From touching a nerve to finding their funny bone — people affected by addiction problems are being asked to draw on their own life experiences to devise material for a stand-up comedy routine, as part of a new social enterprise devised by two Nottingham entrepreneurs.
Laughing Matters will coach people affected by past alcohol, drugs and gambling problems through the strategies and cues used by professional comedians in their act in a bid to improve their communication, confidence and self-esteem.
The aim is to offer them a new range of skills that will aid them in their recovery, help them to reintegrate into society and improve their prospects, including future employment opportunities.
The venture is the joint brainchild of a graduate and current student from Nottingham University Business School — Mark Christian who has previously run a charity offering counselling to recovering addicts, and Kirstie MacDonald, a former investment banker who worked for huge multinationals including Goldman Sachs in New York.
The idea was born when the pair collaborated on a Social Entrepreneurship module while studying at Nottingham, Mark on a full-time MBA course and Kirstie a specialist MBA in Corporate Social Responsibility, from which she is currently on maternity leave.
Kirstie said: “We’d hit on the idea of stand-up comedy workshops and as a result of his past life as a counsellor Mark suggested that we use them to benefit recovering addicts.
“It’s a well-known adage that laughter is the best therapy but we thought we would turn the tables on that idea and use the skills that comedians employ to increase confidence, create a stage presence and rebuild the self-esteem that people may have lost as a result of their experiences. We looked into this and found that nobody else is offering this type of rehabilitation.”
Mark added: “It’s less about teaching them how to be funny, more to do with helping them to recover by turning what may have been negative experiences in their life into something altogether more positive within a supportive environment. We are now considering extending the course to other vulnerable groups such as young people coming out of care and older people who are socially excluded.”
And the project has attracted the support of local comedy club venue Just the Tonic, based in the Cornerhouse in Nottingham, which has opened its contacts book to bring Laughter Matters to the attention of three high-profile comedians, Harry Hill, Tony Law and Paul Foot. The funny men have agreed to come to Nottingham to perform an evening of comedy at the city’s Royal Concert Hall on Friday 13th September to raise funds for the venture.
Kirstie added: “We were really keen to explore how companies can use their skills and expertise to impact positively on social outcomes in the communities in which they work. Even the smallest companies can give something back and that is how Just the Tonic came on board — they wanted to give something back in a way that would have more impact than simple cash donations.”
The first series of Laughing Matters workshops has recently launched, following a successful pilot. The workshops are delivered by professional stand-up comedy coach Sam Avery, who over the course of four weeks will help the participants to identify incidents and anecdotes in their life suitable to use as material, hone their writing skills and polish their performance. At the end of the course, the would-be stand-up comedians host a final performance for the friends, family and professionals who are helping them through their recovery.
Among those who took part in the original pilot course was Graham St Quintin, of Mapperley, Nottingham, a service user of Double Impact, a local charity providing counselling and support for people recovering from alcohol and drug dependency. After a 15 year dependency cannabis, prescription drugs and alcohol, Graham has been clean for 18 months and was looking for something that would help him to regain some of his self-confidence which had been lost through his addiction.
Graham said: “The Laughing Matters course helped me to take the next step. I reached a point where I was in a really comfortable recovery ‘bubble’ and I needed an impetus to start moving forward again.
“The workshops were great fun and while the performance at the end was a little nerve wracking it’s something that I am incredibly proud to have achieved. I’ve seen a lasting benefit from it too and it has expanded my comfort zone. The performance element has helped me in other situations where I might otherwise feel nervous, for example a job interview.”
Long lasting benefits
Professor Martin Binks, Dean of Nottingham University Business School, said: “Our MBA programme is specifically designed to encourage a creative and entrepreneurial approach with an emphasis on generating innovative ideas in a team context.
“The Laughing Matters project is a wonderful example of successful collaborative ingenuity that will also have long lasting benefits for some of the local community’s most vulnerable groups. I am delighted for Mark and Kirstie and look forward to their venture continuing to grow from strength to strength.”
Further information about the Laughing Matters can be found on its website at www.laughingmatters.org.uk or from the organisers via email firstname.lastname@example.org
Further details about the Laughing Matters comedy evening and how to purchase tickets, priced at £24 each, can be found online on the Royal Concert Hall website.
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