Stand Up to Shyness is a BBC One documentary starring Welsh comedian Rhod Gilbert as he explores his shyness and uses comedy as a tool to help others extinguish their own. Throughout the hour-long programme, Gilbert looks back on his childhood to identify where his shyness came from, chats to peers about their understanding of his shyness and speaks to professionals about whether shyness is innate or a learned behaviour.
Gilbert acknowledges the irony of his battle with shyness given his profession but, as it later transpires, he uses comedy as an outlet for his anxieties. For Gilbert, comedy is a sort of coping mechanism. Upon discovering this, the comedian sets out to alleviate the anxiety of other ‘shysters’ by training them in stand-up comedy and encouraging them to “stick two fingers up to shyness” by performing a stand-up set to their peers.
As well as stand up, Gilbert explores a variety of techniques for coping with shyness, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, physical exercise, exposure therapy and support groups. During the documentary, Gilbert talks to many fellow ‘shysters’ such as fellow comedian Greg Davies. The pair discussed their surprise upon realising that they both suffer from the same affliction and Davies stated: “If you’re someone who has suffered from shyness as I have, you presume everyone else is confident.”
When introducing the audience to his shyness, Gilbert states “that’s right. I’m a total loser,” and then describes himself as “a gangly streak of socially awkward piss.” This is a clear attempt to use humour to break the ice before discussing mental health, a relatively sensitive subject. However, in a society where anxiety is increasingly prevalent, discussing it in such brash terms only reaffirm the negative stereotypes that exist around anxiety; that everyone with anxiety is a nerd with no social skills, whereas Gilbert himself is evidence for the opposite.
In Stand up to Shyness, the audience sees a very different side to Gilbert than during his comedy as he confesses to feeling incredibly uncomfortable during the hour, for example during an exercise of prolonged eye contact with a stranger in a support group for shy people. Gilbert also opens up about instances where his shyness, or anxiety, has gotten the better of him. As a child he would often skip school, he slept rough in Spain to avoid shared accommodation and often struggles to go to a café and drink a coffee by himself.
In a culture where men are often encouraged to suppress their emotions, it is always refreshing to see a male public figure speak frankly about their mental health. The documentary, however, could have gone further by distinguishing between shyness and anxiety; Gilbert often conflates the two, even though they are very different things.
Image: Surehbani via Wikimedia Commons