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The Bedroom Philosopher on the mental health hazards of being a comedian

“I think comedy is arguably the most anxiety-inducing of all the art forms"

Photograph: Graham Denholm

No one can accuse the Bedroom Philosopher – real name Justin Heazlewood – of being guarded when it comes to talking about the harsh realities of being an artist in Australia. The musical comedian’s 2014 book Funemployed is a very personal insight into his tumultuous 12-year career, which culminated in a 2012 show that left him in massive debt, burnt out and angry at an industry that he had poured everything into: his time, money, health and self-worth. The memoir is laced with interviews with other artists and demystifying tips on navigating the arts industry; he devotes a whole chapter to the mental and physical toll of being an artist. “It was really healing,” says Heazlewood. “I felt like going, ‘Hi everyone, I’m massively unhappy’. I think a lot of artists are like, ‘oh, better not let anyone know that I’m struggling or I might not sell as many tickets ‘cos I won’t look cool as shit’.”

Heazlewood believes that being a comedian is particularly hazardous to mental health. “I have a wanky joke where I’m like, ‘yeah, I’m an emotional miner, I’m going down down the tunnel of my own self and I’m unlocking dangerous chemicals to find nuggets of insight of inspiration’. It’s a joke, but that’s roughly how it is. There’s parts of ourselves that the average person keeps locked up and hidden away and doesn’t go anywhere near, ‘cos it’s terrifying.”

The pay-off? Art that “reminds us that we’re all human. Half the emails I get are from people going ‘I’m so glad it’s not just me who feels like a fuck-up’. Which is arguably at the heart of just being a person today: part of you always feels like you’re the only one doing life wrong.”

Cat Show will be Heazlewood’s first MICF appearance since 2012 – and it’s almost exactly what it sounds like. “Along the way you forget to have fun as an artist because you take it so seriously,” he says. “So I tried to be silly: it’s about cats. There’s an eight-and-a-half-minute ballad about a heroic mattress protector called ‘Mattress Protector’. There’s a song call ‘I Think My Cat’s Got Depression’ which runs through all the mental illnesses and how cats display the classic behaviours of those illnesses.”

This time around, Heazlewood is putting some of the self-care tips he suggests in his book into practice. “I’ve done a lot of detaching my sense of self-worth to my comedy practice, which is helpful… and I have this little mantra I’ve been telling myself when things aren’t going quite as well: ‘Fuck man, you’re just doing a comedy gig about cats. How worked up can you get about this?’”. 

See Cat Show (Mar 30-Apr 9) at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

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