Coming clean…

Hello, I’m Wes Packer. I’m a stand-up comedian from Wales, battling depression and crippling anxiety while riding the SSRI rollercoaster.

I ‘came out’ as having a mental illness earlier this year and linked to this blog from my website: www.wespacker.com but forgot to come here to apologies for:

  1. Disappearing for so long, and
  2. Forgetting to ‘come clean’ and introduce myself properly

I made some incredible friends on Twitter and WordPress.com while writing as Black Dog Moan, some of you were literally a lifeline at certain points – the only ones I could reach out to. The anonymity just helped increase the honesty of the posts as I wasn’t ready to ‘out’ myself at the time.

So, sorry for disappearing again. I’m in recovery now, in a much better place than I was back then although I’m still struggling with anxiety and depression, like many people. I’d love to re-establish contact with some of my old Twitter/Wordpress friends and I’d love it if you’d all join me over on wespacker.com if you’d like to hear about what I’ve been up to since you last heard from me (HINT: it’s not been easy), where I’m at at the moment, and where I’m heading; or, pop over if you just fancy a laugh.

I’ll try to make it funny, honest…

Wes (BDM) x

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Latest…

In case you’re wondering why there’s such a big gap, I haven’t been arsed to write anything. I can’t think of anything to write about and, to be honest, I don’t much give a fuck. I’ve realised that spending all this time worrying about blogging and writing and podcasting and radio and shit is just wasting energy on stuff that isn’t comedy. I know that, in theory, they should all feed into each other but I don’t think I’m ready for that, yet. It all seems too big to deal with and you know what they say about breaking big problems into smaller chunks. I’m a comedian, that’s what I do, and so I’m going to concentrate on that and every else can develop as it will. I feel better already just having made that decision.

And so to health issues…

I’m feeling much, much better these days. The “bad” days are less frequent which, obviously, makes the good days (and even the “meh” days) more frequent. Maths works like that. I only saw the Occupational Therapist about four times and we agreed that I was getting stronger and should try to get out of the house more. At the time I was confident but it took more effort than I thought it would. It was effort well-spent, though, as since then I’ve done more gigs in the last three months than I did in the whole of last year, started working in coffee shops and cafes instead of at-home, and am spending more time with my family and friends than I have done in a while.

It’s not so hard. My best friends are aware of my condition – some have even opened up about their own private struggles, which is very positive – and so if things get heavy I can just make my excuses, leave, and know that the people in the room who really matter to me will understand. I’m getting much better at spotting the signs and changing the situation, taking the pressure off, even if it’s just nipping to the bathroom for five minutes to straighten my head. I’m working with a personal trainer to sort out my weight and fitness issues (I’ve been living on coffee and chain-smoking since last August) and am feeling stronger and fitter every day. What they say is correct: excercise and diet can kick the arse out of depression.

And I’m reading again! This is probably the best part of my recovery so far. I’m a very big reader and the inability to concentrate when reading was really starting to get to me. Now, I can throw myself into a good novel, learn about my condition, and research a new career (if comedy doesn’t work out) and that makes me a very happy bunny indeed.

Anyway, I have jokes to write. Sincere, heart-felt thanks to the Twitter crew – you’re support has been invaluable and is very much appreciated.

Shouldering…

“The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.” – Samuel Johnson

I came across this quote on Twitter recently after having spent the whole night pacing and twitching and trying to come down off my meds – meds to help me sleep, I should add. I’ve had similar thoughts to Dr. Johnson, albeit not nearly as eloquent, very often while working in comedy. It is very difficult to find the someone he describes within the comedy industry; the industry is chock-full of people who indulge in what I call “shouldering”.

I should explain…

Imagine you’re at a festival – one of the biggest and most prestigious festivals in the world – for the second time. Last year you did well, for where you are in your career, and you’re excited, nervous, and a bit high from swanning around the hotel bar like your somebody. You’ve been rubbing shoulders with the chosen ones, even bumping into one of your heroes on your way back to your room, and it feels great. No-one’s talking to you, obviously. No-one knows who you are, save for the few people who work at your venue and the guy who’s job it is to make sure you’re on stage when you should be. No-one is struggling valiantly through the throng of hob-nobbers in order to shake your hand, tell you they love your act, and offer you a sitcom pilot on HBO. Everyone is oblivious to you and, at first, that’s cool. Your the outsider anyway, right? The maverick? You don’t need to toadie to execs and air-kiss with fellow comics. Fuck that. Not your style at all.

And then it happens: someone spots you.

Turns out, he’d seen you at a different festival the year before and really liked your act. He introduces you to his companion, a famous comedian whose work you’re not really familiar with, who exchanges the briefest of pleasantries before running off to talk to someone more important.

“What a cock,” you think to yourself. “Oh well. Fuck him. Plenty more schmoozing where THAT came from.” You turn back to your new companion to continue the conversation.

Then you notice something strange. The person you’re talking to is starting to get fidgety, like he needs the bathroom. The conversation becomes strained, forced, but neither of you have actually said anything worth saying yet. Then it happens. The shoulder.

The first time it happened you had dressed in black, as befits a dangerous, edgy comic like you and although this will sound silly, at first you actually thought that he was looking at dandruff. “Fair enough,” says you. “Spot of dandruff. Nae bother.”

But then you see that his gaze is not directed toward your shoulder at all. From what you can work out without the aid of a protractor, he’s looking higher than your shoulder. Oh fuck! Your ears! Are they red? Have you had one too many Vodka & Cokes? What the fuck? Is something hanging out of your ear like some ear-bogey? What in hell will he think?

As nonchalantly as possible, you reach to your ear and just give the lobe a light rub between thumb and forefinger, all the while desperate to get back to the conversation you were having, the question you were about to ask. Nothing. You ear is fine. You know your hair is ok because you can see yourself reflected in the mirror behi…

And then you see it, like you should have seen it all along. Gazing into the mirror you can see why this two-bit yuppie in a cheap suit is staring over your shoulder like some catatonic estate agent. You glance over your shoulder just to make sure you’re not going crazy and there, in the flesh, stands Eddie Izzard laughing and joking with some people in very expensive suits. You look back at your companion. He catches your gaze. He knows, you know, the whole fucking WORLD knows that he would rather be talking at Izzard than at you.

Briefly, awkwardly, he makes his excuses. You shake hands, all very polite, and he dashes off for pastures greener and there you are: the boy without a prom date. Nursing a battered ego and a vodka & coke. Alone.

So what do you do? Do you realise that this is the way of the world, learn the art of “shouldering”, and dive right in? Do you resolve to learn the tricks, the gimmicks, and the market and self-promotion that will allow you a seat at the top table?

No. You’re an edgy, dangerous comic, remember? A maverick who plays by no man’s rules? “Better to die on your feet than live on your knees” and all that?

You drink way too many vodkas while staring at the throng, hating each one of them more with every leap of the second hand. You decide you’ve had enough. You can’t be in this nest of vipers for a moment longer. You go to your room, drunk, complaining, shouting, throwing things. You’re wife is terrified. She shouts at you. You crumble, broken, into her arms and cry like you haven’t since you were a child.

Lesson one, grasshopper: there is no Santa Clause, there is no Tooth Fairy, we’re not all in this together, and the comedy industry is full of cunts.

Welcome to The Game.

Advice for Young Comics and New Acts…

Dear Young Comics and New Acts,

Please stop writing advice pieces to other comics.

If you think that someone needs advice on their individual technique then please just quietly point them to someone who actually knows what they’re talking about like John Gordillo, Gary Delaney, Andre Vincent, John Fleming, Nick Revell, Bennet Aaron etc.

If you just want to generalise and make other people feel bad for not being as amazing as you (a comic I’ve never heard of in almost ten years on the circuit) then, please, just step away from the iPad.

Go and fix your hair or something. It could use some work.

bdm x

[EDIT]

It’s been pointed out to me that John Fleming is not a stand-up comedian. I’ve simply added him to this list as I find his blog (http://thejohnfleming.wordpress.com) very interesting – he tends to document the more worthwhile areas of stand-up comedy and the Edinburgh Fringe. Worth a read.

Trust…

Trust is a big issue for me. I’m an extremely insecure person underneath it all and I’m not quick to trust someone. One of the hardest things to deal with in the comedy industry is the lack of trust. You can’t turn your back for five minutes without someone putting you down to other people or trying to take work from you. I know that it’s a competitive industry and that people have bills to pay but surely there’s a better way to make a living than fucking over your so-called “friends”?

I love writing this blog, it’s cathartic, but you may have noticed that I’m keeping my identity to myself for the time being. One of the issues discussed in Ruby Wax’s Mad Confessions is the idea that people are afraid to be open about their mental illness, something that would probably help them a lot, for fear of being stigmatised, of losing their friends, their jobs, their income.

Their lives.

I know exactly how they feel and this behaviour fucking disgusts me. It’s just another form of bullying. I’ve heard outspoken idiots exclaiming, loudly and proudly, that’s it’s all bollocks and that people should pull themselves together and get a job. Bullies, that’s all they are. Insecure little people with no empathy or hope. Some of the them are probably in pain themselves and don’t know how to deal with it – like people who are against homosexuality (thanks to this Morgan Freeman spoof, I try not to use the word ‘homophobic’ anymore) – but most of them, in my experience, are just fucking bullies.

This insecurity is seen in every corner of the comedy industry. We pour over our reviews, ticket sales, and internet comments to see if we’re doing better than the next guy. When someone we know (and probably claim to “like”) gets mauled by a reviewer, you wouldn’t believe the undisguised glee on some comics’ faces. Comics stab each other in the back, slag each other off in the dressing room, some even attack each other from the stage – it’s happened to me more than once – by insecure has-beens who can’t handle being upstaged and feel the need to lash out.

I try to be on my guard, to be on the lookout for these vampires and to avoid them. I’m always playing the nice guy, though. I’m always the first to shake someones hand or offer them a compliment, whatever I may say about them when they’re not around. I try to treat people right regardless of what I think of them.

Not anymore.

Too many of my real friends on the circuit have been hurt, crushed, almost destroyed by these people who do it just because they can. Sometimes it’s because they have zero social skills, sometimes it’s just because they enjoy being cunts.

To those people: the next twelve months will see a change in me. I’m starting to call you fuckers out on your bullshit. When you hurt my friends, you will deal with me. I’m hurt and I’m in pain, my nerves are shot, I can’t leave the house most days, I hide under the duvet and I dread doing gigs.

From now on, my life and my career are on my terms, not yours. I can survive without you and you better believe I will.

No longer will I shake hands with a person who’s stabbed my best friend in the back.

Trust me, if you can.

bdm x

Starting out…

The worst thing about stand-up comedy is what it can do to you as a person. For the most part, people only see the public faces of the acts they see on stage. They don’t hear the bitching, the whining, and the hateful comments that go on back stage and in the car. A lot of comics car share to save petrol money and it is on these late-night tours of the service stations of Britain that they show their true colors. I’ve heard comics speak of their “best friends” on the circuit in terms I wouldn’t employ in a discussion about Ian Huntley.

When you first start, it’s exciting. You get to meet a load of cool new people, make some friends, do some traveling, and see places you wouldn’t otherwise have a reason to visit. If you’re unlucky, you’ll bump into a self-important failed comic who runs a gig above a pub and thinks that this gives him carte blanche to misunderstand what you’re trying to do, to pull your fledgling act apart, to tell you exactly where you went wrong and how to fix it, and to make you feel like shit. You watched him MC the gig and he died every time he took the microphone. You wonder why the fuck this audience put up with him.

If you’re a young comic reading this: you WILL bump into these cunts, the people who can’t do what others can do and take delight in lording it over you because they hold the keys to a twenty-seat room above a real ale pub with a wooden fucking pallet for a stage.

Hardly The Comedy Store, is it? But these gigs, and these people, are everywhere in comedy. Watch out for them and treat them for what they are. If they don’t book you? So fucking what?

At first it seems like it’s an amazing community to be part of. Everyone seems so friendly and supportive. You honestly start to believe that “we’re all in this together” and that the friends you make on the circuit know what you’re going through and have your best interests at heart.

Bullshit.

Most of them hate you.

They either hate you because you’re better than them or they love you because you’re not. Most comics are the most selfish, insecure people you could ever wish to meet, especially in the lower leagues. Sociopaths who delight in watching others fail and then damn them with faint praise. I would love to know what the people who shake my hand and hug me like a brother say about me when I’m not there. I may be depressed but I’m not fucking stupid. They don’t fool me any more.

Some people say that this par for the course. It’s called “earning your stripes”. Fuck off. These are the people who think Gordon Ramsey is a “legend”. You shouldn’t be able to make a living without being treated like shit and made to feel alone and isolated? Give me a fucking break.

You MUST guard against this. To quote Norman Stanley Fletcher, “try to remember who you once was (sic). Just keep a little bit of it intact up here.” You would not believe how easy is it to become like them. The first time you catch yourself laughing along at some poor first-timer who got ripped apart by some drunken cunt who just wanted to be the big man in front of his mates, remember this: that could have been you.

If you’re honest, it may very well have been at some point in your career. The odds are against you on this one. Remember how you felt? Standing up there looking stupid, the words catching in your throat, the sweat running down the small of your back. Remember going home and laying awake all night embarrassed, ashamed, and utterly, utterly alone? Remember the next day when you fronted it out and told your family and friends that you’d had a great gig? Remember that ice-cold feeling in the pit of your stomach even as you smiled and lied through your fucking teeth?

If you’re struggling to survive on this emotional roller-coaster and you find a fellow comic who is honest, humble, and supportive, hold on to them tight. Treat them well and allow them to treat you well in return.

There aren’t that many of you.

Welcome…

It’s hard to be funny when you can’t breathe. That may be difficult to believe but it’s true. Sometimes you walk onto the stage feeling Godlike. You’ve been here before, you know this room, these people, even if you’re a stranger in a strange land. Other times, you choke. You shake, you forget shit, you get angry with hecklers instead of dealing with them as you know you should. The lights scorch your skin and the glares of the paying audience sear into you. The other comics watch from the wings – some with concern, most with barely-contained glee. You’re dying. You’re fucked. They’ve found you out and you have nothing left. All you want to do is get off the stage, to the dressing room, to the car, back home, to safety. That’s if you turn up at all.

I’m a comic. I live with depression. I’ll tell you all about it…