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Comedy that challenges stereotypes

Report from Mary Argue
Roll On the Floor Laughing or roll on the floor crying – it was a decision James Nicolle and Kitty Fitton faced when diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s. They have chosen to laugh and as a result of their diagnosis they are finding their way in the comedy world, using humour to raise awareness and defy stereotypes of the condition.

The pair will join fellow comedians Michele A’Court, Neil Thornton and MC Jerome Chandrahasen for comedy event Shake, Rattle and Roll in Wellington to raise money for Parkinson’s New Zealand. The gig coincides with World Parkinson’s Awareness Week and Nicolle will open the event.

“It is designed to raise awareness, and show that people with Parkinson’s aren’t just shuffling, grey-haired men with the shakes,” he says.

Nicolle had a successful career in IT when he received his diagnosis, “a 50th birthday present”, and came to the conclusion early on he had a choice. Either focus on his degenerative neurological condition with no cure or take on an attitude.

“So my attitude was I am going to live as well as I could with the disease,” Nicolle says.

Most people are familiar with the physical symptoms of Parkinson’s, the telltale tremble or shuffle, but few are aware of the mental symptoms, which include depression, apathy and insomnia.

Eight years after diagnosis Nicolle’s condition changed. “I was really down, I was really depressed, I was struggling, and I needed something to get my mind working.”

His insomnia and an Internet wormhole led him to the New Zealand Comedy School. Eureka! He graduated from the school last year and has found Parkinson’s to be a goldmine, often drawing on his own experiences when writing his set.

“Some days are going to be better than others, but at the end of the day we can laugh at it. For anyone who is diagnosed with Parkinson’s I recommend trying stand-up because it challenges your brain. And it’s damn good fun.”

Kitty Fitton, a web developer and motivational speaker, also found stand-up after her Parkinson’s diagnosis at age 41.

Comedy allows her to challenge stereotypes of Parkinson’s and also promote acceptance and a positive mindset. She hopes sharing her diagnosis will help others living with it. “Talk about it, tell people, don’t be ashamed,” she says.

Initially Fitton had to fight for her symptoms to be recognised, with one doctor saying it was all in her mind. “Strangely prophetic,” she says looking back now.

As a woman who is still in her 40s, Fitton found the information on Parkinson’s did not represent people like her. She challenged the editor of a local Parkinson’s magazine to feature young people and positive stories, and as a result was invited to speak at a seminar.

Her speech received a standing ovation. More talks followed, friends encouraged her to try stand-up and she eventually had a go, concluding she needed to practice what she preached.

“You only get one chance to go off and do stuff, and everyone talks about living life to the full, but you don’t do it until suddenly you realise you might not be able to.”

Fitton practiced like mad before her first gig at a Wellington open mic night. Afterwards she felt amazing. Doing stand-up is “like the best drug ever”, she says.

Fitton now co-runs a blog, Good Moves, to highlight the positive side of Parkinson’s. She hopes the comedy fundraiser will do the same.

“People think I am a little bit nuts for doing the comedy and speaking, but I have decided what the hell, I’ll go for it. It’s helping people and it helps me.”

Parkinson’s is the fastest growing neurological condition in the world. Due to an ageing population the number of those living with the condition in New Zealand is set to double by 2040.

Tickets are still available to Shake, Rattle and Roll, April 13 at the Ivy Bar.
https://www.iticket.co.nz/events/2021/apr/shake-rattle-n-roll

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