When you walk into a comedy performance titled “My Suicide Note,” you might have some general idea of what to expect. A part of you wonders just how funny suicide can be and exactly what Collin Williams is going to say about it for an hour of your own life. However, if you’ve done research or read a preview, you know that this show has travelled to eight countries and succeeded at a multitude of venues. Williams must have some idea of what he is doing.
If this is the only fringe show you intend to see, then go and see it. I bought tickets for my boyfriend, who is wary of experimental theater after experiencing some of the weird shows I’ve dragged him to; my mother, who is liberal but also older and opinionated; and one of my mother’s friends, a divorced housewife whose son has tried to commit suicide. All four of us loved it.
Williams talks about rape, suicide, loss, depression and violence, swears heavily and is very funny. The jokes flow rapid-fire and Williams does an excellent job of adapting to his audience and throwing in audience-specific references without losing his central storyline. That’s right, Williams includes a strong central story and an emotional journey in his show, which you take with him over the course of about 50 minutes. There are no bells and whistles. It’s just a man, a stool and a bottle of water.
This show doesn’t mock suicide — in fact, it’s an honest look at what leads a person to consider suicide. Williams uses complex and consistent metaphors to maintain a thorough line of heavy emotion, which he springs off of to land jokes and add lightness. Believe it or not, you will walk out of this show feeling better about life and hopefully a little more open-minded and aware about the issue of suicide.
As far as open-mindedness goes, there were nearly as many “oohs” as there were laughs for most of the jokes, but no audience member walked out or left grumbling to themselves about the inappropriateness or vulgarity at the end of the show. Maybe don’t take any child under the age of 16 to view it, but do go have a laugh and get a little closer to a friend, a partner or a loved one by seeing a show clearly meant to spark conversation.
Speaking of conversation, if you can’t catch Williams at the Fringe Festival, consider seeing him at Kingsbury Hall. Williams will be presenting as a part of Salt Lake’s TedX in September. On September 8, “At the Edge” will present 13 speakers. I can’t tell you what the others submitted, but according to Williams he sent in “basically a sticky note that said ‘suicide jokes.’” Of course, this was only the first round of the application process. Williams added, “TedX Salt Lake City is really good about picking and curating. SLC is very intensive,” which he learned in the subsequent rounds of selection.
“Originally I wanted to talk about mental health and comedy because it is such a huge gap,” Williams said. He finds that mental health is primarily discussed by doctors and counselors and “if anyone knows funny, it’s a roomful of scientists trying to analyze jokes.” He believes that adding humor to the conversation allows us to talk about dark concepts in a way that is enlightening. In his own mental health counseling, he found his own story without jokes was too heavy even for trained therapists. But with added jokes, he was suddenly able to discuss his experiences every night to a roomful of strangers and build connections in the process. Williams explained, “I’ve had people come and talk to me about stuff they maybe haven’t told their best friends” after watching his show. This got him thinking.
It turns out there are not a lot of studies on mental health and comedy. So Williams started one. He “shot out a survey to the comedy world in the US. Then shot it over to Europe, South Africa and Australia.” Before he knew it, this survey was the second largest mental health study in the world. More importantly, he realized most comedians use comedy to cope with trauma and mental health problems. “It made me feel not alone,” he said.
These are the conversations you can expect to have in September, along with suicide jokes, of course. If you can’t wait until then, be sure to check out “My Suicide Note” next weekend at The Gateway. Tickets are $10 plus a $5 fringe tattoo for festival admission. You can book them now on the festival’s website.