JC Clapham at Darwin Fringe Festival, July 2017
Image by Amy Hetherington, Amiable Communications

In mid-July, I spent three days in Darwin to do my storytelling show HUMPTY DUMPTY DADDY as part of the Darwin Fringe Festival. I learned a lot from that festival and those audiences. About the show itself and about me, too.

I know more about what the show HUMPTY DUMPTY DADDY is.

It’s a weird thing to say about something you create, but it’s taken me some time to truly understand how to describe the show: it’s themes, style, messages, objectives, and even it’s ideal audience, to a degree. But I feel like these things are leveling out for me now.

Over the past nine months or so, I’ve labeled this show about fatherhood and mental health in a few ways, and been finding my way through that. I started out saying it was a ‘personal comedy’. Then a ‘personal reflection’, and finally, a ‘storytelling show’. And that’s what I now see it as: me telling the story of my father, me, and my kids, and how mental ill-health has shaped the various relationships between generations.

Each different performance and festival, the content and delivery has evolved. Some of that is because my situation has: I was still married when I wrote the show, and then only newly-separated when I first presented it at the Melbourne Fringe. Five months later at Adelaide Fringe, I was more settled as a single father and as a person, so I incorporated that into the story.

And now in Darwin, I added in a significant new section, where I talk about my own suicide attempt aged 22.

I’ve only recently admitted that’s what it was; before now, I maintained the pretence that it was a drunken accident. But it wasn’t. And I only felt able to say that a month ago, some thirteen years after the fact.

Naturally, that inclusion meant some reordering and the omission of something else. I think I omitted the right things, but I’m not 100% certain. I recorded audio of both shows and have listened back to them and feel relatively comfortable with things.

The two shows were different to each other. A little in terms of content, but not significantly, but it was my head space that was really different.

I know more about how to be in my best ‘storytelling’ mindset.

For the first show on Friday, I was champing at the bit, really ready and switched on. I’d done the things I know are good preparation:

  • Slept 8+ hours the night before
  • Ate healthy food and drank plenty of water
  • Gave myself good, solid time and clear space to chill out
  • Made sure I took my anti-depressants first thing in the morning (which is the ideal time for me, but I don’t always remember and sometimes it stretches till late afternoon and that’s less than ideal).

The venue and audience felt comfortable and relaxed and I was able to stay that way, too. The show itself was quite good, I thought, and I got some encouraging feedback from people, including the festival director; the first time someone in that role has come to see me. I was so rapt and really touched at that! 🙂

For the second show on Sunday, I managed NONE of the things from the list above. NONE. I slept poorly the night before as I was too hot and couldn’t quieten my mind. Nothing I tried worked to get to sleep, so I just rode it out and eventually fell asleep about 3am.

I was then up at 8am to pack my stuff to check out of where I was staying by 10am. That meant eight hours to kill before the show at 6.30pm. I wasn’t hungry and didn’t force myself to eat, though I should have. I drank too much coffee and not enough water. I walked around central Darwin and found a few comfy places to perch, but I couldn’t settle properly. I knew I needed (and wanted) to be still in a cool and quiet place, but that wasn’t possible.

It was around 4pm when I realised I hadn’t yet taken my anti-depressants… gah! So I remedied that. And I started drinking a lot of water. But my stomach wasn’t up to eating anything, so I didn’t force that.

I hung out at the venue with some of the other performers. I enjoyed that, and they’re great people. But I realised as show time approached that I wasn’t in my ‘zone’ like usual. I was taking in too much stimulation and thoughts from other people and the evironment I was in, and it was clouding my headspace. I felt a little overwhelmed and lacking the clarity of thought and purpose that I’ve found I need before a show. But I soldiered on.

During that second show itself, I don’t think I was at my best in terms of tone of voice and pace of delivery. I waffled a little, and feel like I was a little more monotone than usual. But again, I soldiered on.

I know more about not relying just on my own perception.

Afterward, I was a bit down on myself, but I didn’t beat myself up. Progress!

Then a couple of people approached me and shared their positive feedback, including a lovely English traveller named Connor. He was only in town a few days and had heard my show was ‘like a cross between standup comedy and a TED talk’ and so took a chance and came to see it. Connor was effusive about how brave he thought I was, and how important my message of never giving up was.

And hours later, at the airport readying to come back to Melbourne, I received a message from the person who worked the box office. She’d given me a big hug and some lovely praise after the show, but in her message she not only reiterated that, but mentioned a group of men, including the burly bouncer, were talking later on about how good the show was and their own brushes with depression and that of other men they knew.

MY HEART SANG! That is what I dream of… that in sharing my story, and my father’s, perhaps other men and women feel slightly more hopeful and slightly less alone. And that night, when I was out of sorts and a little disappointed in myself, I’d still managed to do that. It was a very welcome reminder of how our (my) own perception doesn’t always match the reality.

That burly bouncer really stuck with me, and on reflecting during the flight home, I identified why…

He looked a lot like my father: tall, strong, imposing. I had subconsciously assumed he would find my show either boring or self-indulgent. And there was no reason for me to think that. It was my own head that had imposed that view of and for him. And then the penny truly dropped… that bouncer physically reminded me of my dad. He reminded me of the core character of my show, of the person who had taken their own life. And without recognising it at the time, I’d disregarded how he might respond to it! What an unintended mistake, but one I was fortunate to get the chance to reevaluate. And I’m proud that someone who reminded me of my father was receptive and positive about my story and message; it’s as close as I’ll ever get to knowing what my dad might think.


And I know there are a lot of people to whom I am grateful.

I want to thank everyone who came to see the show in Darwin. Without you, I’m just a guy shouting into the wind… you help me share, and help me do something I love. Hopefully, you felt it was time well spent 🙂

Thank you to the amazing Amy Hetherington, herself a bloody funny person, who managed the venue and fostered a great band of performers. I’m so grateful to have met and worked with Amy, she’s a ripper and a legend.

Thank you to the team of staff and volunteers at the Darwin Fringe! You ALL were fantastically welcoming, supportive, and so damn QUICK with everything 🙂 I hope to be back in 2018 and do it all again.

Thank you to my new friends and acquaintances whom I met during my time in Darwin. Big love to you all. xx

I know I’m doing a good thing.

After every run of shows, I have a strong sense that sharing my story, and being as open and honest as I am about my mental health, is a GOOD thing. Good for me, and good for audience members.

Darwin reiterated that and again provided a good affirmation that I can help both myself and other people at the same time.

That there is still a lot of connecting and sharing we need to do around mental health and being supportive to each other.

That I am on the path to being a person of whom my children will be proud.

That I am a good man, a strong – but also fragile – person.

And that this is actually ok. It’s human. And I AM ENOUGH!

Shine on, beautiful diamonds  xx


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