'The NHS should appoint topless models as receptionists, serve beer and show sports channels'
Men's health hits the boards this month in Leicester, reports Jim Pollard. Comedians John Ryan, winner of a 2003 Edinburgh Festival Highlight Award, and Gary O'Donnell are teaming up with Phoenix Arts to produce a comedy show on men's health which debuts at the Leicester Comedy Festival on 6 February.
'You want to lose weight? ' John Ryan advises. 'Start smoking.' As a health promotion programme, it doesn't sound too promising. 'Yeah, think about,' he goes on. 'A lung. I mean, a lung must weigh about eight pounds.'
Hurt Until It Laughs is the product not just of John and Gary ODonnell's experiences but also of a series of workshops with men in the Leicester area. John, who will be familiar to many from the London comedy circuit, says: 'I think they asked me to get involved because my Edinburgh show discussed difficult issues like homophobia and war. For the new show, we've talked to all sorts of men including young offenders, men from minority communities and gay men.
John puts the purpose of the show bluntly 'Men face extinction. Gary and I intend to create a healthier male population by confiscating all the causes of male problems. It's a dirty job but someone's got to do it. We'll be starting with loose women and cheap beer.'
However, John knows that getting more people to the doctor's won't be easy. 'My Uncle was a scaffolder, a big strong bear of a man. A trip to the dentist resulted in him being sent to the doctor's, who referred him to the hospital. They found cancer in his tongue requiring immediate surgery. He died shortly after. I visited him in the hospice and asked what happened. "I should never have gone to the doctor,' he said.
'Men are stupid. If your car sounds iffy, you get it sorted. Not your body. A man at one of the workshops announced that he once found his testicle swollen. It didn't hurt so he ignored it. His girlfriend returned from holiday and had to drag him to the doctor's. His excuse, he liked it! Anything but admit fear. It turned out to be gristle. Just how dumb are we men? As an Irishman I thought doctors were an arm of the government.'
Nevertheless, the workshops came up with some quality ideas for making doctors' surgeries more attractive to men. 'Don't let too much really sick people in,' one bloke suggested. 'Have fitter-looking receptionists,' said another.
'I summed up by saying perhaps the NHS should appoint topless ex-models as receptionists, serve beer and show sports channels,' John recalls. 'I suggested appointments could attract reward points towards electrical products. The workshop nodded in agreement.'
The problem is, says John, that men just have different priorities. 'At one of the workshops, I started off by saying who we were and what the project was about. Then I asked for any questions. 'Yeah,' said one bloke. "When do we get a cup of tea?'.
'All the same,' says John, 'I came away from the workshops with some important lessons. Men learn to grin and bear pain, men see sharing feelings as a weakness, Eric Cantona should never have left Leeds.'
John also talked to psychologist Dr Ashley Weinberg from Salford University who outlined the problem. 'From birth we are conditioned to behave "appropriate' to our gender,' says John. 'machismo is promoted for boys. They are given guns; they fall over and are told not to cry. Boys that reject this treatment are labelled effeminate and considered weaker than their masculine peers. They are discouraged from expressing their emotions and psychologically punished if they do. Grown men often view sickness as a sign of vulnerability. I got trapped by one of those gender-specific conversations myself the other day after a gig.
'How's Dave?' a female friend asked.
'Yes, Dave, you just spent two hours in the car with him.
'Oh. Dave. Yeah. He seemed fine.'
'He didn't tell you he'd just lost his job?'
'He never mentioned that his wife was pregnant.'
'Not as such.'
'Or that their house caught fire?'
'Not in so many words.'
'But he's allright?'
'Oh yeah, Spurs are doing much better with this new manager.'
Could stand-up comedy be just what men's health needs to propel it into the mainstream?
Reality TV could follow. A group of blokes with different suspected cancerous growths are forced to share a house that has a doctor's surgery right next door. Who can go the longest without making an appointment? Contestants could opt for forfeits like cooking a meal, eating slugs or talking to Mike Read rather than go to the quack. Each week one of the tumours will be voted out and biopsied live on telly. 'Des's prostate is going to the medical room.'
John Ryan could do the voiceover. For having the honesty to talk about men's health on stage, he and Gary O'Donnell certainly deserve to become as big as that Geordie bloke who did Big Brother. Good luck to them both and to the show.
Leicester Comedy Festival & Phoenix Arts present:
Hurt Until It Laughs
6th February at Pheonix Arts, Newarke Street, Leicester LE1 5TE
Box Office 0116 255 4854 www.comedy-festival.co.uk
For more on John Ryan: www.Comicvoice.com
What do you think? Is comedy a good way to get men to take health seriously? Or, if you've seen Hurt Until It Laughs, send us a review.
Jim Pollard is editor of malehealth. Article first published February 2004.
Page created on February 2nd, 2004
Page updated on October 4th, 2010