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Dave Chawner: Mental

By | Published on Wednesday 7 August 2019

The certifiably lovely Dave Chawner (yes, we are fans) heads back to edfringe this year with a show about mental health.

I’m always really admiring of performers who manage to approach serious issues from a comical perspective. And it’s a topic Dave has broached before in his stand-up, plus he’s written a book about his recovery from anorexia. So we’re curious to see what approach he takes in ‘Mental’.

No surprises – then – that I arranged a chat, to find out more.

CM: Okay, let’s start at the beginning: I think the title might be a bit of a clue, obviously, but can you explain what ‘Mental’ is all about?
DC: Yes, the clue is literally in the title. It’s a show about mental health, rather than mental illness. I was a guest on ‘The Today Programme’ on Radio 4 and the researcher called me and said “I’m really excited to talk to you because I don’t have any mental health”. That made me laugh. We all have mental health. One in four of us has mental illness, but four in four of us has mental health. Why do we only talk about illness rather than well-being, why do we always talk about the negative rather than the positive? I want to change that. Good mental health is amazing, it’s something everyone deserves. I wanted to use comedy as a fun, engaging and creative way to get that across

CM: What themes do you explore through the show?
DC: Emotional regulation, mental awareness, public health literacy and coping mechanisms… but don’t worry it’s not as dull, dry and boring as it sounds, I talk about Ant & Dec for a bit so it’s not all heavy!

CM: So, it’s clear you feel that comedy is useful when talking about mental health: can you explain the how and why?
DC: Comedy is the perfect tool to talk about mental health because when people are laughing they have to be listening, and when they’re listening they can learn. I want to use that in order to reach people who have experience of mental illness, so that they can realise they are not alone, but also to reach out to people who have never even thought about mental health, and to educate them in a fun and creative way.

CM: Do you think your show itself could help a person who is suffering, or is it more that it’s helpful to the conversation around mental health?
DC: I don’t want to pretend like I’m The Dalai Lama, going around benevolently prophesying The Gospel Of Mental Health According To Dave. I don’t want to be one of those people who wants to ‘virtue signal’ at every opportunity. What I do want to be is a positive influence on the conversation in general. So, in the show I give coping mechanisms that might be useful, charities that could be worthy of note and some general directions. I don’t know if that answers the question though!?

CM: Can you tell us about your book?
DC: It’s all about my experience of anorexia – which is why I originally wanted to call it ‘The Real Hunger Games’!… but apparently that “infringes copyright”! It’s called ‘Weight Expectations’ and it’s a look at anorexia from the inside out.

It’s the book I needed when I was seventeen and I developed anorexia. When people found out I’d got a mental illness they started treating me like a patient, not a person. People didn’t have a laugh and a joke with me any more because they knew I was ill. That was more isolating than anything else.

So, it’s a jokey, light-hearted, quirky look at eating disorders, all based around a psychological model called The Transtheoretical Model which aims to help people to change/break their habits

CM: I feel as though twenty years ago, anorexia was more talked about than it is now. Would you agree? Or is it just me not hearing about it…?!
DC: Reeeeeeeally?! I feel the opposite. I think that mental health, in general, is being talked about much more now. And I think that’s incredible. It’s exciting and motivating. And I think people are motivated by positivity not negativity, which is why I love to see people talking about health, rather than illness. But that said, I talk about this stuff all the time – I’m a delight at dinner parties! – so I have a skewed view of this stuff.

CM: We’ve seen and enjoyed your work at the edfringe before. What keeps you coming back to it?
DC: Ah, bless ya. I love everything about The Fringe – the community of performers, the different, diverse and creative shows, the beautiful city, the terrible weather. Fringe time is like my Christmas – which is why I call it Fringemass – it’s the highlight of my year and the main reason why I hate September.

CM: Are there any downsides to it?
DC: It can be an emotional boxing match. Last year I saw someone in a doorway hunkered over and crying. I went over to see if they were OK and they just replied, “I’m Fringe. It’s Fringe, innit?!”. I suppose they had a point, but jeeeeeeeeeeesus! I think it’s really hard to maintain perspective at The Fringe at that makes it tricky to look after your mental health… but I’ll stop banging on about mental health as I am beginning to sound like a broken record.

CM: What tips would you have for first time performers?
DC: First, pace yourself – it’s a long month, it’s not a stag do. Drinking can be fun, but so can sleep. Secondly, go and see shows – it helps you get out of your own mental bubble and also provides inspiration.

Thirdly, do something non-Fringe – there’s so much in this wonderful city, besides billions of musical improv shows. Go to Calton Hill, The National Museum Of Scotland, The Real Mary Kings Close, or take a day trip to Portobello.

And finally, listen to this.

CM: What do you plan to do this August when not performing? Are there any shows you are hoping to see?
DC: I’ve already seen Benji Waterstone’s show, ‘A-Z Of Mental Health’ and it’s fantastic. Daisy Earl’s show is brilliant too. As is Robyn Perkin’s. I want to see Matt Ewins, Richard Wright, Lou Sanders, Sarah Iles, Carl Donnelly, Zahra Barri, Tony Law, Aiden Taco Jones, Jarred Christmas… there are so many shows and not enough time!

CM: With regard to the future, do you have any aims or unfulfilled ambitions?
DC: Wow, that’s a deep question. I really wish that I could use cling film without wasting half a roll, but I’m guessing that’s not what you mean?! I think it’s good to keep on having goals to work towards. And with that in mind, I have loads. I won’t bore you with all of them. But, right now, I’m focusing on the Fringe.

CM: What’s coming up next for you, after edfringe?
DC: I work for Fix Radio in London. I’m keen to get back there and pick up where I left off. I’m already working on next year’s show and me and my girlfriend are looking at getting a little fur baby – aka a sausage dog – and I am so excited about that you cannot believe.

Dave Chawner performed ‘Mental’ at Laughing Horse @ Cabaret Voltaire at Edinburgh Festival 2019.