Illness isn’t easy to talk about. Many people don’t even know how to approach the subject, let alone discuss it at length. That’s why what local comedians Alicia Tobin and Kevin Lee are up to is so cool. They host Super! Sick! Podcast! in which they discuss chronic health conditions — both their own and their guests’ — and they can make you laugh while they do it.
Tobin and Lee are longtime friends through the Vancouver comedy scene and were looking for a new project. Tobin has hypothyroidism, in which the thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones, and Lee has atrial fibrillation, a serious form of heart arrhythmia. Somewhere along the way, it dawned on them that their health issues could become a conduit to create something positive that could help people with similar experiences.
“I think people suffer in silence – well, we certainly don’t,” Tobin says, laughing. “But fundamentally, we wanted to get to know people, not just other comedians. We want to meet people who are experiencing a diagnosis and to learn about what that’s like.” Often, people with a health crisis or experiencing chronic illness can feel alone and misunderstood. “The anxiety and stress of it all can be isolating and overwhelming,” says Lee. “So then even just hearing people on a podcast discussing something similar, you connect to that as well. Hopefully, as the podcast goes on, we’ll see a community spring up.”
It’s apparent while listening to the podcast that the comics know each other well. They’re both very clever and have a playful sense of humour, and they’re not afraid to throw some toilet humour in the mix, either. “We make a lot of poop jokes,” laughs Tobin. Understandably, using comedy to approach these issues carries some inherent risk if not applied skillfully. “Are we going to be too dour?” Lee ponders when considering how to approach the podcast content. “Or, are we going to be cracking jokes so much that it will seem, like, ‘is this about being sick or is this just about cum jokes?’” Arguably, they’ve struck a perfect balance, with the assistance of their producer, Jay Hosking. In addition to being naturally funny, Tobin and Lee are intelligent and kind, allowing them to approach difficult subject matter with tact and compassion. The podcast is sweet without being saccharine, and funny without being flippant.
There’s something about humour that makes it a powerful tool for dealing with the darker realities of life. “Certain tragedies or situations feel absurd and exactly opposite to the way life needs to be,” Lee explains. “Humour is the way to bridge that absurdist gap between what is expected and what you actually get.” Tobin agrees: “Humour is a really great way to communicate bigger ideas and to build trust.” She continues, “It’s a way that I’m open with people.” There’s a simple and powerful beauty in humour. It can help create an environment where people feel seen and heard. “After humour can often come lots of listening, empathy and sincere connection,” adds Lee.
This sincerity and authenticity comes through strongly on the podcast. Combined with the hosts’ wit, it all helps to educate and encourage empathy through the candid sharing of experiences. “It’s laughing to help people understand their own illness. Or, if someone has a friend going through a medical problem of some kind and doesn’t know how to deal with it, hopefully this podcast can offer some sort of insight into how to connect with them and make them feel like it’s alright and they’re okay,” says Lee.
“Something we’re doing on this podcast seems – not bigger than us, but in a way… better than us. I hadn’t anticipated that feeling,” says Tobin. “I get goosebumps thinking about the podcast and the potential it has.”
When you listen to the podcast you just may get that tingly feeling deep down, too. Or, it might be that you laughed too hard and peed your pants.
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