The Participant Media-owned company is running special block of programming in May dedicated to mental-health issues. A key pillar in the lineup is a documentary produced with Funny Or Die featuring comedians discussing life-and-death issues.
The documentary, “It’s Not That Funny,” will star Rainn Wilson, Sarah Silverman, Wayne Brady, Rachel Bloom, Chris Gethard, Sara Benincasa, Riki Lindhome, Anna Akana, Baron Vaughn and other comedians. In the 25-minute film, they’ll explore how anxiety, depression and suicide affect performers in the comedy biz. The film, directed by Mike Bernstein, will premiere May 30 on SoulPancake’s YouTube channel and on Funny Or Die.
“There’s a long history of comedians who struggle with depression, addiction and suicide,” Wilson told Variety. “Our clarion call as a company is to make content as fun and entertaining as possible, even when the subject matter is hard. For this doc, we thought it best to talk directly to comedians and leverage their sense of humor for this topic.”
The film — which Wilson allowed is “a little funny” — is part of SoulPancake’s The Beautiful Mind campaign tied to Mental Health Awareness Month in May. The initiative will include digital series, a special newsletter, and a May 29 invite-only event in L.A. hosted by comedian Ron Funches with guests including comedian Amanda Seales and Chris Wood, co-founder of the IDONTMIND mental-health awareness movement.
SoulPancake, which Participant Media bought in 2016, has previously produced content on mental-health issues over the course of its 10-year history. But this month’s Beautiful Mind lineup is more extensive. “Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people,” Wilson said. “We’re in an epidemic for young people of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. It’s the most pressing issue we’re facing.”
SoulPancake’s focus on mental health, which will extend past May, was driven in part by its audience asking for more coverage of the topic, said Shabnam Mogharabi, general manager and co-founder. “Frankly we were seeing a bigger need for a conversation around this for our millennial audience,” she said.
One reason SoulPancake decided to greenlight “It’s Not That Funny” was to dispel the notion that artists are funny only because they’re suffering. Both Wilson and Mogharabi cited the death of stand-up comedian Brody Stevens earlier this year of an apparent suicide as illustrating of the need to address mental health in the business.
SoulPancake expects to generate revenue from the programming, but the ultimate goal is bigger than that. “We’re walking a fine line,” Wilson said. It’s a “double bottom-line” business, with a obligation to generate revenue while also serving its mission “to make stuff that matters.”
Wilson, who’s best known for his turn as Dwight Schrute on NBC’s “The Office,” said he has first-hand experience dealing with mental-health issues. “I’ve dealt at various time with anxiety and depression and addiction,” he said. “I’ve put many family members through rehabs and dealt with suicide attempts – and I’m so not alone in that.”
Throughout the month, SoulPancake also is working with non-profit partners Mental Health America, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and Crisis Text Line to spread the word about how those in need can get help.
SoulPancake’s programming for the Mental Health Awareness Month includes:
- Live event “Four Conversations About One Thing”: Three-hour event on May 29 at the Hammer Museum bringing people in the entertainment industry together with wellness experts for discussions around mental health as it relates to work, parenting, masculinity, and media. Tickets are available on an invitation-only basis. Why We Rise, a partnership between the L.A. County Department of Mental Health and Well Being Trust, is a supporting sponsor of the event.
- “Soul Stories”: An original digital series using person-on-the-street conversations as “a window into peopleʼs hearts,” to explore the ways everyone can relate regarding mental health.
- “The Takeover” series on Instagram: The SoulPancake Instagram account Story activation will feature weekly takeovers by YouTubers and social-media influencers focused on mental health sharing their stories, perspectives and expertise on how to live a better life.
- “The Mondays…” newsletter: A special weekly email newsletter dedicated to mental-health life hacks.