Stigma Reduction — 29 September 2015

THREE simple words: “How are you?” That’s all it takes. Yet Perth comedian Joel Creasey will always regret never asking them.

Just days before TV personality Charlotte Dawson took her own life early last year, she was on the phone to Creasey.

The Australia’s Next Top Model judge had become his friend and “role model” after they met backstage at one of his shows.

He was just 19 and, during the show, had done a fun bit mocking Dawson’s hit reality-TV show.

After that, she became an important sounding board for him.

“I was upset about something and I called her to chat,” the 25-year-old says.

“I was always a fan of her work growing up and thought she was brilliant and tough. I loved getting her advice.

“We spoke about me for 20 minutes (but) I never asked how she was. (I was being) selfish and not thinking about others.

“When I heard what happened … it was pretty shocking and upsetting. I never thought it would happen.”

Asking if the person you’re with is OK will be one of the themes Creasey wants to raise when he hosts the Stand Up! For Comedy night on Friday to open Mental Health Week in WA.

The young comic agreed to do the show to reduce the stigma surrounding issues such as depression and anxiety.

Creasey says the country’s “macho” culture often means there are Australians suffering from mental illness in silence.

“The perception is that it’s a weakness — but it’s absolutely not. I think the strongest people in the world are probably dealing with mental health issues,” he says.

“I have been dealing with (perceptions of) weakness all my life. I always get called camp and people relate that to weakness, which really annoys me.

“I’m absolutely camp, but I’m also super tough.

“I go on stage every night and talk to people armed with just a microphone.”

 Creasey says it is unfair many people battling mental illness, like Dawson, are treated as a “risk”.

“(Charlotte) was very out and proud about what she was going through,” he says.

“I think producers started seeing her as a risk. But, I know from people that worked with her that she was such a talent and great to work with and would get the job done.”

Creasey has spent the past three months overseas after his profile at home was given a big boost thanks to hit reality-TV show I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!

His overseas tour has included an appearance on A League of Their Own in the UK and solo shows in New York and Los Angeles.

Creasey says he “jumped at the chance” to come home to Perth for an important cause such as Mental Health Week.

“I know so many comedians dealing with mental health issues,” he says. “It has a big impact on the industry I work in so it’s something very close to my heart.”

Creasey says it’s disappointing some people still “turn their noses up” at those battling mental health issues. Another problem is people playing down these illnesses as just a “phase”.

Creasey’s advice for anyone struggling to cope is simple: “Talk to someone.

“I had never seen a therapist, but on I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! we had a therapist we could speak to in the jungle.

“At first people were going just to get some breathing space and get o camera for 20 minutes. But I really enjoyed it and we’ve stayed in touch. Sometimes I will just send her an email if I’m dealing with something.”

Creasey will be joined on stage by several comics, including The Sunday Times TV Guide columnist Janelle Koenig, who is Creasey’s writing partner and director.

“Janelle is brilliant,” he says. “I was a big fan of hers growing up and then when she moved to Perth and started having kids I was like, ‘Great now is my time to strike’. I knew she had a bit of free time, so I got her working for me.”

Part proceeds from Stand Up! for Comedy will go to WA Association for Mental Health to reinvest back into community.

This article first appeared on ‘The Daily Telegraph’ on 29 September 2015.

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