Jack Rooke Opens Up about Mental Health

Jack Rooke's career was launched by his 2015 Fringe meditation on loss and mourning, Good Grief, which took him on a national tour, sold out at the Soho Theatre in London, and saw him present his own BBC documentary last year. Now he's back where it all started, in Edinburgh, with another frank, honest comedy show dedicated to a friend who took his own life. Henry St Leger sits down with the writer, performer, and mental-health campaigner to talk about his latest Fringe offering, Jack Rooke: Happy Hour.

I can do this show now at the Fringe, and build its profile, but... the real power of it will be when I take it on tour in schools, and community centres, and to universities.

Talk to me about Happy Hour. What is it? Why is it here?

Well, it's not really what I thought it was going to be about. It was meant to be a continuation of grief, and how you're affected when someone, you know, [kills] themselves. But it became way more about friendship, and about life, and the importance of people who could so easily not give a shit about you.

Really it's a comedy-theatre-documentary-show about male friendships, and how different they are now to how mainstream culture has portrayed them for the past few decades.

And what is it about groups of young men that are misrepresented?

You have these masculine stereotypes of men all functioning as one identical group. But my friendship group is made up of all these men, these young boys, with loads of different character attributes, that all come together in a way you don't see on television.

I'm 23, so I'm a lot younger than a lot of writers, and this is me saying that our new generation of male friendships groups are quite different to those that are seven, eight, ten years older than us.

What's changed in the way that men bond together?

I don't think you're as defined by your interests, if that makes sense? I feel like friends are more coincidental now. At university, I was coming out in a very heterosexual male friendship group, across the scale from more open-minded straight guys to the real laddy types – and even they didn't give a shit that I was gay. It didn't matter. That I think is the theme of the show as well: me accepting, in quite a comical way, being gay and the ups and downs of it.

And for talking about sexuality or mental health, is it getting easier for men today to be open?

I definitely think it is. I'm quite outspoken on where the mental-health conversation is going. I've worked with CALM [a UK mental health charity] for about five years now, and we've had this big zeitgeist campaign for people to open up – and men are, but they're not necessarily opening up to the right people, or to people who are really aware of how to support them.

We're not educating people enough on how to recognise the symptoms and behaviour patterns of depression, or how to give people a toolkit to deal with that aside from going to their GP – because those facilities aren't really there.

So is culture the best way to get across the message, that education?

Obviously the arts makes an impact. But only when it's put in front of the right audience. I can do this show now at the Fringe, and build its profile, but... the real power of it will be when I take it on tour in schools, and community centres, and to universities. I really want to put it front of freshers and get it out to them. And I think Happy Hour will play its part, but it's a bit misguided to think a one-person show is going to singlehandedly change the world.

But didn't Good Grief change your expectations of what you could do onstage?

Good Grief did so much better than I ever could have dreamed it could do. Because I'm not trained in performance or theatre – I studied journalism. It's not a natural skill for me.

I've learned a lot from working with Soho Theatre – I was part of their youth education programme when I was making it – but I'm not very interested in being a really slick, superstar performance artist. I've tried to lie before in my material to make it funnier, but it doesn't work. It just means the story that I'm telling isn't convincing.

Broadway Baby’s (five-star) review and full listings information: http://broadwaybaby.com/shows/jack-rooke-happy-hour/719854

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