Daniel Fernandes Takes a Candid Look at Mental Health in ‘Shadows’
“In case you’re wondering, the answer to your question is, yes, I have thought about my own suicide,” says Daniel Fernandes in his new stand-up special Shadows, which was recently released on YouTube. “Yeah because comedy shows happen in the night. I have a lot of free time during the day. What are you gonna do?” he adds, and you can’t help but giggle despite yourself.
The comedian has earned himself a fan following for taking on serious social issues with viral videos of bits on marital rape, student suicides and the death penalty. This time, Fernandes turns the spotlight on himself and proceeds to closely examine his own experience dealing with his mental health since being diagnosed with anxiety disorder in 2016.
Fernandes is a seasoned performer with acting chops and a keen sense of timing. He knows how to hold his audience’s attention even through circuitous set-ups. And it’s this talent that allows him to matter-of-factly deliver solemn truth bombs about the reality of living with a mental illness without losing you.
It may be uneven, but what makes Shadows worth your time is Fernandes’ ability to articulate an experience that is both universal and extremely personal. Over the first 30 minutes, he sets out to normalise the conversation around mental health by addressing common misconceptions, the difficulties of social interactions when anxiety tags along uninvited, and suicidal ideation. He advocates to make therapy cool – a cause I wholly endorse – while acknowledging both the absurdity of one’s reluctance to seek help and the genuine hurdles that stand in the way (therapy is expensive). He also uses his personal experience to offer practical advice on how you can support someone battling their mental health.
Despite the seriousness of its subject, to Fernandes’ credit, the show never gets heavy. He deploys pop culture references and simple analogies to put his point across, and though some jokes don’t quite land, he elicits enough laughs so you never feel like you’re in the midst of a long and incredibly grim PSA. One of my favourite bits are his musings on the voices in his head and the ingenious method he has devised to drown them out (I took notes).
The second part of Shadows is mostly Fernandes’ pontifications on his idea of success, growing up and becoming a parent to your parents. When compared to the weighty first half, it feels middling. But we’re still with him – even if I did pause a few times to check Instagram – partly because by now he has spent the better part of an hour taking us into his confidence and being honest and vulnerable, and partly because of his ability to tell a good story.
Shadows may not always hit the mark but as Fernandes puts it, “You know the Indian comedy scene’s evolved when we’ve moved on from saying, ‘Clap your hands if you’re Gujarati,’ to ‘Clap your hands if you have a mental illness.’” Also, therapy is the coolest, I swear.
Shadows is available now on YouTube.
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