You want to ride with the bull? Then buckle up for the high-energy fun of Eric Johnston. Johnston is an actor, emcee, and comedian from Hamilton, Ontario. He has performed all across Canada and the United States, and has been seen on MTV, JFL, and the popular children’s show Splatalot (Netflix). As a comedian, Johnston has been invited to perform at The Comedy Store in Hollywood, and is the winner of the 2021 COCA Comedian of the Year Award. Quick on his feet, Johnston has also adapted to the ever-changing world by performing successfully online, in backyards, and at reduced capacity clubs and venues. Delivering high-energy comedy with a slick performance, Eric Johnston will leave you laughing and begging for more. Website: www.ericjohnstonwho.com
Ahhh yes, the proverbial sad clown, a tale as old as time and as old as the entertainment industry. I’m one of the few people who, when the topic of mental health comes up, gets excited because I truly believe that I’m on the other side of it (for now).
Before I tell you about my story, I will tell you about who I am. My name is Eric Johnston and I’m a professional touring stand-up comedian of 11 years and actor of over 25 years. I’ve spent the last 11 years touring North America doing shows as small as sports bar wing nights and as big as opening for Russell Peters at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles, with every other type of gig in between. The reason I’m telling you is not to promote my resume, but to make it clear that both my career and mental health have had massive ups and downs.
I had my first major panic attack and hospitalization at the age of 16, 3 years after the death of my father, who was a Canadian Hall of Fame professional wrestler and also my personal hero. Like every first panic attack you truly believe that you are dying, and since that moment over 15 years ago there has been a tick in my fight or flight response. I spent the first 10 years believing that there was something wrong with me and only me. I believed that I “was crazy” and “no one could understand.” I was ashamed and suffered in silence because my entire life I’ve been the funny guy and the guy who makes everyone feel like everything is going to be okay, when I was the one who was not okay.
A lot of people experience “social anxiety” but I feel like I am the opposite; I suffer from “non-social anxiety.” If I’m not out, travelling, doing shows, meeting people and making friends, that’s when my mental health is the worst. I’m more comfortable on stage in front of 500 people than I am in my green room by myself.
Kanye West once said, “My mental health problems are my super power.” And although Kanye has said a lot of interesting things, that’s the one thing I connect with the most. I truly believe that my battle with depression / anxiety has given me the amazing career I have today. If I’m ever feeling low or anxious my work ethic turns up into almost a manic state. I start reaching out to comedy clubs, venues, promotors, bookers, press and more to make sure that I have months of work and things to look forward to. I once booked a 75-city cross-Canada tour while battling an epic case of the Sunday Scaries!
Over the last 5 years something amazing has happened for me and for the world.
For me, my career has never been busier and more exciting. I can reach out to a comedy venue and book a show, the show launches to go on sale and it’s sold out within a couple of hours. That’s something that feels amazing. I got to that level from really putting myself out there, not only with how much I reached out to be booked, but with what I talked about on stage. I wrote jokes about things that “triggered” my anxiety before and now they have no power because I not only make fun of it but I see how many people connect with it!
For the world something amazing has happened; people are talking about mental health. Before, mental health issues of any kind were very hush-hush. People were ashamed, people were too proud and people were extremely isolated in their struggles. I don’t know exactly when the shift happened, but it was truly beautiful. People started talking about going to therapy, taking medication, eating/living healthier and taking charge of their mental health, which lead me to be comfortable to talk about mine. It was in that moment the weight of a thousand elephants came off my chest and off the chests of millions of people around the world. I spoke about my victories on stage, on podcasts, in speaking engagements at colleges and universities and I could be the funny guy but also the guy who could make you feel like everything was okay because I was truly okay!
Today I sit with an amazing career, a beautiful girlfriend, I’ve got friends and stories from across North America and I feel like I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I am at peace. There are still little things that come up in my day-to-day life but I remind myself that I’m okay and there are millions of people out there who feel the exact same way as me, and I can’t wait to meet them and perform for them in their local comedy club.
In closing I will say this: Life is like a rollercoaster – it has its ups and downs and twists and turns. We all know that. And if you’ve been to an amusement park you know that there are two types of people who go on rollercoasters. The first type of person is scared because they got forced into going on. They sit in the chair, tense, holding on tight with their eyes closed. They are trying to control the ride even though they know that they can’t and they don’t generally have a good time. The second type of person gets on with a smile. They have their arms up, they kick their legs, they scream, they hoot and holler and enjoy the ride because they know that the ride is designed for them to be okay in the end.
My suggestion to you, the reader, would be to treat life more like the second person. Don’t try and control the ride, just enjoy the ride. It’s all going to be okay in the end. It’s designed to be.