Laughing at mental illness

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Comedian says laughing at stigmas help break them down

Known as the "Bipolar Buddha," stand-up comedian Big Daddy Tazz can deliver entire shows devoted to the serious and sometimes 'touchy' subject of mental illness and still receive laughs.

The Canadian comedian's name has spread steadily over the years, supported by successful sets at premiere stages such as The Comedy Store in Los Angeles and Montreal's Just For Laughs festival.

Big Daddy Tazz performs his comedy show, Whats so funny about mental illness? Wednesday night at the Sheraton hotel. Submitted photo

Known as the "Bipolar Buddha," stand-up comedian Big Daddy Tazz can deliver entire shows devoted to the serious and sometimes 'touchy' subject of mental illness and still receive laughs.

The Canadian comedian's name has spread steadily over the years, supported by successful sets at premiere stages such as The Comedy Store in Los Angeles and Montreal's Just For Laughs festival.

On Wednesday, Tazz will be in St. John's for a one-time show, "What's so funny about mental illness?"

The show is by special request and will hail the arrival of the national conference of the Canadian Psychiatric Association, an annual congregation of more than 1,200 mental health professionals, being held this year from August 27-29 in St. John's.

The stand-up comedy show is free, said organizers. It is open to the public and will include a subsequent panel talk on mental health.

A 19-year comedic veteran, Tazz said he hopes his material and shows like the one scheduled for St. John's will someday help "smash the stigmas that are associated with mental illness."

"If we're laughing about it, we can talk about it," said Tazz of how the comedy can help. Once people are talking, he said, the rest will follow. "Talking is knowledge, knowledge is education, education is prevention."

The comedian said he understands the need to fight against the stigma associated with mental illness, having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the early part of the decade.

He has also been acknowledged as having attention deficit disorder, social anxiety and mild obsessive compulsive disorder, he said.

"The reason I want to smash stigma is that it's because of stigma that it took me years and years to accept I have mental illness and to get help," said Tazz, who said he had been called "just lazy" when depressed, "just crazy" when manic and was also told by a friend, before his diagnosis, that his manic-depressive states were probably all in his head.

The father of two said, since being diagnosed, he has learned to successfully live with his illnesses with the combined help of medical professionals, medication and control techniques.

Whatever his own treatment program, Tazz has been able to maintain family connections and develop a comedic career that includes seven one-man stage shows, including 2003's "Bipolar & PROUD!"

"They call me the bipolar Buddha now," said Tazz, pausing for a moment. "I kind of look like Buddha..."

"What's so funny about mental illness?" with Big Daddy Tazz can be seen one night only, Wednesday, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. It will be held at the Sheraton hotel (formerly the Fairmont).

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

Organizations: The Comedy Store, Canadian Psychiatric Association, Sheraton hotel

Geographic location: St. John's, Los Angeles, Montreal

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