#Fun4thedisabled’s Vanessa Harris interviews Suz Ballout, a comedian, actor, and producer, about her struggles with mental health, as well as her Lebonese identity. She also discusses why it is common for comedians to have lived difficult lives.
[Transcript with visual descriptions: On screen text reads: Up next – Strategy for Access. Cantv. Vanessa Harris, seated on the right, is joined by Suz Ballout, seated on the left. They are in a professional studio with the Strategy for Access logo behind them.]
Vanessa: Hi, this is Vanessa Harris of fun4thedisabled.com. If you are enjoying this show, come to our website at fun4thedisabled.com for more like this, where it is also closed captioned and contains a transcript for the vision and hearing impaired. I am here with Suz Ballout, comedian, actor, improv performer, writer, and producer, today to talk about her life and how she deals on a day to day basis as a comedian with a disability. Hi Suz!
Suz Ballout: Hi!
Vanessa: Welcome to the show!
Suz: Thank you for having me, Vanessa.
Vanessa: Great. Suz, can you tell us how it is that you decide to become a comedian, actor, performer, and producer?
Suz: Yeah, um, it all started at Shoreline Community College – go Dolphins! (Imitates dolphin sounds.) And I took an acting class there and as soon as I – I remember my first monologue that I did on stage, and I was like oh my gosh, like, I was meant to be here.
Vanessa: Uh huh.
Suz: Like, this feels so good and a lot of people, they get really nervous when they get on stage, for stage fright, and for some reason I didn’t quite have that. I really liked having the spotlight on me.
Suz: And um, from there, I just kept on, I took all the acting classes that I could. And then about a year later, someone contacted the professors at my school that worked at a theater and they were like do you guys want to, like, get all your funny people together and like, enter this sketch show competition with the colleges? And so my professors reached out to me and a couple other people and they were like you guys are the funny people in the program, do you want to get together and write sketch shows?
Suz: And I was like, heck yeah! That sounds amazing!! Also, I’m funny? What? That’s so nice! (Laughs) And so then I went on from there. I did the sketch show at The Pocket Theater in Seattle and then after that, I worked at The Pocket for a little bit, producing shows and yeah, that’s kind of how I got into it.
Vanessa: That’s great.
Suz: Yeah, I moved to Chicago three years ago and yeah, it’s wonderful.
Vanessa: Ok, great! So, when did you first come to realize you were dealing with depression and anxiety?
Suz: I came to realize when I was probably 12 or 13. I had, like, gone through this war, I was getting older and that kind of, like, sucked for me. And I realized that I was worried all the time about something happening and something constantly, like, bad is going to happen. And so from a very young age, I just felt, like, very sad, very hopeless. But, you know, thank God, as soon as I turned 18, I like, found some spiritual-ness and was able to guide myself through that better.
Vanessa: Ok, ok. So, um, how did you deal with it early in your life?
Suz: Early on it was really hard. I felt like I wasn’t set up for success in terms of, like, getting to the right help that I needed, you know? Like, back when I had depression – when, you know, when this was happening to me, I felt like there was still a stigma against getting help or you know, talking about your mental health, especially at such a young age, you know. You hear, like, well you’re a kid you’re supposed to be happy, like what (laughs), you know?
Suz: And so early on, I would journal, like, everything, because that was the only way I could get my thoughts out of my head and on to something.
Vanessa: Uh huh.
Suz: So that helped a lot when I was a kid.
Suz: And then older, as I got older, I was like, therapy is very helpful (laughs).
Suz: For sure.
Vanessa: Ok. So did your parents encourage you to see somebody when you were young?
Suz: My parents did not encourage me.
Vanessa: Uh huh.
Suz: I remember my mom cancelled my first counseling session and that was really hard on me because that made me feel even more unsafe to go talk to someone. But luckily, you know, I got over that as soon as I turned 18 and I was like I need to take my healthcare into my own hands.
Vanessa: Ok, ok. Um, can you tell me about growing up as an Arab-American?
Suz: Yeah, um, it was kind of like living in two different worlds. Both my parents are Lebanese and you know, they did their best trying to teach me to try and stay as close to my Lebanese roots as I possibly can, like while living in America, which was kind of hard at times because they’re kind of old school, you know? My dad would always be like, this is not in my dictionary, you know, when he didn’t want me to do something and you know, it was difficult living in those two different worlds. Like, seeing my friends at school that were American, doing whatever they wanted to do and then I was kind of reserved. And maybe it was kind of a cultural thing because I was a woman, you know, or I was a young girl, like I was kind of restricted from doing more things culturally so that was kind of difficult but I feel like as I got older, I definitely got more proud of my heritage because I was able to understand it in my own kind of way.
Vanessa: Ok. You mentioned that you went through a war when you were young.
Vanessa: It is possible for you to talk about that?
Suz: Yeah. So when I was 12 years old, I was in Lebanon and I was visiting my family. I was by myself and a couple days before I was going to leave, Israel bombs 4 out of the 7 lanes at the airport and so I was unable to get out of the country. And what had happened was Hezbollah had taken two Iresali soldiers so they started bombing every out of the country. And that was a really crazy experience because I was by myself. I don’t really recall, like, what my parents were doing. I know they were trying to get me home safe but I remember just kind of being in my own world mostly. I felt very alone. I felt like I was trying to get out of this mess by myself, just trying to like you know carry it as much as I can without crying or showing any kind of fear. To show that I was strong. So there was a lot of shoved feelings there, but, you know, I eventually got evacuated out of the country on a Navy ship and you know, got back home safely, so. But that was a crazy experience.
Vanessa: Yeah. Did your experiences cause you to have PTSD?
Suz: It definitely increased my anxiety, like for sure. Like, I definitely had more panic attacks than before. I was much more sad after seeing what had happened to my country. I think what was so crazy was like when you’re in a country like that, and you see the people around you, they kind of look like, like everything is ok even though there is destruction and chaos going on around them. And so it was very surreal being in this moment of like, you know, it’s kind of sad. There’s nothing they can do but sit and watch this destruction around them in this beautiful country just going down. So that was really hard for me too, like coming back. Being like there’s no escape for other people.
Suz: Like that was crazy to me, you know?
Vanessa: Right, right. Ok, Suz, you said being nice is the *expletive deleted* way to go.
Suz: (Laughing) Yeah…
Vanessa: You put out niceness, you get niceness back!
Vanessa: When we talked earlier, you mentioned getting thrown out of a coffee shop after doing a performance and being mean and roasting someone for almost the entire performance. You say that you wish you could’ve taken it back and that you want to take responsibility for your actions. Can you explain that?
Suz: For sure! I, I felt, like I felt great for a minute after, like, that whole thing happened. And then the regret set in and you realize that when you’re making fun of someone you’re not just, you know, bringing up stuff for that person. You’re bringing up, you know, like you’re putting a business in danger, you know. You’re putting – I put the show’s producers, like the show in danger from happening again. I, you know, I, like, had to email the owner of the business to be like I’m so sorry, like, the host had nothing to do with this. This was definitely all on me. Like, please don’t think that anyone else had anything else to do with this because it was really my responsibility that I made the conscious decision to go up there and roast someone. And I was just like, never again will I ever do that, will I ever put someone through the feelings of like, you know, I didn’t know this person that well, but, you know, I put them through an emotional havoc. I caused that person pain and in turn I got – I felt super bad and I felt really crappy for making someone feel that way, in turn. And like, when you put out niceness you’re going to get niceness back and that will be, that’s you know, if I had gone up there and I had joked with him and I had made it like a better set, you know, we would’ve all walked away happy.
Suz: (Laughs) We would’ve all walked away, different mindset, you know, but it exploded in my face and I had to take responsibility and be like I did something bad and I’m going to learn from this moment and move on and have this, you know, jolt my, my pursuit to success, if that makes any sense.
Vanessa: Ok, ok.
Vanessa: Ok. I want to get back to something you mentioned earlier. How did you get over your depression, anxiety and PTSD?
Suz: Oh man, it’s like, I don’t think you’re ever going to get over these things. You’re just going to constantly need to put in work and to, making sure that you’re always in a good space. I know that I need a really good support system. I know that I need my friends with me like in that support system, I need people that are backing me up and uplifting me, you know. Like people that are saying the things that I should be saying to myself. I take Escitalopram for anxiety and depression. It’s like an off-brand of Lexaporo and I also go to therapy. You just need both.
Suz: You can’t really have one without the other. I kind of describe it as, like, for me, when I lost weight, people were like you know, like, being thinner like gives you more things but really, like, I felt the same about myself even when I was in a thinner body than when I was in a fat body, because your mental health is still going to be the same.
Suz: That’s not going to change —
Vanessa: You’re still in your body.
Suz: Exactly, you know, exactly yeah.
Vanessa: Right. Right. Suz, you said you have something on your wall that says “be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind!” What does that mean to you?
Suz: Man, I mean in this business, you’re going to have so many opinions thrown at you.
Vanessa: Uh huh.
Suz: And I felt like, for me, you know, you need to have those – like if I say something, those people that are by my side, those are the people that aren’t going to care, they’re going to matter to me the most.
Suz: But those people that do care, that means that they don’t matter.
Suz: Because, you know, why let that affect you —
Vanessa: You can’t get bogged down with that.
Suz: Exactly! Exactly! So, it’s such a good reminder to myself to keep your closest friends close and to treat those relationships with respect and like, safety and care, because those are your people who are going to be by you, so..
Suz: Yeah, for sure.
Vanessa: Yeah. Ok. Suz you have produced shows, done improv and stand up and acted in clubs and theaters all over Chicago. Can you tell me about that?
Suz: Yeah! It’s been so fun meeting people in the scene and doing so much work. I have mouthy shows. My next ones that are coming up are in April 3rd and April 5th.
Vanessa: Uh huh.
Suz: Which you will find on your website —
Suz: — where they are.
Suz: Because I’m not going to say where here (laughs). But you can find that at fun4thedisabled.com.
Suz: See what I did there?
Suz: Um, but, uh, yeah, it’s been so fun. There are so many great shows that are put on in Chicago, so even if you don’t follow me you can follow my Instagram and I always post some really great stuff on there too.
Vanessa: Ok, good.
Vanessa: Ok. So, yeah, for more information about Suz’s upcoming shows, and she’s out a lot!
Vanessa: Check out our events calendar at fun4thedeisabled.com. You can also check out our social media posts at Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Our handle is @fun4thedisabled. Ok Suz, we hear all the time the best comedians have had or do have a lot of depression, anxiety and have lived hard lives. Why do you think that is?
Suz: It’s funny because my dad was recently telling me, like, aren’t you so glad we made your life miserable so that you’re so funny today?
Suz: I’m like yeah, thanks, thank you so much for that. But I think the reason why that is is because, I don’t know about regular brains, but I know about the comedic mind. If, like, we see something sad, we’re going to make fun of it. Like we’ll look at a newspaper article and it’ll be like, you know, 10 died on boat ship, and we’ll think of something funny, and we’re like oh, the Titanic? What is this? Like, I don’t know, something ridiculous and even if we, even if it’s a sad event, you know, a joke will pop up into our minds to just kind of help us feel better or help me feel better.
Vanessa: Uh huh.
Suz: And get us through that moment. I know that laughing at myself is or like getting to the punch line before other people, has kind of been my thing since I’ve been young so it’s like, you know, you kind of always have it within you, just kind of finding those comedic moments within life, even if you’re really sad.
Vanessa: Ok. Do you think that comedians have a better hold on sad issues than others do?
Suz: Absolutely not.
Suz: I think that we, we might, just because sometimes I feel like we use the stage as our therapy but also like, we’re normal people too and you know, I know that I definitely still have my bad days and because I’m human, I’m going to have those bad days.
Vanessa: Ok. Do you feel that mental health is becoming less taboo to talk about?
Suz: Yeah, 100%. I know that, like, now we have the semicolon thing – that, like, people are getting tattoos of for, like, mental health so that people know that it’s ok to talk about it. And I feel like body positivity, too, has becoming, has been becoming more and more ok to talk about as well and that kind of goes into the mental health bubble that, like, comes out on Facebook and stuff. And I notice that more people are way open on Facebook and other people are like thank you so much for sharing this so that I don’t feel so alone. And that’s kind of why we’re doing it, so that we feel a little less alone.
Vanessa: Ok, ok. Um, in what ways can you, as a comedian, help the stigma around mental health go away?
Suz: I, I just like definitely feel like just talking about it as much as I can —
Vanessa: Uh huh
Suz: And not – like doing shows like this where I have a voice and other people can listen to it too and be like oh well look, she has, you know, depression and anxiety but look, like she’s sitting in front of a camera and talking about it.
Suz: And that’s pretty cool and that will hopefully inspire people to, like, you know, remember I don’t have to be so afraid to like, ask what I want or do what I want.
Vanessa: Ok. Is there something else that you do now that helps you with the stigma and being in front of people?
Suz: I, like producing, I notice that, like, there’s a difference between, like, the way men message me and the way women message me. Guys will be like hey can you put me on this show? And women will be like oh, hi, I’m so sorry but can you, like, if it’s ok and if you have room, is it cool if I like, get on this show? And I got an email from someone the other day because I had posted something being like don’t be, don’t apologize for existing and don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. And, so, I like made that a status and a friend got back to me a couple days ago and she was like hey I haven’t talked to you in a really long time but I just wanted you to know that you saying that really helped me, like, remember to not apologize in every email that I send, so…
Vanessa: What are you working on now?
Suz: Oh man, oh, so much. I have a show going on called “Drugstore Makeup,” and that’s going to be a monthly show and I’m so excited. I’m also working on this show called “Peace Camp” and it’s a show for Arabs and Jews.
Suz: Um, and, yeah, it’s going to be awesome.
Vanessa: What are your plans for the future?
Suz: Hopefully I’ll be touring more. I’m gonna be applying to way more festivals and stuff. I just got in to a festival at the end of March, so I’m super excited and hopefully you’ll be seeing me more outside of Chicago.
Vanessa: Ok. Ok. Well that wraps it up for now.
Vanessa: Thank you, Suz Ballout! (Laughing)
Suz: Thank you, Vanessa.
Vanessa: Thank you for coming to be a part of this show. I had a blast.
Suz: Me too!
Vanessa: And I learned a lot.
Vanessa: Please come back!
Suz: Thank you.
Vanessa: That’s once again, for information about Suz Ballout’s upcoming shows, check out our events calendar at fun4thedisabled.com and our social media posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Our handle is @fun4thedisabled. If you enjoy this show, there are more on our website like this and you’ll also find the closed captioning and transcript. Please share with your friends and family. This is Vanessa Harris, thanks Suz!
Suz: Thank you!!
Vanessa: Signing off until next time! Bye bye.
[Video fades to black. Transcribed and captioned by aslcaptions.com.]