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#MENtalHealth: Stuart Laws on Skeptical Thoughts and the power of comedy


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In his Skeptical Thoughts series of videos, comedian and film producer Stuart Laws explores a range of fascinating topics, focusing on the human desire to find meaning and purpose in the world.

While the themes are complex and serious, the injections of Stuart's humour throughout the videos add light relief to the videos, making them as engaging as they are insightful.

As part of The National Student's MENtal Health content series, Stuart chatted to us in a Q&A about Skeptical Thought and the power of comedy to address difficult, but vital, topics.

Image credit: Ed Moore

In what ways did you explore the topic of male mental health in the Skeptical Thought series?

I think the topics I explore are related to mental health from a non-gendered perspective, but in framing them with skeptical subjects like conspiracy theories, Bigfoot and ghosts it positions them in a more typically masculine area of interest (anecdotally it’s been noted that the vast majority of conspiracy theorists are men and there are lots of potential reasons for this).

Standing up to authority is culturally seen as a positive trait in men, but not women, and conspiracy theories are all about exposing secretive power and abuses. So I looked at each film as a way of exploring a mental health issue, parallel to the main theme, whether that be what grief can be, or failing aspirations, or simply a desire for there to be a reason for existence.


What first led you to create the series?

I love conspiracy theories, I love the supernatural, but I don’t believe in them. The stories behind them, the level of evidence often presented is fascinating and it’s exciting to look at your world from a new, unexpected angle. To me, the most interesting thing about all these stories, and religion, is what it can say about us. So I wanted to talk about some of those topics in a hopefully funny, and different style.

I didn’t want to be the ranting YouTuber, or to not make any point at all - I wanted to put a flag in the sand but I wanted it to be an appealing flag, a place people might want to explore further because the guy who put the flag there seems decent and reasonably funny.

What central messages did you hope to convey in the videos?

They’re an attempt to talk about subjects I find interesting but to try and explore them in a way that scientific analysis or debunking wouldn’t do.

Science is great for the “how”, for providing a framework for analysis and understanding the world but many people are put off because it doesn’t deal with “why” and that’s one of the dominant thoughts humans have, for everything. So I thought I could offer some “why” conclusions, but mainly I wanted them to be positive, to suggest that it’s ok to doubt things, to be uncertain but for that not to be a mentally unstable position to be in.


How did you find people generally reacted to them when they were first shared on YouTube?

Positively! I was braced for a lot of negativity as certain corners of the conspiracy community can sometimes be pretty aggressive. The biggest criticisms came from the Bigfoot community who hated the idea that a British person was talking about an American beast. I found that weird because neither I nor they have seen Bigfoot so that feels like we’re both as equally qualified to talk about it. 


How can comedy be used to develop the discussion on male mental health?

Well, that’s one way men can and often do tackle serious issues: tell someone something serious, then joke about it.

There is certainly a trend in live comedy to use it as a form of therapy - to talk about personal issues on stage and to find the humour in these situations but also connect with audiences over them. [It] helps to make the issue seem less isolating and create less stigma around talking about them.

I feel very self-conscious about the Skeptical series because I’m expressing personal thoughts and doing so in a pretty serious, self-important way. The only way I was ok with doing that was by undermining myself, the film and the topics with humour, as a way of deflecting the harshest criticisms I imagined heading my way.


Statistics show that men generally find it more difficult than women to discuss mental health - why do you think this might be?

We haven’t been encouraged to do so, to be vulnerable and to be ok with that until very recently. Gender binaries have been culturally developed and reinforced for centuries, maybe millennia, and we’ve been told that it’s biology and men have to be a certain way. We’re only just finding out that isn’t true.

So mental fragility is still seen as worse than physical fragility for men - we’re allowed to break bones because that means we were striving for more, we were pushing our bodies and we can wear those breaks with pride because we did something that our frame couldn’t cope with. Our brains don’t get that luxury: they’re not to be broken, not to be pushed.

To find out more about Stuart Laws and his work, visit his website here.

This article is part of The National Student’s MENtal Health content series which is led by Laura Brown. You can see more from the series here.

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