Published February 14, 2011
Stand-up comedians may earn a living in making others laugh, but behind the curtain of their on-stage personas often lurks a dark, destructive story.
But Jamie Masada, owner of Laugh Factory – Hollywood’s legendary stand-up comedy club, hosting everyone from Jerry Seinfeld to Eddie Murphy, is determined to see this change. Starting Monday, Masada will launch an in-house therapy program for his comics, where two clinical psychologists will be available at the club four nights per week for free, walk-in psychotherapy sessions.
“Night after night, comedians can perform and get huge laughs, but they still have a little demon inside of them, with pain and tragedy on one side. Most of the comedians also come from some kind of tragedy,” Masada told FOX411’s Pop Tarts.
“Real, true comics are helping so many people (by making them laugh) and nobody is there to help them,” he said. “Comics are doctors of the soul who help everybody relax, calm down, and take people away for a few hours, but nobody is there for them at this point. At Laugh Factory, we have to try as a family. We have to do something.”
A prominent motivating factor for Masada to put the program together came after he lost his friend, Comedy Central star Greg Giraldo, to a prescription medication overdose last September.
“Greg did a show here and went with me to Coffee Bean after and we talked for an hour and a half, and he talked to me about his depression and how everyone was telling him he could have been a bigger star and how he could have done this and that,” Masada continued. “And I said, 'You need to count your blessings because you're making people laugh and you have great talent.' But he was depressed.”
Masada said that comedians as a whole are often highly sensitive individuals, and the rejection they are subjected to onatage often plays a huge part in triggering their inner turmoil. He hopes the new program will provide them with a professional outlet to deal with those pent-up emotions.
“We're going to make it work, and at least the comedians will have someone to pour out their heart to, and trust,” he added. “It is very well worth it and it is something that I think is very important to do.”
Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist Dr. Tanya Jacob, who specializes in depression and anxiety, said the Laugh Factory’s new initiative has the potential to go a long way.
“There is an undeniable link between comedians and clinical depression; the very wit that we take such pleasure in often comes from a darker view on life," Jacob said. "The profession itself obviously then adds to that view; they share why they hate themselves and at best get validated for those ideas; and at worse, ignored or heckled. There is no other profession where one becomes as vulnerable, even actors don't need to bring their audience to as personal of a place.”
“This therapy will help the comedians be better able to separate their stage personalities with their self worth," Jacob said. "They will benefit from being able to keep grounded and maintain their coping skills during the stress and vulnerability of the job."
Deidre Behar contributed to this report.