By Martin Willis.
In August of last year, our production company produced, printed and handed out 3500 copies of a Small Book on Mental Health at the Edinburgh Fringe to anyone who worked in the industry or looked like they might want one.
We liked the impact that it had. It felt almost important. For months after the Fringe we had comics coming up to us at gigs with words of thanks. Frequently people told us it caught them at a low point they hadn’t realised they were in. They said it helped them. It was quite beautiful, and those thanks in turn kept me going when I found myself struggling.
Now, a little over half a year later, the world of the Fringe feels incredibly distant. Imagine standing on a crowded street, hustling for a show, taking something directly out of a stranger’s grubby hand. Ew. Literally illegal, by current rulings. Also, gross.
So we made this instead.
Because, sure, the Fringe is stressful. It is rife with excessive social pressures, sleep deprivation and overwork. It is stressful in pretty much the direct opposite way a pandemic is stressful, it turns out. Right now, almost none of these concerns occupy us. Our little world has shut down.
I’ll be honest; I have really struggled in the last couple of weeks. As soon as it became apparent that gigs and festivals were out of the question I felt kicked in the stomach by the thought that so many of my friends were losing their income. Friends with vulnerable relatives and mouths to feed. Friends, now, with no money coming in whatsoever. Realising this, I cried into my washing up.
By my current count I’ve cried nine times since then, for a whole array of reasons. I’m lonely. I’m purposeless. I’m bereft of inspiration. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what I can possibly fucking do.
So, I did this. Commissioning and editing this magazine has allowed me to feel useful, at the very least. It’s also made me feel incredibly well supported by my friends and peers. The array of stories, the displays of honesty and the cumulative impact of the work collated here has made my sadness feel both legitimate and understood.
Talking to friends and family, it strikes me that we have a collective problem in how to feel on an individual level about something as universally impactful as a global pandemic. Perhaps you or your family and friends are vulnerable, perhaps not. Perhaps your work has been affected, perhaps not. If not, though, your fear or anxiety or sadness at this time is still justified. Your experience does not have to be the plausible worst for the impact on you to be significant and valid.
What I’m saying, I suppose, is that it’s okay to be scared. It’s legitimately fucking scary.
It’s okay to be anxious. It’s okay to be obsessive. It’s okay to be depressed. It’s okay to be lonely. It’s okay.
In a way, I got into this industry because of a deep-seated need to escape. Experiencing traumatic incidents in my youth meant that I’ve long had to learn how to hide from the world outside. So far I’ve found no greater distraction from the gruesome reality of the world than laughter, whether in its face or not.
This zine isn’t just going to provide escapism though, let’s make no bones about that. There are some very funny bits, and there are also some sad bits, and there are many beautiful bits. While it may not be an entire escape from the difficulties the world has laid ahead of us, it should provide at least a supporting beam for you to lean on if you need it.
If this website helps you in any way, or you know someone it might, share it. Even more, please donate so that we can pay a fair fee to everyone that gave their time and thoughts to fill these pages, and so we can afford to make another.
I took tremendous heart giving these out in Edinburgh last year. And, before I hand over to the genuine comedy industry heroes of mine that have submitted something to this zine, I want to tell you what I told the couple thousand people I handed the last one to: I hope it is of no use to you whatsoever.
During the best of times and the rest of them, I have come to rely on the comedy industry for strength and purpose. I work every day surrounded by people that are kind, generous, and funny in the face of anything. This book is dedicated to every one of you. I hope you don’t need it. But if you do, with my whole heart, I hope it helps.