The Ego Podcast: Dena Jackson on mental health in the comedy community

I’m with Dena Jackson, host of The Ego Podcast on the Sonar Network. Let’s do this! Tell me about your show.
The Ego Podcast is a podcast about finding balance. That’s kind of a broad way to describe it, but, it’s aimed at anybody who is interested in finding some stability in their life, mostly for their mental state. It’s about mental health. There’s a lot of focus on tactics for managing things like the ego. Things like meditation, mindfulness practices, yoga. It’s a series of interviews with various professionals that work in some of those areas and some who work in the arts, law, and medicine. All of them have something in common, which is that they practice some form of meditation.

Dena Jackson The Ego Podcast Logo

What inspired you to start this type of show?
Meditation has become a big part of my life in the last two years. Coming into that and practising it regularly made some very positive impacts in my life and I wanted to find a way to talk to and connect with other people who feel the same way. And I wanted to do that openly so I could provide an opportunity for other people to learn more about it.

Early on, you released a couple of episodes that were guided meditations, different from your usual interviews with guests. It was just your voice guiding the listener through a meditation. Was that part of an initial vision you had for the show that changed over time?
No, I really only wanted to release the two, just so people could have a resource. Because, if you’re listening to people talk about meditation and maybe you’re inspired to try it, then you have a guide at the beginning so you can try it out. One of them was one that I did myself, and one was guided by my teacher, who I trained with in India.

What did you study in India?
I did my yoga teacher training in Goa, India, in the south, for a month. I completed my 200 hours there. So, now I teach yoga and meditation in addition to performing stand-up comedy. So it’s kind of my own way of finding balance between those two things.

You have a lot of comedians on the show. Are these topics pretty widely discussed in the comedy community?
Well, that was one of the first things I started to connect with some comedians about, on a deeper level. The ones who are on the show all practice some form of meditation. Typically, you can fall into a pattern when you’re talking with other comedians, where you just talk about comedy—we never get tired of talking about that. So, you just know them in that one note. But, doing this and talking openly about it, I started to learn that there were people in my own community who practice, and they speak about some of the benefits they’ve experienced. Some actors and comedians on my podcast have gone through recovery—now they’re sober, they’ve been sober for X-number of years and they found these kinds of practices through treatment. It’s cool to learn about my peers in that way. It feels like I know a more genuine side of them. And, I think, whenever you’re going through a discovery like this, it’s always nice to start in your own community. It’s nice to connect with the people you already know in one way and say, “Hey, this is something else I’m into!”

Dena Jackson Stand Up Comedy in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

For sure. It’s so comforting to learn that this other person, who is going through a similar path as you, is anxious about the same stuff.
Yeah, it’s comforting to know you’re not alone. There are a lot of topics around spirituality that are addressed on my podcast and, I think, in the West, a lot of us have been trained to not really feel comfortable speaking about that. So, this is a good place to be able to share that. And, maybe some listeners are not at a point where they’re ready to share their own feelings and experiences on that, but they can listen to others and learn or relate.

Yeah, that’s a great point. I was just listening to your episode with Jim Hall, the trauma specialist, this morning. And I was struck by his explanation of trauma. He said trauma doesn’t only come from something totally extreme like a horrible car crash, but it could happen from anything as small as your parents fighting a lot when you were little. And, as a listener, it had me reflecting a lot on my own history and feelings on the topic, which is part of what your show aims to do, I think.
Totally! That’s why I think podcasts are really cool—you can learn things without needing to contribute. And, if you want to contribute, you can. You can comment or engage with the host, or whatever, but you don’t have to. You can just absorb.

It’s something that comes up a lot in my interviews, actually—the intimacy of podcasts. The idea that you can get so attached to the host’s voice. You really start to trust that person. They’re in your ears all the time and what they say really sticks with you.
Yeah, totally. Especially when it comes to feelings of vulnerability and things like that, it’s nice to have that intimate relationship with the host, but the listener still has their privacy. It’s like the best of both worlds.

Which podcasts do you listen to?
I really like spirituality podcasts.

That checks out!
Yeah! I really like Gabrielle Bernstein. She had one called Add More –Ing To Your Life. I’ve listened to all of those episodes. I really like Pete Holmes’s podcast, You Made it Weird. I like Oprah’s series. She has a Sunday spirituality podcast. It’s called SuperSoul Conversations. So, spirituality and comedy. Those are my things.

Let’s talk about your comedy a little more. How do you feel meditation and mindfulness practices have affected you as a stand-up comedian?
It’s affected my comedy in a very good way. In terms of creativity, if I’m in a good mental state then the ideas flow a lot easier. I’m not nervous or afraid or anxious. So, ideas just come to me. But, it also keeps you level-headed in the entertainment industry where there’s so much up and down. You could have a great week where you’re making money, performing for thousands of people, feeling on top of the world—and then the next week you’re in a basement venue and there’s a rat running around and there’s one person barely listening to your jokes. I needed meditation. It was the only thing that could help me stay neutral in all the up and down.

Dena Jackson Stand Up Comedy at Bad Dog Theatre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I feel like a lot of stand-up is fuelled by a sort of negativity—self-deprecating humour, roasting other people, making fun of everything. It comes from this place of resistance. But, your meditation helps you to feel more positive in general. How do you reconcile those two forces?
There is a lot of negativity around being an artist in general—particularly in comedy because there’s the stigma of the “sad clown”. Or ideas about “tragedy + time”. But, myself and some other comedians are trying to change that. We’re trying to change ideas about the concept of the artist. Being an artist doesn’t have to be a struggle or so painful.

That’s a big mental health issue in the arts. I hear about it a lot more lately.
Totally. And it applies to any profession. Life doesn’t have to be about struggle. We’ve been conditioned to feel that way so you kind of have to un-learn it. So, myself and two other comedians are putting together a YouTube channel that addresses this. We haven’t put it up yet, but we’re filming. It’s called “Phat Artists”. It’s a play on words—like fat/phat artists instead of starving artists. So, we make these videos to try and inspire anybody—not just artists—to change ideas about how you start your day, how you look at your workload,  and how you look at your life. It doesn’t have to be negative.

I think a lot of people are interested in doing yoga and meditation, but find it difficult to commit to a regular practice. Personally, I’ll do yoga obsessively for 6 months and then I’ll get distracted or busy and I’ll fall out of it for a year. Do you have any tips for listeners who might want to get into the practice and stick with it?
Yeah! I would say—start small and work your way up. That’s major. Because you’re changing the way thought patterns work in your brain by doing that. You’re only making a small adjustment at first—5 or 10 minutes a day. And you do that for a month. Give it a good month! And then after a month, maybe bring it up to 10 or 15. By doing it gradually, it’s less intimidating. People look up meditations on YouTube or apps, and those are great, but they’re like, “Oh, I have to sit for a full hour, or go to a monastery in East Asia, or something.” You don’t have to start like that. Start small.  And—about yoga—I think it’s great to find any physical activity that you enjoy. That physical exercise clears your mind. All that junk that’s sitting around in your system, causing anxiety, has been released. So, it’s a lot easier to meditate after you’ve done that activity. It’s different for everyone—some people don’t like yoga. Some people like running. But, find that physical activity you enjoy and find the time to meditate after doing that. Because then, it becomes a really nice ritual for you and you actually look forward to it.

That’s great advice. It’s so hard to quiet your brain when you’re a nervous wreck, like me!
Like many of us! We’re over-stimulated all the time. Your phone, your alarms, your emails, social media. And thousands and thousands of images being thrown at you. You’re already in this state of being over-stimulated before you even get out of bed. That has a major effect on your brain. So, it’s no surprise that a lot of people are struggling, more and more, with things like meditation. But, that being said, the long term benefits are so major that you start to see them—and I’m not just talking about “I feel more calm” or “I was able to meditate for 5 minutes longer”—but I mean, you actually start enjoying your life more. It sounds weird, but, I can speak from experience. All of a sudden, you don’t feel the need to rush anymore in the same way, because you’ve made time. You transform into this version of yourself that you always knew you were, but maybe you’ve been conditioned out of. So, the benefits are huge.

Amazing. Let’s move on to my unrelated questions!
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I want to be a comedian and I want to be a speaker. I want to speak about this topic.

About spirituality?
Not just spirituality, but mental health and meditation. Stuff like that. I’m keen to talk about spirituality but I’m careful because I know people are worried about stigma and they get a little put off when you use that word.

Yeah, like “Well, I’m not spiritual so this isn’t for me.”
Yeah. But, everyone has a spiritual part of them, whether they acknowledge it or not. So, I would like to speak about that. But I want to do it in a way that is comical and inviting to everyone.

If you had an evil twin and I had to kill one of you, how would I know which one to kill?
My evil twin would be bitchy and snarky and say inappropriate things. And everyone would want to kill her. She’d be nicely removed from the situation.

If you could compete on a reality TV show, which one would it be?
Actually, I was on a reality show when I was a kid. It was called Uh-Oh! The one where they threw goo on your head.

I loved that show! Did you get slimed?
I didn’t get slimed! I always wanted to get slimed! I remember I had to throw these wet ducks from a pail of water into something else. And I did it, which was cool ‘cause I didn’t think I could do it. But if I could, I would do that again and mess up so I could get slimed.

If you could wade through a pool of something that isn’t water, what would you pick?
Maybe caramel. I mean, it’s going to be a mess no matter what. So I’ll go with that.

Nice. I love that one. Caramel is thick and slow.
Yeah! And maybe you could use it to wax your legs after!

Okay, last question! If you had one question for me, what would it be?
If you could have a superpower, what would it be? I’ll give you some options. You could fly, you could have electric fingers, or you could be like the guy from Street Fighter who had rubber legs and rubber arms. Or anything. It doesn’t have to be one of those.

Honestly, I want teleportation. So much. I just want to be able to leave here and be halfway across the country in 5 seconds. And not have to deal with travelling. Also, it would be so useful in crisis situations. You could get to an emergency right away.
Great call. That’s a good one. Add that one to my list, too.


Thank you so much to Dena for the chat! Check out Dena Jackson and all of the fun shit she does on her website.
Listen to The Ego Podcast on the Sonar Network or wherever you get your podcasts!
Follow Dena on Instagram: @actiondjack 

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