Photo courtesy Six Feet Over
Why are these people smiling? Because they're Ray Hollifield and Laura Witkowski, and they can get you laughing about anything, even suicide.
We can’t find any easy way to get past the breezy treatment of a topic that makes so many people uneasy, so it’s best to get straight to it: Get ready for the funniest, laughter-filled, rib-tickling comedy showcase dedicated to suicide and its prevention.
It’s billed as Ray & Laura’s Annual “Suck It, Suicide” Comedy Showcase, and for the third time it takes the stage at Small’s Bar this weekend.
The clashing themes would seem odd in the extreme, but it all starts to make perfect sense after speaking with Kate Hardy of Six Feet Over, a Detroit-area nonprofit that helps bereaved family members.
Bright and upbeat, the suburban mom tells us, “We’re not your normal suicide prevention group.”
Hardy says running the organization was “a completely accidental thing I fell into and found I really loved. I lost my mom to suicide in 2003 when I was 20. Since then, I’ve lost seven more friends, one of them a close family friend.”
The string of tragedies has led Hardy to laugh into the face of adversity: As the saying goes, “Tragedy plus time equals comedy.”
“I use humor to deal with things,” Hardy says. “Most comics I know use humor to deal with things. After 13 years, I’ve gotten pretty comfortable expressing those feelings. But having a dialogue isn’t so easy for lots of people. It does make people feel more comfortable when you do things with a smile and sincerity.”
The money raised goes to more than emotional support. As Jessica Mitford pointed out more than a half-century ago, having a loved one die can be an expensive proposition, between money for funerals and burials. Worse still, suicides are often excuses for insurance companies to refuse to pay out benefits in full or part.
That’s why Six Feet Over steps in to help families pay for funerals, memorial services, even cleanup costs, which can be significant. As Hardy points out, loans from relatives to pay funeral fees can create even greater rifts in families, which may help explain a troubling statistic: The bereaved loved ones suicide leaves in its wake are significantly more likely to die by suicide
The nonprofit’s community outreach and advocacy work means making sure “suicide survivors” have access to the resources available to them, and that those providing services understand their clients’ needs. Hardy says that last part means “making sure the people I represent are heard.”
So much for the “serious” stuff. On to the comedy show, which Hardy says “is going to be awesome.”
At the center of the show are the two comics it’s named for, Ray Hollifield, who lost his brother to suicide a few years ago, and Laura Witkowski (whom MT
readers may remember as one of our Wonder Twins
). The cavalcade of comics includes Mike Szar, Reese Leonard, Hailey Zureich, Wesley Ward, D'Anne Witkowski, John Mahar and Rebecca Concepcion, along with host Jeremy Shipley. Even the raffle is a source of unexpected whimsy, as the prizes will include such unusual stuff as tattoo gift certificates and even taxidermied bats.
It’s all consistent with an overall message that Six Feet Over embraces: Laughter is the best medicine.
“Laughter is extra healing,” Hardy says. “There are chemicals that pop out of your brain that make you instantaneously feel better. And when you put a spin on something with a little touch of humor, a lot of people have this ‘a-ha moment.’ They may have not gotten that message any other way. They may have heard it before, but it’s only after hearing it that way that they have that moment where they go, ‘Me too.’”
So it’s not so strange after all to mix loss and laughter. And it’s for a good cause.
Or as Hardy puts it: “Come one out and laugh. Maybe score some taxidermied bats. That’d be rad.”
Doors open at 8 p.m., show starts at 9 p.m., on Saturday, April 9, at Small’s Bar, 10339 Conant, Hamtramck; $5 minimum suggested donation; see sixftover.org to learn more or donate.