[Reporter: David Common] [Reporter] What’s about to happen seems almost unbelievable. [Woman] I could never do it and we have mental illness, so just very proud of us. [Woman 2] I’m proud of us too. [Reporter] Just a few years ago Wendy Lam couldn’t leave her house and now — [Wendy] When it comes to our physical and mental health we should speak up — [Reporter] She’s stepping on stage, joking about her own mental illness. As a lifelong people-pleaser, I need to start setting boundaries. So when my therapist insisted that I practice saying no I adamantly refused. [Wendy] I actually experienced sexual abuse. The trauma that I experienced. I sort of pushed down. It wasn’t until I was 40 years old that I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t pretend to be OK and normal and put on a happy face for other people. [Reporter] Wendy needed help and found it not just in therapy but also in something called stand-up for mental health. I can’t believe that there aren’t more programs like this. To be able to look at our past experiences and our hardships in a different light it’s very freeing. You get to tell them like the worst
things about yourself. All those things that you’re so ashamed of and all of a sudden they just become great comedy material. [Reporter] The program is the brainchild
of David Grenier. An entrepreneur, comic, mental health counselor and someone who struggled himself. I’ve had my own mental health issues. I have depression and I’ve been through everything. Suicide attempts, hospitalizations I’m on meds and tons of therapy and I just wanted to give people something different. My family actually has no history at all of any mental illness ever being discussed. [Laughter] [David] The best compliment I ever had heard two guys talking after a show and one of them said, “That guy was schizophrenia was hilarious.” And how often do you hear hilarious and schizophrenia in the same sentence? If you think about it though it’s really hard for a fish to commit suicide it couldn’t drown itself — I always forget the punch to this one. So let’s just go with it and then because I have been staring at these lights for so long then there’s a circle here and I’m like — [Reporter] Grenier has run the program for 15 years. Trained 300 comics in that time. Not as a substitute for therapy but as part of healing. His goal is simple: Peel away the stigma. [Grenier] Do instead of the typical, “Oh you kno, they’re weak or they’re weird or they’re dangerous you see people who are funny, likeable, friendly all sorts of things that you wouldn’t associate with mental health issues. When I was seven, I was one of hundreds of Vietnamese refugees crammed onto a fishing boat. We shared a communal toilet and couldn’t brush our teeth or bathe for eight days. We weren’t exactly fresh off the boat. [Laughter] [Reporter] Tonight is Wendy’s graduation from the six-month program where participants learn the craft of stand-up and hone their material. It means a lot. I have been feeling, after tonight, that I am no longer the same person and we talk about embarrassing or painful stuff and it is a release to do that but the most important thing is that we have people coming who are supporting us and so we’re actually feeling heard. I’m also bipolar, by the way, that means that this is going to go one or two ways [Reporter] This program has proved so successful it’s being replicated in other countries. Even after years of doing it each class is still a surprise for David. [Grenier] I’m just left thinking what an amazing thing. They’re talking about stuff you’re not supposed to say but they’re saying it and we’re laughing with them and what could be better than that? Not saying all Chinese people are bad
drivers — but. [Reporter] For the veterans, those who’ve been through the program and come
out the other side this remains a place of acceptance and understanding. Confronting stigma under the spotlight. To the 2019 graduating class for Stand
Up for Mental Health Showcase. David Common, CBC News, Vancouver.