“I’d love to come away from this show having been able to start a conversation” | Jake Donaldson talks masculinity and mental health in his new show, Neurotica

What is your show about?

I suppose at its core its about my personal experiences of anxiety, and it certainly features lots of real stories from my life, but more generally it’s about how life as a modern, progressive, feminist man in a world still trying to break free of toxic masculinity contributes to anxiety and mental health issues. It deals with how toxic masculinity does (but shouldn’t) play a part in how I relate to my Father, my disability and my sex life.

What motivated you to theme your show around this?

My initial reaction to being asked this question was just to say “Cos I needed to write a blurb for the Fringe programme deadline and I panicked” but that’s only half true!

A few months before the first lockdown, I reached a point in my life where my mental health was very poor and I spent some time in a hospital, followed by a lot of therapy, during which I explored how a lot of the things that have gone on to be themes in the show were at the core of my unhappiness.

Once I’d recovered enough from that period in my life, and I came to write a new show, I realised that the messages I took from therapy were things that I’d like to share with other people, to help bust myths about how men “should” think and feel.

And also because this way my therapy is tax deductible.

Why is it important for men to talk about these issues?

By its nature, toxic masculinity thrives when men don’t talk about things.

I think that lots of men these days understand what toxic masculinity is, and they understand they’re part of the patriarchy and are recipients of the privilege this provides, and are trying to be good feminists and allies. But often we can forget to also give time to our own thoughts and feelings when we’re caught up trying to make sure we’re doing the right thing for other people. Although men have a lot of catching up to do in terms of balancing the cosmic cheque-book, no one is saying that they as individuals have to now subject themselves to some sort of selfless lifestyle where their own emotional needs can’t be met.

It’s important for people of any gender to be able to express themselves when it comes to their emotions, and among left-leaning, well-meaning, progressive men I think it can often feel like we agree with this statement for other people, but that internally we shouldn’t allow ourselves this basic human process, due to a combination of latent toxic masculinity and male-guilt.

These are both important pieces of context to be aware of as men, and we have to get better at allowing ourselves to acknowledge we are privileged, and to try and be better people, while also still allowing ourselves to admit that we have emotional needs as well. Men need to have these conversations with each other, to help re-sculpt the image of what masculinity is, and how men see each other, as well as to take responsibility for our own problems, which can’t be magically fixed by any external group.

It’s up to men, first and foremost, to fix masculinity.

If you have done previous hours, how does this one differ? If this is your first hour, how is the challenge compared to writing a club set?

Its funny because my last hour was written in 2019 and I only got to do it a handful of times before the pandemic shut us all down, and it was partly about toxic masculinity as well. In a way that show (Jake Donaldson Fights The Sea) was almost a Work-In-Progress version of this new one.

That show was very different though, Neurotica is mostly just straight stand-up, whereas my last show involved me being dressed in swimming trunks, a dressing gown and children’s boxing gloves, telling stories while attempting to do five-thousand jumping jacks as audience members threw water and salt over me on stage. I’ve abandoned that mad-cap and avant-garde approach in favour of a return to the more traditional stand-up that made my first show, 2018’s Help! I’m Trapped in the Body of an Adequate Comedian! a success.

What do you want to get out of this show?

Whenever I make a show, first and foremost I just want to entertain people and create an hour of comedy that people will leave thinking “Ooh that was good!” and that might make them want to seek out my other work. However, with this show, as I’ve discussed above, I think I’d also love to come away from having performed this show thinking that I’ve been able to start a conversation, or that I’ve given someone in the audience the confidence to speak up about their feelings, and start taking up their own space in the world.

Also money.

When/Where can we see your show? (Previews, Edinburgh, future dates)

I’ll be previewing the show at The Verve in Leeds on 5th July and at Blizzard in Manchester on 21st July, then I’ll be taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival from 4th-28th August, every day at midday, in Cabaret Voltaire!

After that I’m hoping to take it on a small UK tour, so anyone reading this who has a venue and might like to have me bring the show to you, get in touch!

Book your free ticket to Jake perform Neurotica at Gullivers on 21st July here.

Get this piece – and lots of other cool content – as part of our July 2022 zine here.

To keep up with Jake’s work, you can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.