A disease that burns the inside of your belly before causing bodily fluids to erupt from your most embarrassing orifices doesn’t sound too funny. But for comedian Ben Morrison, who was hit with a Crohn’s disease diagnosis during his senior year of high school about a decade ago, finding humor in his situation has been the only way to stay positive and even keep the little known intestinal woe under control. He’ll be bringing his Crohn’s-related stand-up show “Pain in the Butt” to town this weekend, and he spent a few minutes chatting with The Independent last month.
It must be interesting to have gotten into comedy due to an ailment.
The funny part is that stand-up happened right before it got kind of bad, and then I wound up using the stand-up routine to help with coming out of remission and going through the next round. I got diagnosed in 1997, my senior year of high school, and I did stand-up two years later in New York City when I was in remission. When I came out of remission, I wrapped it around the stand-up as a way of dealing with it coming back.
So the humor helps?
Oh yea. Oh man, we’re talking about my butt. What’s not funny about that? Not only does the humor help, but so does the fact that you can talk about this and point out things that are funny. Not everything has to be viewed through this veil of shame. This allows you to open up a dialogue of sorts about this. I don’t think that’s possible without saying it’s okay to laugh.
Crohn’s disease seems to be a relatively recent medical phenomena.
It is newer. There’s no clear answers for any part of having Crohn’s — there’s no answer to the cause, no answer to the cure, no answer for why it gets bad or goes into remission. It’s just a big question mark. I found that humor is a way to supplant those answers with tangible ways of wrapping your head around it.
Have you gotten a good response?
I’ve been doing the show for a long time now, eight years. It’s allowed me to meet incredible new people. For patients who watch it, it’s a real catharsis. Nothing I’m talking about didn’t happen for every one of them. It’s also a great introduction for what your friend who does have Chrohn’s is going through. It allows people to be open about what they have and what someone they know has. The symptoms of Crohn’s all involve poop or things coming out of your body. It’s hard for people to even talk about what’s going on with them, hard to talk about what dirtied their drawers. The answer to all that is probably pretty funny. Did you blame the fart on the guy next to you? How’d you kill the smell? We all want to know.
Do you do other comedy too?
“Pain in the Butt” is just my love theater piece. I’ve been doing stand-up for 10 years. I live in L.A. And I have a bunch of big shows coming up. My other stand-up is very removed from the Crohn’s. Sometimes I pull the material into my stand-up and sometimes it goes the other way around. I’ve been able to lead a fantastic life as an actor and comedian and writer and not have Crohn’s debilitate me. I’ve been very lucky. I just believe beyond anything that not fearing it by discovering our own funny way of addressing it has allowed me to not be put in the position where Crohn’s is winning.
So you believe that the humor actually helps keep it at bay?
The show is all multimedia…and one of the slides I show is a close-up of what looks like an intestinal system. But as you pull out, you discover it’s a drawing of the human brain. They look so similar. There’s a reason you have a gut feeling. You’re talking about what’s going on in your gut. Your brain, I truly believe, can do mind over matter.
I know it sounds stupid, but I don’t view myself as a victim of Crohn’s. I view myself as someone who has Crohn’s. The funniest people I’ve ever met are Crohn’s patients. It has a funny byproduct of making people talk about poop. Once you develop a dialogue, you just start cracking jokes. Once you remove the stigma of talking about it, it gets kind of fun to share stories. The amount of empathy we have for each other is just incredible. The storytelling aspect is what’s missing in the therapy for Crohn’s. I believe in the healing role of storytelling.
What can we expect from your shows?
They’re all-ages. The point of the show is anyone at any age can watch it. I’m very specific about how I handle my writing so I can maximize the humor, but there’s no need to shock. And no one has normal digestion anymore, I swear. The difference between people who have a tricky stomach and full-blown Crohn’s is getting increasingly smaller.
Ben Morrison’s Pain in the Butt show comes to Carpinteria’s Playhouse Theater on Friday, February 4, 8 p.m., and the Dos Pueblos High School Theater on Saturday, February 5, 2 p.m. For more on Ben Morrison, see benmorrison.org. For those seeking more information about the Santa Barbara Support Group for Crohns and Colitis, contact Karen Clark at 805-252-0491 or firstname.lastname@example.org.