In your head: seeing the funny side of mental health

Two psychiatrists walk into a bar… and then hit the mike for stand-up routines unlike any others at this year’s Fringe. Adelaide doctor and funny man Dr Kim Le and Kiwi Dr Joanna Prendergast present two very different comedy acts based on observations from their professional lives.

Feb 10, 2023, updated Feb 10, 2023
Jo Ghastly (aka Dr Joanna Prendergast), pictured with a photo of her kids, and Dr Kim Le are both presenting shows at this year's Adelaide Fringe.

Jo Ghastly (aka Dr Joanna Prendergast), pictured with a photo of her kids, and Dr Kim Le are both presenting shows at this year's Adelaide Fringe.

After winning a public speaking competition in 2017, Dr Kim Le wanted to improve himself and did so by performing in an open-mic night where he “got hooked” by the comedy scene.

Over the years he has built up various shows and will explore the happiness of Australians in Dr Kim Le’s War on Wellbeing at this year’s Adelaide Fringe.

“I’ll explain the trend of unhappiness in Australia from the perspective of a psychiatrist and comedian,” the veteran Fringe performer says.

“I talk to patients every day and for me, it’s about personal journey, because I deal with this every day… I was never really trained to see what the average Australian deals with. [But] by doing this research about happiness, it has made me become a better psychiatrist.”

Themes like what is success, what makes people happy and how we measure happiness are major focal points in his show. Dr Kim also incorporates examples from research, and touches on the topics of work, money and the ’90s.

“[According to research] we were really happy in the 1990s. The argument is that the ’90s was the best decade ever,” he says.

Dr Kim sees his take on dark comedy as a way to stretch the limits and boundaries of human emotions.

“It is a mad scientist mentality and the thrill of saying things which, in normal context, is inappropriate.”

Dr Kim views the importance of relatability in comedy as akin to “forming a therapeutic alliance” in psychiatry.

“In comedy, you’re driving the bus and everyone has to hop on board and trust that you will take them on a ride. They have to trust you [while you] push the boundaries of human emotions.”

He hopes that from his show at The Verandah Private at The Strathmore Hotel, “people will realise that life is short and they should see more Fringe shows”.

Down the street at the Howling Owl, Dr Joanna Prendergast will be exploring what it takes to be a cool mum. She has a range of speciality areas, including as a psychiatrist, but mainly treats people with severe childhood trauma and mental health difficulties.

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Dr Prendergast, who goes by the stage name of Jo Ghastly, was encouraged to pursue a career in comedy when a producer suggested that she should try stand-up after seeing her act in a TV pilot.

“I love making people laugh – whether it’s as a comedian, psychiatrist or in my social life,” she says. “Performing comedy is a bit like a drug – when you’ve experienced the dopamine hit of a great comedy gig, it’s hard to stop.”

She describes her show The Cool Mum as “[being] about my parenting disasters, but the embarrassing moments and poor parenting choices are presented as examples of how to be a ‘cool mum’.”

“The show is a parody of a personal development seminar, where you can learn to be a cooler person. It’s a fun show for tweens to Boomers and everyone in between.”

Yet there are a few real messages about parenting dotted throughout The Cool Mum.

Jo Ghastly created the show as a way of “coping with the tortures of parenting teenagers”. She includes funny videos and skits with her children, which involve role-reversals and David Attenborough-inspired observations of the teenagers in the wild.

“Parenting is inherently funny, as it’s usually one disaster after another. Tragedy plus time equals comedy.”

She says that “comedians have a role in finding the funny side of their own life experience”.

Finding the humour in family struggles helps other people to feel less alone and laughter bonds people with shared experiences.”

Jo Ghastly hopes that the audience mainly has a good laugh at her show, but also takes away a few “gold nuggets” about parenting, family and navigating life.

Dr Kim Le’s War on Wellbeing is playing at the Verandah Private at The Strathmore Hotel from February 18 to March 18. Jo Ghastly will perform The Cool Mum at The Howling Owl from February 28 until March 4.

Read more 2023 Adelaide Fringe stories here.

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