They Say Laughter is the Best Medicine
In this episode of When Life Gives You Parkinson’s, I put the old adage “laughter is the best medicine” to the test. I go through improvisational comedy training and perform live on stage for the first time in nearly thirty years. Plus, I connect with four people who live with Parkinson’s; Glenn Lurie, Kitty Fitton, Phil “Badger” Smith and Paul Mayhew-Archer. They all have turned to stand-up comedy after their PD diagnosis.
Paul Mayhew-Archer, star of the one-man show “Incurable Optimist,” admits he gets a pleasant dopamine rush on stage, but he says it’s not the same as medicine, “So, I mean, they say that laughter is the best medicine. And, you know, it’s rubbish, because in my case Sinemet is the best medicine. But laughter is certainly pretty high up on the list.” Sinemet is the brand name of Carbidopa-Levodopa, the gold-standard treatment for Parkinson’s disease.
Aside from the dopamine hit, comedian Phil “Badger” Smith has discovered it helps with some specific symptoms of Parkinson’s, “Apart from anything else helps of practicing speech and confidence and helps to battle depression and anxiety. Because you’re performing and if people are laughing at your jokes, it gives you a real buzz.”
I participated in a series of three workshops called “Improv for Parkinson’s” at Vancouver Theatre SportsImprov Comedy Institute, which concluded with a live performance. For me, performing on stage was such a rush, it triggered a bloody nose as soon as I stepped on stage and heard the applause and roar of the crowd. I had to excuse myself before introductions. I quickly shoved tissue up my nostril and clamped my nostrils shut and returned to the stage. After all, they show must go, but more importantly, improv training taught us to roll with the punches. With Parkinson’s, improv and life, the more you can be in the present moment and react to what is right in front of you, the easier it all becomes.
Improvisational comedy and Parkinson’s was the focus of a first-of-its-kind research projectat North Western University in 2017 in conjunction with the Second City School of Improvisation in Chicago. The results show that despite common amotivation and symptomatic apathy and unlike therapies and exercise classes, the improv workshops were well attended and enjoyed among patients of PD of varying ages and disease severity. In regards to measures of efficacy, the only variable that improved significantly was the change in UPDRS part II, which focuses on how difficult the activities of daily living are for people with Parkinson’s. Researchers believe this preliminary finding may be a result of the humor and games that aimed at improving communications skills, stigma, anxiety and quality of life. More research will need to be done before the positive impacts of improv on Parkinson’s are confirmed.
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Thank you to…
Johnny Kerrigan is in the Vancouver TheatreSports rookie league.
My Improv Troupe
- Norm Blain
- Creston Froats
- Peter Jarvis
- Geoff Cohen
- Richard Froese
- John Hougan
Phil “Badger” Smith on twitter @phil_badger
Rebecca Gifford, my wife and partner in Parkinson’s, who always laughs at my jokes.
Our presenting partner is Parkinson Canada http://www.parkinson.ca/
The toll free hotline 1-800-565-3000
Or follow them on Twitter @ParkinsonCanada
Thanks also to our content and promotional partners
Parkinson’s IQ + You– A free, series of Parkinson’s events from the Michael J. Fox Foundation
Spotlight YOPD– The only Parkinson’s organization dedicated to raising awareness for Young Onset Parkinson’s disease and funds for the Cure Parkinson’s Trust.
Dila Velazquez – Story Producer
Rob Johnston – Sound Design