Holmes to shine spotlight on mental health at Wingham event
BY SCOTT STEPHENSON
Motivational speaker and comedian Jessica Holmes is coming to Wingham on May 6 to perform in the show “A Healthy Dose of Humour!”, hosted by Mental Health Matters Wingham. The show will arrive just in time for the Canadian Mental Health Association's (CMHA) Mental Health Week, bringing some much-needed extra attention to the various mental health issues, both personal and systemic, that have an impact on so many Canadians in one way or another.
The connections between comedy and mental health struggles are manifold. Humour is used by some to mask mental issues, while others depend on humour to heal. The dimly-lit venues that play host to stand-up comedy shows can easily become a makeshift therapist’s office for performers, and a good night of laughter between strangers can be one of our society’s truly cathartic experiences.
Holmes, an alumni of the Royal Canadian Air Farce, has long been an advocate for mental health, and hopes that her current show will help people struggling in pockets across Canada. She was kind enough to share her thoughts with The Citizen on the relationships humans have with comedy a few days before her show.
To Holmes, the connection between mental health struggles and comedy is an obvious one. “Watching comedy is a mood booster…. Laughter is a physical and mental release of pent-up stress. Comedy lets us know we aren’t alone in our problems.”
As strong as the connections formed by joke-tellery can be, Holmes also understands the importance of tact and empathy when touching on complex human situations. “I don’t necessarily tell jokes about anyone else’s struggle, and I don’t make fun of depression itself. It’s healing to find the humour in my journey; so I’ll make fun of the unhelpful advice I received.” Holmes did admit that her husband was able to successfully lure her to therapy with the promise of a Tim Hortons situated close to the therapist’s office.
For this show and in general, Holmes strives only to share her personal experiences using humour - it’s a bonus that people seem to find relief and validation through hearing about her issues from a relatively safe distance. “It’s important to me that people know that they are not alone and hear about what worked for one person, in a lighthearted way that’s not triggering,” she explained, touching again on the delicate balance that must be achieved between performer and audience. The material changes and grows as she experiences different moments in life, but her goal is always the same - to “always be sure what I’m sharing on stage is helpful. When you see the show, you’ll realize it’s not a lecture about depression, it’s more like a friend chatting with you over coffee about the hurdles of being human so that we can have a laugh about it together. It’s relatable.”
The toxic underbelly of the comedy industry is a common trope in both fiction and the newspaper headlines, with disgraced funny men falling out of favour almost as frequently as they fall back into favour. Holmes had a surprisingly positive take on this much-maligned field. “I actually feel like the comedy industry is a forgiving place,” she said magnanimously. “People expect you to air out your struggles in public… we say tragedy, plus time, equals comedy. It’s how we make sense of our journey. I think it would be a lot harder to combat stigma in any other industry.”
When she was first diagnosed with depression, Holmes was sure that she would have to quit the industry, “because the highs and lows can be triggering.” Through work with a trained therapist, she realized her two journeys didn’t have to conflict. “If I could make the rest of my life more stable, the highs and lows wouldn’t affect me as much. And that approach has worked really well. I’ve traded in my insecurities for healthy boundaries, nature, self-care and community. I’m basically living the dream life of an 85-year-old. And career is just a piece of that puzzle now, not the whole shebang. I’m also good at really long answers, apparently.”
Holmes hopes that, if anyone in the audience is facing something difficult, watching her show, and being brought into her confidence, will help them to realize they aren’t alone, and that one never knows if tomorrow is the day that things will turn around. “We’re stronger than we think,” is a sentiment Holmes wants audiences to carry home with them.
Is Jessica Holmes excited to perform in Wingham this week? She’s not sure if she's ever performed in Wingham before, and thinks it’s possible she may have done a show there back in her Second City days. “My expectation every time I get on stage is that I’m gonna open my heart, have fun, and connect with people. I am really grateful to have been invited!”
Whether she’s ever been to Wingham or not, Jessica Holmes will be there on Saturday, May 6 at the Wingham Knights of Columbus Centre.