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Tribeca Festival: Group Therapy

Group Therapy with Mike Birbiglia, Atsuko Okatsuka, Gary Gulman, Tig Notaro, London Hughes and Neil Patrick Harris who all brought some comedy and mental health awareness to the Tribeca Festival with their new documentary.

This intimate exploration of mental health removes any stigma or taboo, as the comedians, led by Harris (acting as the resident moderator/therapist), share their emotional journeys.  From thoughts of suicide, dealing with parents with mental illness, anxieties, sleepwalking, fertility issues, and a cancer diagnosis, among many other issues, these comedians shed some light on their internal struggles, while keeping the audience laughing.

Group Therapy Tribeca Film Festival

“I was so uncomfortable being honest, talking and not trying to think of something funny to say,” Hughes shares.  “And then Tig would say something fucking funny and I’d be like I should’ve said that!”  Harris; however, applauded Hughes openness in the film saying that it was so tender to which Hughes interjects, “I’m not tender, I’m funny.”

Group Therapy Tribeca Festival

Harris explains that he wasn’t quite sure why he was chosen to moderate the discussion and play therapist, wondering if it was all a joke.  Okatsuka responds, “Neil Patrick Harris felt that he was being punked, imagine how we felt and who’s our therapist? Neil!”

The segway from hurting to healing and even joking, can be a tricky one to master though.  “I didn’t start talking about my mom and her schizophrenia until the pandemic hit and everyone was stuck inside, and everyone was sad.  I felt an even bigger need to connect to everyone,” Okatsuka shares, while explaining that the time to turn something dark or sad into part of a comedic act needs to be natural.  Many people in the cast also share how they kept their struggles a secret for many years before sharing them publicly.  

Mental health is a serious issue and director Neil Berkley along with Producers Bryan Smiley, Kevin Healey and Luke Kelly-Clyne wanted to shed light on it with comedians known for sharing their personal struggles onstage.   In fact, struggling with mental health is so common, according to Johns Hopkins, 26% of Americans over the age of 18 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder each year.

“Group Therapy” takes these serious topics, divulges how traumatic they can be, while also sharing how these comedians turned them into career boosting material.  Many confessed that the idea of sharing these experiences was to de-stigmatize them and help others not feel so alone in their own struggles.   Birbiglia explains the importance of “finding the joke that opens it;” the one that takes a sad story and finds the humor in it. 

However, sharing their struggles on camera without performing was a tricky task for this cast used to making everyone laugh.  “So that was the most uncomfortable you will ever see  me in my life. And I felt it… and watching it back made me cringe…” Hughes shares before jesting that “no one should see this film!”  We thankfully disagree and highly recommend checking out “Group Therapy” for an intimate look at mental health in a light and enjoyable format, which will have you healing and laughing right along with them.


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