mojo. In other words, you lose your desire for intimacy and touch. I also know for a fact that this isn’t inherent only to men. I’ve known of women who have suffered the exact same side effects.

Sure, once you’ve found the right one they do an excellent job of taking away the lows, but they also take away the highs, almost placing you in some middle ground of neutrality all the time.

As human beings, both men and women need intimacy, it’s part of our makeup, and when we are placed in a state where we no longer desire intimacy, it can mess with your head, it really can. This is why so many people make the decision off their own bat to go off the medications.”

My friend’s response to this was:

“How do you know all this stuff?”

 “It’s simple” I told her “Because I’ve been there myself. I was diagnosed with depression and ADHD some ten years ago and I’ve subsequently had the countless visits to various doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists and been prescribed numerous medications over the years and I can tell you this for certain, it’s not an easy thing to go through. I myself did the exact same thing as your friend’s husband, choosing to go off the medications at various times because I hated what they were turning me into. Now I consider myself one of the lucky ones who has been to the darkest of dark places and has come out the other side.”

So, as I mentioned at the start, I’m talking to you today not only as a comedian and a business owner within the comedy industry, but also as someone who has first-hand experience as to what it’s like to feel that low.

I was asked by my doctors to make a commitment to them and to myself, not to go off the medications for two years, to deal with the side effects as they appeared and to not, for any reason, stop taking those dreaded pills.

That two year period has since passed and I did as I was told, luckily, as I may not have been here otherwise. In the treatment process there is strong emphasis placed on diet and exercise and I’m not disputing that at all. For myself, however, I found there to be two other elements that helped change my life: laughter and meditation.

Now let’s look at the counselling treatments.

When talking to various medical professionals who treat people with depression the majority advise their patients to “stop watching the news”

As I’m sure many of you are aware, The World Health Organization estimates the current global suicide rate sits at around one million people a year.

This, they state, represents a 60% increase globally over the past fourty-five years.

I propose that a direct relationship can be drawn between the increase in global suicides and the globalisation of the news and communications industries.

Fourty-five years ago if a busload of children were killed in another country we never heard about it, whereas now every single tragedy that occurs around the planet is being beamed into our lounge rooms and mobile devices twenty-four hours a day.

We may not realise it at the time, but subliminally we are taking in all of this negativity and tragedy to the point where we find ourselves thinking:

 I’m going to lose my job.

It’s not safe to go shopping.

It’s not even safe to drive to the shops.

What about terrorists… are they here??

Are my kids safe in school?

And the list of things we’re told we need to be frightened of goes on and on and on.

Try NOT watching the news for two weeks. In fact I propose that instead of watching your half-hour news bulletin every night of the week you replace it with watching an episode of your favourite comedy show. These days you can buy box sets of complete seasons of whatever comedy show that tickles your fancy.

From “Seinfeld” and “Family Guy” to old time classics like “Are You Being Served?” and “The Benny Hill Show” - they’re not that hard to find.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to never watch the news ever again, after all, we do all need to stay informed as to what’s happening around us to a certain extent. What I am saying, however, is to not let it control how you’re going to live your life.

What I’m proposing is that if we were in a happier state of mind more often as a result of being exposed to comedy and laughter on a more regular basis, would we not then be better equipped to deal with the everyday pressures and stress of life?

Thus adhering to the age old saying, “Prevention is better than cure”

 We live in a world now where workplace health and safety laws will demand that a man standing on the side of a road holding a stop/go sign WEAR A HELMET and why is that??? What’s that protecting him from - falling debris from a ….. ???

You see what I mean.

We’re worried about looking after the outside of his head when in fact we should be more concerned with looking after the inside….


It is clear that current methodologies for addressing the problem of suicide are not working and the time has come to look at other avenues for prevention.

We at COMEDY UNLIMITED® are currently developing various workshops and programs that are designed to help people get back to that feeling of being able to have fun in their lives.

Laughing is one of nature’s most effective remedies in the changing of someone’s mood and this has been clinically proven time and time again.

So why is it then that the sense of fun is being stripped from our everyday lives, mainly in the workplace, where we all spend the majority of our time?

What I’m talking about is nothing new at all. For many years there have been countless people who make a living out of instructing people on the importance of laughter and fun in the workplace. Unfortunately, though, for whatever reasons, the connection between the comedy industry and mental health treatments has been, from what I can tell, largely overlooked and grossly underestimated.

The vision statement for our company is as follows:

Building a better world through comedy and laughter

COMEDY UNLIMITED® is committed to exploring the limitless opportunities of the Comedian as a true human asset to society.

Our unique process aims to raise the awareness of the comedy industry as a profession and the invaluable role it plays in regards to the well-being of mankind.

So what does that statement really mean when broken down?

Building a better world through comedy and laughter

Sure, this may seem like an altruistic statement and a pie in the sky dream, but if nothing changes then nothing changes and we are in desperate need of change.

Isn’t it true that the more people laugh with each other and not at each other, the happier and more stable our society will be?

COMEDY UNLIMITED is committed to exploring the limitless opportunities of the Comedian as a true human asset to society.

There are tens of thousands of tradespeople, office workers, medical personnel, emergency workers etc. etc. etc. throughout Australia and yet in a population of over twenty million people, we have but a few hundred full time professional comedians.

We all now know that there are physical, emotional and societal benefits of humour and laughter and these few hundred people are the ones who day in and day out are responsible for the supply of this natural form of feel good medicine. So why not utilise them as an asset to society?

Our unique process aims to raise the awareness of the comedy industry as a profession and the invaluable role it plays in regards to the well being of mankind.

It’s time that we stopped looking at comedians as purely men and women that stand on stage in comedy clubs and/or write and perform in comedy skits for television and radio.

Let’s start looking at how comedians can be utilised in a different more effective way, to the betterment of society. What I’m proposing is a significant societal shift in the value we place on comedy and start to look at how it can be used to help reduce life stress and anxiety, which in turn can hopefully help to reduce the suicide rates.

I believe that the best way to achieve a positive societal change is by implementing the following strategies: 

  • Educate the corporate sector as to the importance of creating a comedy culture within the workplace, making it acceptable to have fun at work

If people are happier at work, surely they’ll be happier at home.

  • Develop programs that are specifically designed to help people with highly stressful jobs cope via a means of regular exposure to comedy and laughter
  • Help our frontline emergency services personnel cope with their daily exposure to trauma by means of developing regular and ongoing comedy and laughter programs
  • Educate people as to the importance of having comedy as part of their everyday lives - just as we would go to the gym to keep physically fit, so too should we experience comedy to keep ourselves emotionally fit.
  • Send comedians into our schools to educate our youth on the differences between laughing with someone and laughing at someone, and how comedy fits into social commentary and entertainment

 Obviously there is a lot more to thiut you get the general idea.

I’ll finish up on this…

Let me tell you a quote from Captain Gerald Coffee, who was a POW in Vietnam

“Laughter sets the spirit free to move through even the most tragic circumstances. It helps us shake our heads clear, get our feet back under us and restore our sense of balance and purpose. Humor is integral to our peace of mind and ability to go beyond survival.”

This statement comes from a man who was a POW in Vietnam for several years and who attributes his survival to maintaining a sense of humour about the situation.  Captain Coffee and his fellow prisoners were isolated from each other in an attempt to break their spirits. They overcame this, however, by tapping out jokes in Morse code on the walls of their cells. 

Humour and laughter changes your perspective on things, allowing you to see situations in a more realistic, less threatening light. A humorous perspective creates psychological distance, which can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed.

COMEDY and LAUGHTER, ladies and gentlemen, offers a natural, feel good remedy for our fast-paced, stressed out world that we all find ourselves currently living in.

You can’t feel anxious, angry or, most importantly, sad or despondent when you’re laughing.

The sad reality is, in the time that I’ve been onstage talking to you, thirty people have given up and taken their own lives.

So can the comedy industry play a role in helping prevent suicide?

 I for one believe it can.

Thank you

[i] McKee, A. 2008. Looking for fun in Cultural Science. Cultural Science 1 (2).


[ii] Professor Carmen Moran PhD (UNSW)
Carmen Moran and Margaret Massam
School of Social Work, University of New South Wales,
Sydney, NSW 2052


[iii] Using Humour to Cope – Laughing in the Midst of Stress

December 21, 2010 By Paul McGhee, PhD


[iv] Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention (2003). International

Suicide Rates – Recent Trends and Implications for Australia. Australian Government Department of

Health and Ageing, Canberra.


[v] Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention (2003). International

Suicide Rates – Recent Trends and Implications for Australia. Australian Government Department of

Health and Ageing, Canberra.



Written and researched by

Mark McConville
CEO & Creative Director


Mobile Ph. 0408 632 631

Office -    07 5537 2056


P.O.Box 418

Biggera Waters

Qld 4216





© Copyright McConville Entertainment 2012


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