Ruby Wax

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Joined: 25 Apr 2006

PostPosted: Sun Jun 22, 2008 5:27 pm    Post subject: Ruby Wax Reply with quote

A funny form of therapy
Ruby Wax is putting depression on stage. She's not the only comic who's battled the blues, says Andrew Johnson
Sunday, 22 June 2008

Ruby Wax, the caustic comedian who has spent years struggling with depression, is about to tackle the taboos surrounding mental health in the only way she knows – in the full glare of a one-woman stage show. Wax, who recently took time out from television in order to qualify as a psychotherapist, will perform a half-hour monologue solely concerning mental health issues at the Edinburgh Festival in August. She is currently studying for an MA in neuroscience.

"I'm doing stuff that's funny about mental illness," she says. "It's a monologue. Humour is the only way to tackle it; otherwise it's po-faced."

In her autobiography, How Do You Want Me?, the American comedian laid bare the details of her own battle against depression and mental breakdown while at the height of her TV career. She also acknowledges that, for many entertainers, going on stage is a form of therapy.

Wax is one of the latest in a series of high-profile comedy actors and performers who are going public about their struggle to stay the right side of the fine line between hilarity and mania. "They used to burn [mentally ill] people at the stake," she says. "We're not killing them any more, or putting them on show in places like Bedlam. We're putting them on the TV instead."

In 2006, Stephen Fry made and presented The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, a documentary on bipolar disorder, from which he suffers. The comedian famously disappeared in 1995 after walking out of a production of the play Cell Mates. He resurfaced in Belgium, saying that he had attempted to commit suicide. Hugh Laurie, Lenny Henry and Paul Merton have all admitted to battling depression. Spike Milligan wrote a book about his life-long manic depression, and the unhappiness of Tony Hancock and Kenneth Williams was laid bare in television biopics last year. Pamela Stephenson, who rose to fame on Not the Nine O'Clock News in the 1980s, is now a psychotherapist and probed her husband Billy Connolly's dark secrets – including childhood abuse – in her acclaimed biography of him in 2001.

Gordon Claridge, Emeritus Professor of Abnormal Psychology at Oxford University and the expert in his field, believes there is a link between comic creativity and mental illness. "There is quite a lot of research out there," he says. "There is evidence that people who are entertainers generally suffer an increased incidence of mental health problems. Most of the research is on writers, painters and musicians. But there is no reason why comedians shouldn't be included. There is evidence that people are not necessarily mad, but have traits that are common to mental illness, such as divergent thinking."

Wax is also acting as an agony aunt for the BBC's Headroom, a two-year programme to tackle mental health problems. Weekly webcasts have seen Wax give advice on issues raised by viewers via email, which range from eating disorders to self-harm. BBC3 will be screening a series called Make Your Body Younger next month, which looks at physical and mental health, and in the autumn a one-off documentary under the Headroom banner will see Griff Rhys Jones treated for anger management.

"Nobody ever talks about things in this country," says Wax. "There's such a stigma when you're mentally ill, and I think there's more people like that than are into gardening shows, so I'm speaking up for those people. If you have a show- business career, you get away with it – either you have a one-woman show or you're sectioned."

Professor Claridge believes that mental health should be seen as a spectrum, and not necessarily as being normal or abnormal, although people at the "extreme end do need help". "Comedians are very good at lateral thought and puns. These people see the world in a different way," he says. "If you mix that with intelligence, then they are able to express their world-view through their art."

The comedians who've been to the brink – and back

Ruby Wax
"Depressions happen once every five years – like the pox."

Spike Milligan
"My marriage ended because I'd had two, three, four, five nervous breakdowns. 'The Goon Show' did it. That's why they were so good."

Jack Dee
"Depression has always figured in my life, but now I'm dealing with it." (2006)

Caroline Aherne
"I remember buying champagne and the next thing I woke up in hospital [the Priory]."

Tony Slattery
"I was just in a pool of despair and mania."

Paul Merton
"It wasn't about depression. I couldn't stop having ideas. It was just pouring out of me."

Emma Thompson
"It doesn't make you want to kill yourself – you just don't want to be."

Stephen Fry
"There's no doubt that I have extremes of mood."

Hugh Laurie
"It was certainly more than feeling a bit sad."

Lenny Henry
"That's where depression hits you most – your home life." (1996)


I was accused once of having such an interest in comedy because I was suffering from some kind of mental health issue. The logic of that comment as an accusation was (and remains) foolish - if you're feeling down, a laugh is an aid to feeling better - that's not exactly rocket-science is it! It's like pouring cold water on a burn...
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Pitch Queen

Joined: 24 May 2007
Location: Sunshine State

PostPosted: Sun Jun 22, 2008 6:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I thought it was required equipment for comics...
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Joined: 25 Apr 2006

PostPosted: Wed Sep 09, 2009 7:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It’s a serious business for comedian Ruby Wax
Carol Lewis

"They think they have big egos, but they have met their match in me,” laughs Ruby Wax. She isn’t talking about colleagues on her latest television venture but her new business — executive coaching. Or, as she prefers to describe it, management retraining.

“I’m undoing a lot of the fancy management training they have been on. I’m undoing it because it is garbage. Everyone can read it, everyone went on the same course,” the petite comedian says. She adopts a dramatic stance and drops her voice an octave: “It’s like the actor who insists on acting the way they do at RADA — they’ll never get famous. We’ve all seen it before.”

After dropping out of a psychology course at the University of California, Berkeley, more than 20 years ago, Ms Wax, 56, has returned to the discipline, recently completing courses in psychotherapy at Regent’s College, and neuroscience at University College, London. “It felt like something that wasn’t finished. I’d wanted to work doing psychology and drama but I came over here to study drama and obviously got into it myself ... I always swore I’d go back [to psychology] and it just felt like the right time,” she says.

So why is the offbeat television interviewer choosing to spend her spare time in training rooms filled with the suited-and-booted? “I didn’t want a career doing comedy for the rest of my life, because eventually it will leave me, rather than me leaving it,” she admits. And the business community has always been of particular interest. “My parents were in business, my whole background is business. I like the speed of their minds. I love it because they get it, they really understand it,” she enthuses. “I used to be asked to do after-dinner speaking in which I was very funny. I would find out everything about their company and use their lingo. Then I just started to flip it into teaching them something and now I get asked to do this and not the funny stuff.”

Skype, Deutsche Bank and the Home Office are among those to have used her management workshops and presentations. Her focus is on trying to tame the outsized egos of the business world by teaching four basic principles: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. “It is essentially emotional intelligence — although I’d never use those actual words,” she says, scrunching up her face. “They need to know themselves, read other people and then manage themselves.”

She believes there is a real need for these skills in a credit-crunched world. She says: “The guys with the highest IQs are the guys that screwed us hardest and nobody is now looking for the most brilliant, they are looking for the most human.”

Ms Wax comes across as intelligent, and disarmingly warmer and more earnest than her loud and flamboyant media persona might suggest. Not prejudging people is one thing she tries to teach executives. “We are all deceived, you see me and you think I’m a television entertainer; I see a guy in a suit and I think that he’s pretty straight,” she says. “If you make a judgment too quickly of an employee, or on a global level, you’ve lost.”

Ms Wax is deliberately not funny in the workshops she runs: “Some people really don’t want me to be funny and if I bring out that old tool, I’ve totally alienated them.” Her management insights are born of the mistakes she has made. She shows delegates clips of interviews from her television shows such as Ruby Wax Meets, to highlight the problems she initially had in creating a rapport with her subjects.

“Later on I learnt to read what it was that they needed and started to adjust my style to make them comfortable. You can see when it works, when I’m talking to Hugh Hefner or Bette Midler or Imelda Marcos — I figured her out very quickly. She was an eight-year-old child in her mind. “But in the beginning of my career I thought what is wrong with everyone else? I didn’t realise what I was bringing to the table. I was bending forward and getting more and more aggressive. That was my default. That’s what I mean by self-awareness,” she says.

Her workshops are tailored to suit clients and delegates can be filmed and their postures and actions deconstructed. At other times they talk and learn to open up to one other, or practise holding back judgment and relating to others. Neither role play nor conventional management theory gets any airtime. “I don’t believe in this coloured hats nonsense,” she says, taking a poke at Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats. “It is just too complicated. We should all know how to relate to one another. It’s biological.”

She surmises that business people are actually scared and fear has led them to lose the ability to relate to others. “I am just making them human. The only way to be human is to have a relationship. So I’m teaching them how to have a relationship.” she says. “As a leader you have to get to know people, it is your job, you can’t say ‘well, we didn’t click’.”

She draws on her own experience when it comes to telling executives they need to be able to switch off from business and focus on their families when they leave the office. “If you are really not connected, it is not a happy home life,” she says. “You have to understand that when you get home and the kids start to talk that you’ve got to pull the plug. Awareness is everything.”

She pauses and leans forward. “My son never forgave me for spending his childhood on the telephone, he never forgave me, and he is 20 now,” she confides. “I didn’t think that he’d noticed. But he had.”


She's a management consultant now? Well that's her off the Christmas card list!
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