By Tyson Paul
Michelle Stevenson has consistently received praise for her comedic performances that are high energy, fast-paced and spicy. She uses that same persona as part of a Los Angeles nursing staff helping many fights for their lives every day during one of the toughest times in world history. Stevenson does everything she can to provide her fans and patients with the best experience they’ll never forget. Helping others find joy in their life comes easily for Michelle, but very few know that at times, it’s very difficult for her to find any form of joy within herself. Finding a small break in her otherwise hectic schedule, Michelle sat down and talked with a friend and fellow comedian Tyson Paul to discuss everything from COVID-19’s impact in the world of comedy to her daily experiences working in the medical field during this world pandemic. Stevenson also discusses her personal issues after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and how she found the courage to announce it to family, friends, and fans.
I’ve known you for quite some time now, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard the story of how you became a stand-up comedian. Care to share that story with me?
Well I’ll make a long story short, but basically, I went through one of the most gut-wrenching heartbreaks of my short life and was extremely depressed, but for some reason, whenever I was being consoled at the time, I would make jokes about it with other people and quickly started to realize I would make people laugh pretty hard, I’ve always been a fan of standup and I always wanted to try, I went up one night with a good friend of mine who had encouraged me to try, and I fell in love, it was 5 minutes, I was so nervous, I probably almost shit my pants twice, but the thrill of seeking the laugh forever seduced me
What comedian or comedic personality would you say most inspired you at the beginning of your career?
A Spanish-speaking comedian by the name of Natalia Valdebenito, my grandma and I would watch her stand-up shows religiously, she was my idol and it was great bonding between me and my grandma.
What are some of your favorite cities and comedy clubs to perform at?
LA there’s no place like home.
Do you still ever get nervous?
The last time I got very nervous was taping for Comedy Dynamics’ Coming to the Stage. I threw up three times that day. But I learned a lot of valuable lessons that day.
Being of Chilean descent and coming from Los Angeles, do these locations add some exotic flair to your comedy?
Being Chilean, I think most Chilean people can agree that we are already pretty sarcastic in nature, that shows a lot in my standup, especially when performing crowd work.
What is the worst thing that has happened to you as a performer? How did it make you better off?
An earthquake during my performance. It was the second time in my career I cut my time short.
How many years have you been a nurse?
9 going on 10 in June.
What has been your greatest challenge in nursing?
Shitty Families that don’t want to take care of their supposed loved ones.
What were your first impressions and thoughts of COVID-19 as a nurse?
Denial, I didn’t want to believe the reality, like most Americans, until I actually saw the first fatality, and the response of the spread, I then went into panic mode, but a lot of the physicians I have worked with, were on the same boat. It was a whirlwind of mixed emotions that had my depression up and down. I just went into direct work mode after that.
What were your first impressions and thoughts of COVID-19 as a comedian?
As a comedian my thoughts about it diminished my reality of any shows until this was over, I knew that seeing my patients after a while, and realized until there is a vaccine, there really won’t be any shows, for me, this just served a good writing time.
What was it like working during that first wave of COVID-19 positives when the world was still not sure what exactly was going on or what the symptoms were?
A lot of patients unfortunately were discharged incorrectly and came back to the ER later with SARS, and later in the ICU, it wasn’t until the actual numbers came out that we finally realized what was really going on. However the physicians were not at fault, since so little was known in the beginning especially with ongoing research of treatments, however, it has calmed down a lot since the first wave, now it’s a matter of stabilizing the patients, and treating them sooner when the first symptoms of respiratory distress are shown. The sooner the treatment, the better the outcome.
How have your staff reacted to the need to care for patients with COVID-19?
The hospital responded well once the CDC established guidelines for level 4 hospital guidelines. There are now three designated units for either COVID + or rule outpatients that are symptomatic. Testing was more available as time went on, and we worked with other Infectious Disease specialists from other acute facilities, as well as the local epidemiologist.
I know during the first wave of COVID-19, many people were sent to quarantine in hospitals where family and friends couldn’t attend for fear of spreading, basically leaving them completely alone. Can you talk about being a nurse and seeing people go through that experience firsthand?
Seeing the complete isolation of some patients has been the hardest part, however, I’m really thankful for technology, luckily our units have iPads, that in the event family members have smartphones or other technologies, so we can make sure that the patient can face time with their families. We have gotten creative and placed face IDs on top of our PPE so that patients can recognize us.
How do you think we can use what we’ve learned from this pandemic to prepare for any future pandemics?
Hopefully, this provides better outcomes for our leadership in the white house and WHO, along with the CDC to better utilize their crisis awareness. At the end of the day, what it comes down to is better management overall, a lot of administrations in hospitals were like chickens with their heads cut off, because every day seemed like a new update, whether it be unit protocol, to PPE changes, to changes in testing, it was a madhouse. Hopefully, this never has to occur again.
I know that you’re quite the traveler and this pandemic has put everyone’s vacation plans on hold. What are some of your travel plans that got canceled or postponed?
My cousin was getting married in Chile, which has been canceled twice. I was supposed to see rage against the machine in Chicago that was canceled.
How did you spend your spare time during quarantine?
Reading, writing, Nintendo switch, documentaries, hikes, podcasting, bike rides, beach, I mean everything possible to not lose my mind.
How often did you work on comedic writing during quarantine?
I’ve only written down funnier stories that have occurred during this time. Especially COVID Karens, they do exist.
What are your thoughts on viral comedy shows?
Can’t stand them, I’m the type of comedian that thrives off the crowd, if I don’t have that my audience isn’t the same, not that I have given up, but it’s a vital preference of mine.
Do you think that these different forms of pandemic comedy shows are good for comedy?
Yes and no, I like the writing groups I have joined during this pandemic however it has been difficult because I’ll write without the ability to test my material.
Do you think that viral comedy shows will end as soon as comedy clubs re-open or are they here to stay?
They will definitely fade out, I don’t think most comedians are fans of them anyways
Do you feel that comedy clubs should be able to reopen with guests mandated to wear face masks and social distancing?
I believe that anything is possible, so yes I think soft openings are a big possibility.
Do you think comedians are at the point now where they’re willing to risk their health for finance by performing live shows again?
Definitely, I have already seen it happen, if that is the risk they are willing to take, then that is the freedom of their own personal choices.
Being on the frontlines during the pandemic, how do you think you will feel once you start hearing comedians telling jokes about COVID-19?
I think like most big things that happen in the media, it will eventually fade out. It would have to take a very personal funny story about COVID 19, to make it funny for everyone.
In 2020, you informed your followers on social media that you suffer from bipolar disorder. This probably was the bravest thing you’ve ever done. What made you decide to no longer keep this information to yourself and share struggles with the world?
My mental health was suffering tremendously during this pandemic, from working OT, changes in my personal life, changes to my external joys, I think my entire body went to shutdown mode, and I finally started to tell people I was really suffering, and after knowing my diagnosis for more than a year and a half, I finally started testing with medications, Psychiatric medications are very scary, and when dealing with bipolar depression it can be very vital that with medications people know around you. Especially for safety. I went through one of the hardest times in my life, and luckily being “brave” seemed like the only outlook I had, if I could have helped someone else with being honest, then that post did its job. Luckily I found the right treatment and my depression has not popped up since that time, so I’m finally doing okay. It was imperative that I tell other people because you never know who is going through the same thing, especially during a pandemic, and social injustices that are around, nobody was highlighting mental health, and I felt that it was necessary.
What was it like to get your diagnosis?
I was very angry at first, and definitely in denial. I didn’t want to believe that I was this person, that could go from 0-200 in a matter of an argument or disagreement, but after a lot of therapy, I started to make progress and still realize my downfalls and realize I really wasn’t progressing enough to where I should be with just therapy alone. It wasn’t until I started to see the effectiveness of my medication Latuda, that I finally realized how much I really was pretty angry. When I found out I was bipolar, I went into another depressive episode where I cried a lot and isolated myself from the world. I didn’t want to tell people the truth, time took care of this situation, especially with the help of my therapist.
How does being a nurse and a comedian help you overcome bipolar disorder?
Being a comedian gives power to my bipolar disorder, my 0-200 attitude towards certain subjects and ideas has actually helped on stage.
How do you find the light in the darkness?
I have slowly talked about my disease on stage one week before the shutdown and it was the most cathartic experience I ever had and it worked. Very excited to see what else comes next.
How has your bipolar disorder been affecting your day-to-day during this pandemic?
Luckily with the medications I have been on, it has helped stabilize my mood, so I have been feeling a lot better since the first wave of the pandemic.
I know since your announcement family, friends, and fellow comedians have reached out to you with support and encouragement. Do you embrace all the love or has it been hard for you to accept all of the kind words?
Everybody and their mom reached out to me when I had made the post, and honestly, it made me feel a lot better, to know that I was very loved and not alone during my process was the best thing that has ever happened to my mental health.
A lot of comedians suffer from some type of mental health issue and almost all of them are completely terrified to discuss it with anyone let alone announces it to the world. Have other fellow comedians contacted you looking to gain information or advice in order to deal with their mental illness?
To be honest, I only had 3 that reached out, and those are comedians I consider true friends. Unless you really know me on an interpersonal level I think it’s hard to say anything really.
What are some of your goals in comedy and in life for the next 3 years?
Record an album, write a script based on my HS experience, start my scrubs and other drugs podcast, and continue to be the same bad b*tch I know I can be.
If you could choose 1 comedy club and 3 comedians to perform with on your perfect show, how would it go?
Ice House Comedy Club with Narcizo Gonzalez, Johnny Roque, and DJ Cooch. Those three have really helped the comedian that I am and it would be an honor to be performing alongside my brothers.
Is there anything coming up for you that you wish to promote?
Coming to the Stage season 6 episode 8, Scrubs and Other Drugs Podcast, TBD for any shows at the moment given the pandemic.
*Follow Michelle Stevenson on all social media platforms at @Funsizenugget