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Crazy Like Me

Standup comedy routines on drugs

By Traci Vogel

STANDUP comedian Beth Schumann's source material hardly seems funny. Months after a cousin died a violent death, Schumann could not shake off the funk. "It's normal to go through the grieving and everything," she recalls, "but I just wasn't getting any better."

The gray cloud of grief drove Schumann to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed her with depression and put her on the medication Zoloft. But what Schumann was really suffering from was bipolar disorder, a chemical imbalance that is often made worse by antidepressants. Zoloft sent Schumann into a manic spin, until she was rediagnosed correctly and given medication that put her on an even keel.

After the ordeal, Schumann found herself standing on a stage, joking about her medical history. "I just found out I'm bipolar," she deadpanned. "I have mixed feelings about it."

People laughed, and Schumann liked it. "Bipolar people tend to like to be in the limelight," she confesses. "It makes me feel good about myself."

What's more, Schumann found that many of her fellow comedians were also on medication for some mental health issue or another—a fact that probably won't surprise many standup comedy fans—and she helped put together a performance troupe called Mixed Nuts. The group, featuring Schumann, Reannie Roads, Randy Hauser and Howard Stone, performs a show called "Comics on Meds."

"We started 'Mixed Nuts' because we saw a gaping hole," Stone says in the press release. "We've seen Latino, Black, Asian and women's comedy troupes, but no medicated troupes. That had to be fixed."

After some performances, says Schumann, people come up to her with their own stories of struggles with bipolar disorder or depression. Schumann hopes the show will "maybe break down some walls, open up some minds and also be really fun and entertaining at the same time."

"People talk about depression now; it's pretty common, at least for women," says Schumann. "I have a lot of friends who are on some kind of medication, and we talk about what meds we're on the way people in San Francisco talk about finding a parking spot."

Who knows—maybe along with talk therapy and medication, comedy will become a therapeutic tool. Comic Reannie Roads, who has been diagnosed with clinical depression, says the only time she really feels "normal" is when she's onstage.

"It's not just OK to laugh, it's healing," she says.

Mixed Nuts performs at 8pm, Dec. 8, at Rooster T. Feathers; 408.736.0921. Look for upcoming performances at www.bethschumann.com.

Send a letter to the editor about this story to letters@metronews.com.

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From the December 8-14, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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