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Neville Shah & Dr. Narendra Kinger Talk Therapy, Mental Health Charity Event ‘Stream For Sanity’

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Tomorrow is World Mental Health Day and to champion the cause the comedy community is coming together to raise awareness with Stand Up For Sanity. The initiative was started by Dr. Narendra Kinger, the founder of the Mental Health NGO Talk To Me and a practicing clinical psychologist and psychotherapist working in Mumbai. The sold-out show at Mumbai’s Bal Gandharva Rang Mandir will be attended by 700 people and will showcase some of India’s top comedic voices including Neville Shah, Rohan Joshi, Ashish Shakya, Sumaira Shaikh, Azeem Banatwalla, Atul Khatri, Sumukhi Suresh, Kautuk Srivastava and Abish Mathew!  

Shah’s Stream For Sanity shows is where we first met Dr. Kinger who spoke about the importance of mental health awareness, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the first time they’ve put together a live show to raise funds for the cause. We asked the duo a few questions. Here’s what they had to say!

HOW DID THE IDEA FOR THE SHOW COME ABOUT?

Shah: Dr. Narendra Kinger wanted to do a show to raise awareness about mental health and the NGO Talk To Me. Moreover tomorrow i.e. 10 October is World Mental Health Day. We wanted to start a conversation around it for the week.

MANY PEOPLE USE COMEDY AS A COPING MECHANISM—WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT? AND WHAT ARE ITS PROS AND CONS?

Shah: I don’t think it’s a coping mechanism as much as people think it is. It’s mostly a deflection mechanism. I’m not the expert here. But as a comic on stage, it may be therapeutic the first two or three times. But after that, it’s a script. It’s committed to memory. You know the laughs, so in some way, sure it’s a healthy way to process but I don’t know if it’s a consistent coping mechanism.

Dr. Kinger: I don’t think comedy is a coping mechanism though humour or ‘laughing about it’ has been listed as a coping mechanism. In my opinion, a comic uses humour to send across a message and bypass the defences to issues and topics that all human beings have or are sensitive about. Standup comedians have mastered the art of speaking without making others bristle (though not always).

DO YOU THINK IT’S NECESSARY TO HAVE SOME KIND OF TRAUMA TO BE A SUCCESSFUL COMEDIAN?

Shah: Lol. No. I know plenty of people who’ve had a ’normal’ life.

Dr. Kinger: No, I don’t think you need trauma in your life to be funny. That’s like saying you need a “happy family in your childhood” to get married. The ability to be funny is unique and some of us have it.

ANY COMEDIANS IN PARTICULAR YOU’VE COME ACROSS WHO DO A GREAT JOB OF SHINING A LIGHT ON MENTAL HEALTH AND ITS IMPORTANCE

Shah: Once it becomes part of pop culture, it will be talked about. Some people do it well, some don’t.

Dr. Kinger: Today a lot of people are talking about mental health. At various times comics have spoken about it including Woody Allen and Robin Williams, to name just two.

WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS WITH THIS STANDUP SHOW? IN ADDITION TO GENERATING DONATIONS, IS THIS ALSO GOING TO BE AN EDUCATIONAL EXPERIENCE FOR THE AUDIENCE? WHAT CAN THEY TAKE HOME FROM THE SHOW?

Shah: Just the awareness for starters. Because the NGO has plans to go pan India. The tickets and donations are obviously a big big help. It’s not going to be educational. It’s entertainment. It’s a standup comedy line-up show. That’s it. Hopefully, people have a laugh, feel better and oh yeah, also donate.

Dr Kinger: Talk To Me started in 2019 though we set up our first centre only by Jan 2021 due to the pandemic. In fact, we established and started operations during the second wave of COVID-19.

The idea of doing the show was that we try to champion the cause of Mental Health NGO and the standup show was our first fundraiser event. We intend to raise funds through other events as well in the future and donations; so that we can offer to establish more centres and more services in the field of mental health at various locations.

We want Indians to start having conversations about mental health openly and want to ensure we connect directly with young people who are going through emotional stress post-pandemic. We want to make it okay to address issues without being preachy.

ALMOST EVERYONE ON THE LINEUP HAS BEEN A CHAMPION FOR MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS IN THE PAST. WILL THEIR PERFORMANCES AT THE SHOW INCLUDE MATERIAL THAT DEALS WITH THE SUBJECT?

Shah: There’s no brief really. It’s a comedy show. Bring your jokes.

Dr. Kinger: We haven’t told them anything. They know what the show is for and why it is being done. I am sure they will perform their material keeping the agenda in mind.

DR. KINGER, YOU CAME ON STREAM FOR SANITY AND SPOKE ABOUT THE RESERVATIONS PEOPLE HAVE ABOUT THERAPY. HAVE YOU NOTICED A STEADY SHIFT IN PEOPLE’S APPROACH TO THERAPY?

Dr. Kinger: I would like to say yes, there is a shift for most young people and by young I mean even 13-14-year-olds. However, a lot needs to be achieved in terms of people over the age of 30-40 including the parents of these kids. They seem to believe that when their kid talks about anxiety or feeling low it is just to “escape responsibility” which is by and large academics. I am happy with the shift but it may need more sustained and continuous work to get people to change.

WHAT CAN BE ACHIEVED THROUGH THERAPY?

Kinger: In my opinion, therapy is a place where you can feel safe and talk about anything and everything you think or feel. You can talk about your experiences in life, both good and bad without fear of judgement or it being thrown back at you, on a later day. It’s like having a person who will support you without judgement and be there for you to help you make sense of your own life. 

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND COMEDY TO YOUR CLIENTS?

Kinger:  I would recommend comedy only when it’s appropriate and I feel that it will help the client lighten up or help them understand different perspectives that people have about life. A lot of young people enjoy going to comedy shows though a lot of older people may still have their reservations. Many corporates are now using standup shows for reducing stress and in team-building events.

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