Over recent years, there have been a lot of dramas about comedians who suffered personal torments behind the scenes, and as they some of the best comedy has come from people who have been very depressed indeed. As part of Channel 4’s Go Mad Season, several funny folks, including Ruby Wax, have revealed their mental problems with Jon Richardson taking to the road to talk about his suspected obsessive compulsive disorder.
Richardson, best known as one of the team captains on 8 out of 10 Cats, often uses his obsessive compulsive nature as material for his stand-up sets, however he fears that these little worries could take over his life. Richardson takes us to his share house where he lives with, in his own words, two untidy cockneys who don’t straighten the cushions or know the correct way to stack the cutlery drawer.
His compulsions don’t stay in the house though as he has a particular way of walking down the street, where he has to take an even number of steps as well as missing the gaps in the pavement. He finds someone else off the telly who also has unusual walking habits in Friday Night Dinner actor Tom Rosenthal, who himself had been diagnosed as having low-level OCD. For me, this would’ve been enough to get a diagnosis, but not for Richardson who invited us back to his past.
Firstly the flat he shared with three other comics, one of them being Russell Howard, in which he felt angry a lot of the time as he couldn’t get his own way. He levelled most of his fury at Howard who he found was the opposite end of the spectrum, in Howard’s own words he wouldn’t give a shit if he a left a pack of Rice Krispies hanging around, but he had tried to convert the other two to his way of thinking. Eventually he found him spending too much time worrying about teaspoons, even spending some nights sleeping in the car as he felt the compulsions were his own fault, and moving to a one-bedroom flat in Swindon which Richardson describes as the most anonymous place in the country. It seems though that Richardson’s compulsion worsened with nobody to share them with, so he conceded that it was best to live with people who annoyed him than not live with anyone at all. He also visited his mother who admitted that her obsessive hand-washing could’ve added to her son’s issues, although brings out some childhood pictures of him ordering books which she describes as his little zones of perfection.
As this is part of a mental health season, Richardson also travels the country meeting people who have been diagnosed with the disease, including schoolboy John whose parents worried that his illness would have an impact on his further studies. Then there was Gemma who had high end OCD, so much so that she wouldn’t let Richardson into her house, instead inviting him up on her balcony but not before brushing his feet in the communal hallway. Gemma’s condition was so bad that she was considering leaving her other half as she didn’t want to be a burden on him, but surely the answer for both her and John would be to seek treatment. Richardson also journeyed to an OCD clinic where Dr Lynne Drummond told him that her patients were the ones who could no longer function often suffering from incontinence. Richardson at least passed her test of wiping his hands on a toilet seat before wiping them on himself, although you could see this was visibly disturbing him and to be fair, I’d feel similarly dirty if I’d been asked to do this. Sometimes though, people just can’t be helped, and he met sufferer Joyce whose son Martin just couldn’t cope with the disease, despite a promising academic career, so eventually committed suicide.
Only the final five minutes of the documentary was dedicated to Richardson’s diagnosis, possibly because seeing him filling out a questionnaire wouldn’t make for particularly scintillating viewing, and would once and for all let the comic now if he had OCD or not. I personally thought that he did, especially when he told the stories of having to sleep in his car during his youth, however some of these anxieties had disappeared over the years. As it was, Richardson definitely did have some compulsions, however as these weren’t taking over his life, the doctor found that he didn’t have OCD so to an extent the whole programme felt like a waste of time.
As a personality, I’ve always quite liked Jon Richardson, and he’s one of the only comedians of the panel show circuit who I don’t completely detest, for example I don’t think I could’ve watched this documentary had Mickey Flanagan been hosting it, and here he easy to connect with as we all know someone who wants to put the cutlery draws in order or have all the food on their plate facing the right way. If the programme had just been tracing Richardson’s life story and what he thinks could’ve cause his suspected OCD, then I think I would’ve enjoyed it more, however when he started to meet other people with the illness, the programme started to get a bit heavier.
Though Richardson was a sympathetic interviewer, the majority of A Bit OCD was presented in a light-hearted manner so the themes of suicide, as well as seeing people who are prisoners to the disease, made the tone of the show feel a little uneasy. I’m not saying that the material wasn’t interesting throughout, but I felt that they should’ve either made a programme about Richardson’s history of compulsions or a serious documentary about people who suffer from extreme cases of OCD. Overall though, this was still an enjoyable programme with a sympathetic and likeable host in which I learnt a fair bit about the illness, so in that respect it was worth watching, however there were problems with the overall tone of the show, which meant I couldn’t enjoy it as much as I could’ve done.