The Mental Health Comedy Tour, hosted by Preston Gitlin and headlined by Joe Matarese, came to the Tabler Arts Center at Stony Brook University on Oct. 17.
The event drew over 120 people to the Black Box Theatre for a comedy show and Q&A with the comedians about their struggles with mental health. Matarese and Gitlin were joined by comedians Daniel Laitman and Sonya Vai. The Mental Health Comedy Tour is meant to raise awareness and fight the stigma of mental illness through comedy while helping to raise money for To Write Love On Her Arms, a non-profit organization that helps those struggling with depression, suicidal thoughts and self-harm find treatment and recovery.
The evening started out with Gitlin cracking a few preliminary jokes, but it seemed that the audience had their guards up. Usually, the audiences in comedy clubs are intoxicated and older than the college demographic, so it’s easier to grab a reaction and relate to a joke. Gitlin described the room’s lack of energy as “the library meets Canada,” a comment that got a good amount of chuckles and softened up the audience.
Gitlin, who has an anxiety disorder, brought great energy as a host. The best of his material was about his stepmother, who victimized herself after tripping at the 9/11 memorial. He also talks about his college roommate, who he nicknamed “Bird,” because of the high-pitched noises he made during sex, which he imitates with hilarious accuracy.
The headliner for the night was Matarese, who delivered hilarious jokes about mental health and his family and worked the crowd by poking fun at Stony Brook and its community. Matarese has attention deficit disorder (ADD), anger issues, anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Matarese incorporates his mental health largely into his material and he has a one-hour special named “Medicated.” He also created a podcast called “Fixing Joe” that ran from 2010-2016, focusing on his mental health transformation; he now hosts the “Life of Joe” podcast.
Laitman was the icebreaker for the night; he brought brilliant one-liners and helped the audience open up to the comedian’s more risque comedy. Laitman, who suffers from schizophrenia and OCD, has self-deprecating humor that could be studied in a comedy masterclass. It’s pure genius.
He leads the crowd into an uproar with jokes about how his schizophrenia caused his diary to write back to him, and how his OCD has given him an erection from showing up on time. His jokes broke the barrier between the audience and the performers for the night, loosening up the audience for Matarese’s set.
The highlights of the night came with Matarese’s stories. He talks about having an anxiety attack while being high and downing vodka, and his Italian mother’s reaction to the whole ordeal. He also talks about taking Adderall for his ADD and relates his body’s reaction to the medication by saying he transformed from acting like Tony Soprano to Matthew McConaughey.
Sonya Vai, who suffers from chronic depression, talked brilliantly about the expectations set by her strict Indian father, who constantly urges her to marry before it’s too late. She talks about how her depression molded her college experience, where she often had blackout-drunk sex. She lightens the mood by imitating penises raining down and hitting her face.
After the stand-up portion of the show, all of the performers sat on the stage in a Q&A to share their experiences with their mental illness. The faculty-prepared questions were answered, and then the floor was open to any attendee. The performers shared their experiences finding out about their mental illness and coming out to the public about their mental illness, connecting with the audience through their personal struggles.
Daniel Maguire, a freshman environmental studies major, related to Joe’s jokes the most. He struggled with some mental health issues in the past but mainly related to his jokes about family.
“I liked Joe a lot; some of his jokes related to me pretty well,” Maguire said. “The joke about one person constantly cleaning [to suppress their anxiety] made me think of my aunt.”
Sanan Shaikh, a senior sociology major, has dealt with mental illness. She was able to relate to all the comedians’ experiences, especially Vai.
“I don’t think I have a favorite performer; they all were good. They all had their own issues and problems which they were able to depict in the show,” Shaikh said. “I think the fact that I am Indian also, I am able to relate to [Vai] a lot.”
The event was sponsored by the Division of Undergraduate Education; Department of Family, Population and Preventive Medicine; the Mind-Body Clinical Research Center and the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Health.