Updated: Oct 1, 2021
Lizzie Allan is a brilliant and charismatic comedian, therapist, blogger, and speaker who helps individuals find the funny in the not-so-fun parts of their lives. Lizzie successfully combines therapy with stand-up comedy and is the creator of Hilarapy, her own unique brand of therapeutic comedy.
Connect with Guest:
Inside of this episode:
↣ What it means to make friends with your shame.
↣ Why Ego and Trauma usually go hand in hand.
↣ An honest conversation around addiction and recovery.
↣ The importance of gratitude in your journey.
↣ How to heal the trauma and limiting beliefs that have been getting in your way through laughter.
Mentioned In The Episode:
👈 Watch Lizzie’s TedX on Transforming Your Shame into Comedy
☝️ Check out Lizzie’s Vision Board! ☝️
👇 Addiction and Legalization in Canada 👇
Interview with Lizzie Allan:
**This text has been revised and edited.
Calla: We want to know who is Lizzie Allen?
Lizzie Allan: Okay, well, you know, these big questions, this Wow, who is Lizzie Allan? And I mean, that's going to bring up philosophical answers, isn't it? So how do you answer that question?
Calla: Wherever we want to go with that. It's like I'm not kidding when I say it's so casual. Like, who are you today? Like, how's it going?
Lizzie Allan: Oh, is it's actually going really well. I've just booked myself onto the Hoffman Process. It is a seven-day therapeutic retreat. And it's been going for 60 years. It covers the spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and physical marriage of a person. It's a seven-day intensive. And I've been really feeling the after-effects of COVID, you know, the sort of fatigue that COVID fatigue of all that kind of, you know, we've been going "It'll pass soon, It'll pass soon." And now we're starting to be able to go out without our masks on and things like that. I'm kind of realizing that the last 16 months has been so challenging. And I'm only just taking a break from like, hitting it really hard at work, you know, coming from being outward facing doing in-person stuff and LIVE shows and things that we had planned to suddenly quick we're online, how can we support people online, and it was so much work so many different, you know, spending a load of time and energy going down one route, and then suddenly realizing that it was kind of didn't work, right. So just having a break now and realizing that I need to do some more therapy on myself. I think we all do, right? We all need to keep working on ourselves. So an introduction to me, I am a comedy therapist, I do comedy, as a comedian. I create sketches and stand-up shows, and we're working on a three-woman show at the moment. Have you come across Kareena and Ellen, who are my friends? We've been doing comedy for the last few years here. We're doing a three-woman show which is a kind of therapeutic and comedic, look at the trauma, what we struggle with today, where it comes from, and then it ultimately pushes through that fear and reclaims our power.
Leanne: Now, Are those the ladies that you do the YouTube videos with?
Lizzie Allan: Yes.
Leanne: I watched your rap this morning, and I sent it over to Calla. It's very rare because it talks about serious things and real-life issues, but you all made it hilarious. It's daring because those are, you know, serious subjects. And I guess that's the whole Hilarapy concept is, you know, you take the scary stuff, the traumatic stuff, and you make it more bearable by adding the humor. And I think that's just genius.
Lizzie Allan: Well, yeah, I mean, I mean, not well, yes, it is genius. I don't mind if I say so. Yes, no. But comedy, ultimately, is, has been doing that for centuries, hasn't it? It's a great way to look at serious subjects in a not-so-serious way and provide that kind of break from the tension. Because ultimately, that's what a joke does, you build up the tension with the setup, and then you break it with the punch line. And life is very tense. When we get too serious, we build up a lot of tension. We live in a fear-based society where we're constantly bombarded with bad news and things to be worried about. And, you know, we have to break that tension. And we do that in lots of ways, don't we? Humor is one of the ways that we as humans kind of get to go. Okay, it's not that bad. You know, at least we're laughing together. That's something right. Yeah. Yeah.
Leanne: I can't tell you how many times I turned on The Office in the past year. It's carried me through.
Lizzie Allan: Oh, I'm such a fan of The Office. It's so good. And you know, I found during COVID is the Golden Girls. Every single night, I watch an episode, and I fall asleep with it in my ears playing. I'm on my fourth round of all seven seasons.
Calla: Who's your favorite Golden Girl?
Lizzie Allan: What blows my mind? Is that they are all equally amazing. And I switch between them. So sometimes I'm all about Sofia, sometimes I'm all about Blanche. Their timing, their presence, you know, their ingenuity to be different and to own their power as older people and you know, and to cover some of the subjects that they did at that time. It's massive.
Calla: Was there a moment where you thought, I know that this is what I'm supposed to be doing with my life?
Calla: Ab-Fab, yeah!
Lizzie Allan: Yeah, that's Jennifer Saunders. She's one half of a sketch team, French and Saunders. They ran the most successful sketch show for six seasons that started in the 80s. They're still brilliant today. I saw them having so much fun. I just said to myself; I want to do that job. I want that job. That was the first time that I realized that comedy was everything to me. Through my own journey of mental health, addiction, family trauma, and all that stuff that I don't think anyone escapes. I had to go through my fear and blockages and shame and everything to say, " I'm worthy of following my dreams, I'm worthy of, of the attention or standing up and being seen," you know, because success can be really scary, right? People want to shoot you down, and you have to be able to kind of go, "Well, that's their stuff," right? And that that says more about them than me. It's about kind of finding your way. I've always worked with people, I've always had a passion for people as well. So during my 20s, I began working, doing health care, home care, like going and visiting little old ladies in their homes and helping them get dressed and give them food. I've always just been fascinated with them and kind of want to know more, so that's kind of how it started working with people. Then I moved into youth work, and then I sort of just talked my way into Youth Offending Team and the Intervention Service, and so I started to sort of move around children's homes and children's play, And then that was just too much for my sort of young, sort of my mid-20s. I just couldn't handle it. I was a functioning addict. So apart from when I have my, you know, when I was 19, and I mentioned in my TED talk that I, you know, ended up in a psychiatric ward. I believed I was Jesus reincarnated, and all of those crazy things that come along with drugs, psychosis, and spiritual awakening.
I had to get my life together, and I was functioning. So I was getting really good jobs. But I kept smoking cannabis because I had this addiction to it. And yet it made me really unwell. So I was there working in, like, police station. I had a key to custody when I was on Youth Offending Team. And I'd have to be the appropriate adult to other kids if their parents weren't available. And they'd be like this. You can't smoke cannabis, you know, like anti-cannabis posters might be like, gosh, you know, I'm living this double life. So the kids would say, Do you smoke dope?
Calla: Yeah. Right, you want to be honest, but you also have to do the right thing. That's a conflicting thing for me that I've been navigating as well. Is it right? Is it helpful? Is it not? That's a big topic. That's hard.
Lizzie Allan: Tell me more about what you mean by that.
Calla: Oh, I'm an addict.
Lizzie: I'm interviewing you.
Calla: I don't want to make this about me. This is about you today. Let's see. I didn't find it until I was in my 30s. I never had it growing up. It was never anything like that. It actually was a thing that I used to get out of myself. But instead, it brought me to everything I wasn't dealing with. So it's been a tool for me. But I've also abused it.
Lizzie Allan: Mm-hmm.
Calla: So that's, I mean, that's why I'm saying I understand that.
Lizzie Allan: Addiction is chronic. And, you know, there are good addictions and bad addictions. Acceptable and unacceptable. And then a lot, a lot of that is, is kind of wrong, right? So it's like what difference if, I mean, we're just like, Okay, well, alcohol addiction is totally fine, because it's legal. But addiction to cannabis in England is illegal. So you start to get these kinds of societal pressures, then self-stigma and shame and things like that. But then there are all the addictions like social media, or, you know, like, work, exercise, you know, I mean, it's so socially acceptable to be an exercise addict, right?
Leanne: They are admired, you know, but their whole life revolves around their exact perfect diet and their workout schedule. And that's not an appropriate way to live or to advertise as you could look like this. But you have to give up everything you know.
Lizzie Allan: Yeah. It's the obsession, right? And the compulsion and control just like, swamps out everything, and it can cause problems in every area of your life relationships.
Leanne: How do you feel then about the legalization of cannabis in a lot of states?
Lizzie Allan: I think it's great. I think drugs should be legalized. I think, you know, being in control of people's choices is ultimately quite an outdated mode, right? Like, it's always like, a few people at the top deciding that they allow you to do something, and it's like, it doesn't stop people doing it. And it's a health crisis for so many people. So not necessarily cannabis, but cannabis has and does cause mental illness in many people, but not all people. And so, some people can use it sensibly, and some people will suffer through their use of it, or overuse of it, or abuse of it.
Leanne: Do you feel like that's a predisposition kind of issue?
Lizzie Allan: I don't know because I think we're all so different. And we're all rich tapestries, and some people kind of will go through something very crippling in their life and then become an addict as a response to that. Other people will kind of grow up with very addictive tendencies. You know, there's no kind of set rules. I think it's important that we do see each other as totally individual with even with medication. Doctors medicate people for all sorts of things, and some people respond to it, and some don't.
Calla: I feel the same way.
Leanne: Let's talk about philanthropy. How did your company come to be?
Lizzie Allan: It started as Addictive Comedy in England. I started a comedy night at a dry bar for people in recovery. Well, it wasn't for people in recovery. But it was set up by people in recovery and advertised around the community of people in recovery, in recovery through, you know, this, the 12 step programs, you get to know lots and lots of people. And I was living in Manchester, and I was at university, doing my comedy writing and performance. And a great friend who's hilarious, she said that we started it together. And it was successful. It was different from a comedy club vibe, where everyone's drinking, and nobody knows each other. And you're a bit scared if the comedian's going to rip you to shreds. And then, I finished university and started working for a charity, and I was out there in the community, helping build networks of support for people in recovery. And we were kind of catching people out of prison and introducing them to all these amazing people who are just living beyond the past and getting stuff done. And drug and alcohol service, my charity, I suggested that I could use comedy to help people talk about their experiences when I got the job. And so we got some funding from the drug and alcohol service and then started to teach this course in a hard-to-reach area, you know, which had a lot of drug and crime problems. And, you know, they paid for it all and, and then I took those performers, and I brought them to this lovely, safe space that we'd created addictive comedy nights. And we bust in a load of people from the outside towns and villages of Manchester and, and we all came together, and these people performed, but they were really held in this healthy environment and celebrated. It wasn't about how funny they were. It was just as soon as they got up on stage, and even if they're really shy and just sort of reading from the pavement, I remember them being celebrated because people saw into them. They knew that they'd been through something to get up here on the stage. That was like the first part of understanding the power of creating a safe environment for people to go through some of this stuff and be supported and then come out and talk about it. And then when I came over to Canada, which is where I wanted to progress with my career of creativity, and you know, whatever, just work more on my own dreams and visions. I met my comedy friends out here through recovery circles. You can really connect when you're in recovery. You can go anywhere in the world and just go to a 12 step meeting and make instant friends. You do you make, I mean, not straight away, right. But after coming to the same meetings, becoming familiar, and giving and receiving some sort of wisdom and support, you start to find awesome people. Some of the most interesting people are in recovery.
Calla: Almost All.
Lizzie Allan: Exactly.
Leanne: At the very least, they have a story, you know?
Lizzie Allan: Exactly. And they're living to tell the tale, which is really where it's at.
Calla: So that leads perfectly into when you found out you got your TEDx. Tell me about that.
Lizzie Allan: Well, somebody put me forward for it. We have an online membership program and, and this speaker, this guy who's already got a speaking company, he joined, wanted to be a bit more, access his humor a little bit more, and learn a little more about that. He's quite funny already. But, I mean, he didn't necessarily, I should say that he needed us. So he came and, you know, started to work on some of his more supportive elements. And he suggested he said, Hey, I'm emceeing this TEDx event. And this year, instead of just advertising it, we're asking people to apply. So he put in a good word for me. And he did some coaching. He ended up being my coach as well because you have a lot of coaching. And yeah, it was a great, great experience.
Leanne: In your talk, you talked about the stream of consciousness writing and how healing that was for you? Can you explain what that is?
Lizzie Allan: Absolutely. So we usually write with our left brain. We're quite logical. We don't necessarily write with our left brain. But we think a lot, you know, when we're trying to sort of communicate something, you know, with grammar and all of that stuff. So we want to bypass our logical brain and try to get underneath and do our right side creative brain. And it's a way of opening up our access to our own creativity. So what you do is you can set a timer for about 15 minutes. And you can just write, so write, write, write, don't stop to make sure you spelled something right, or if you don't spell it right, just keep going. Write it like a sort of maniac. If you can't think of anything, just write 'waiting, waiting, waiting.' And then you can just tell your pen to start writing. I have never had to write waiting once. Usually, it just comes, and you have to permit yourself. You have to give yourself... you have to say like, make sure it's safe, like say to yourself, look, no one has to read this, I can burn it afterward, if I want to, I don't even have to read it. I can allow myself to say whatever. So you can allow yourself to get out on the page, some really painful stuff. So I usually use it around a subject that has been causing me upset or shame or guilt or embarrassment. If I've got a strong emotional reaction to something, there's usually something funny there. So what I use is this stream of consciousness, and then afterward, you'll get a couple of light bulbs of absurdities. I'll give you this example.
While I was over in England three or four years ago, my cousin died. It was awful. He just had a farming accident and was killed very suddenly. And he's younger than me. So it was just tragic. And, at the time, my family, my sister just celebrated three years of recovery. And my mom just celebrated maybe three and a half or something. So she's a bit ahead of my sister. And but at the time, everyone was drinking. And we went to this funeral. And there were like, 1000 people there. And they ended up because it's a farming community. And he did quite a lot of charity work. And he's a very popular young man, but he's a massive drinker. Because, you know, English people aren't, it's acceptable. But I was in recovery, and I was alone. And I started just not to be able to kind of cope with it. So it was sort of upsetting to be so out of everybody else's way of celebrating him or commiserating it because out came the alcohol and everyone's drinking, and I was kind of alone with my pain and not really able to connect. So it was really horrible and confusing. And, you know, blah, blah, blah. And so I just did the stream of consciousness. And I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote, and out of it, I managed to come home and write a comedy set about his death. And one of them, you know, that these absurd thoughts came into my head, I was in the middle of the funeral. And there's Ego thought popped up. Like, I wonder if I will have this many people at my funeral. You know, and then that can turn into jokes because you can take it further.
I wonder if I'll have it. You know, because you had a slideshow. I wonder if I'll have a slideshow of all the great things. But I mean, it gets ridiculous, doesn't it when you start to overthink it. The interesting thing was that after that show, this man came up to me at the end, and he said, "Thank you so much. My mum died two weeks ago, and that really helped me to process her death a bit more", you know, which was like, Wow, that's really cool.
Calla: How do you handle feedback like that? Because I have to assume that you get that quite often.
Lizzie Allan: Um, you have to assume it, do you?
Calla: I do.
Leanne: Here's more of that feedback.
Lizzie Allan: Yeah, feedbacks Interesting, isn't it? What I've done is that I've done a fair amount of therapy of trainers out there and therapists here in Canada. And it was a very hands-on course where we had to go through our own trauma and pain and come out the other side as well in the first year, specifically because it would help us properly to understand the client and what they've been through. I used to deflect. I used just not be able to take it. That still rises in me sometimes as well. I mean, I'm sure you both know how hard it is to take compliments, right?
Because Are you too big-headed, you know, blah, blah, blah. But I've learned in recovery that it's quite arrogant not to take somebodies feedback or compliment, you know, positive compliment because you're actually saying to them, I don't believe you, you know, I don't, you're wrong, and blah, blah, blah. So it's much easier to think about taking a compliment that way when I think, well, this person is offering me a part of their heart. And I know when I offer someone a compliment, I mean it. And you know, and sometimes it's hard to pluck up the courage to give somebody a compliment. Because, like, sometimes I can put people on pedestals and think, oh, you're better than me. And if I walk up to you and go, Oh, you're so beautiful. And I just think of the world of you. So they'll go Oh, get away from me, peasant.
Leanne: I don't know. I think the accent makes it totally valid.
Calla: It's endearing. It's charming. You're good.
Lizzie Allan: Hilarious, you guys are hilarious.
Lizzie Allan: So we do comedy courses, common therapeutic comedy courses, and workshops. And the workshops are like over one or two days. And we do a mixture of game playing and Shadow Work. And so it's a kind of, it's, there are therapeutic experiential processes that encourage more connection to self and others. So there's lots of game playing using improv games. And then some made-up games that marry improv and Shadow Work stuff.
Leanne: What is Shadow Work?
Lizzie: Shadow works is where you face those parts of yourself that you reject and kind of end up pulling them back. A great exercise that I use in my workshops is this and in the comedy courses as well. So the comedy therapy courses, just as a side note, end with a stand-up comedy performance, but the workshops are more deeply experiential and kind of, you know, like, less outcome. An example of Shadow Work would be. So we'd set up this cocktail party, and everyone would have a post-it note, and you have to think of something that you cannot stand, a quality or not quality like something you cannot stand in another person's behavior. So I hate arrogant people. For example, I cannot stand rude people or really victim-y people, right? So you pick the one that's got the most emotion for you like, and then you'd get a post-it note, and you write it on it, and you stick it on your forehead. And then you have to all outplay that, so you permit yourself to be totally arrogant or like a victim, poor me worried about me, you know, and you mingle with the other people, and they've all got their post-it notes, and everyone's behaving awfully. It's really good fun. Then you sit down together, and you talk about that. The whole point of that exercise, in a nutshell, is to realize that we're taught in our family systems that it's not okay to brag about how great you are. So you don't like arrogant people, right? So you rail against that thing that you weren't really allowed to do. But the problem is, is when we check out, we actually lose a part of ourselves there. When I was behaving arrogantly, I was kind of just, what qualities do you get from doing that? You know, you get what you want, right? And you're confident or something like that. So when you don't allow yourself to be really angry, you lose passion. Do you understand where I'm going with this?
Calla: It's almost like a self-worth type thing is the way I'm picking up on it. You know? When you act a certain way, like you said, with arrogance, you do you become more self-confident. When you feel entitled to have the feelings, you carry yourself a certain way to act a certain way. So in that shadow work, if that's what you were told is unacceptable behavior, you're going to shut that part of you down that says, "I'm worthy enough to go ahead and have good things or nice things or want things for myself." Correct?
Lizzie Allan: Yes. You're pulling back the part of yourself. You realize you can get something back. Anyway, it's a long story. That's quite hard.
Calla: It's a really cool exercise on projection.
Leanne: How did you come up with that?
Lizzie Allan: I did it in another workshop years ago. I mean, these are the things about the therapeutic processes. You either come across it because you went through somebody else's course or were taught it in your training. I did this course with Jamie Catto, a musician and a documentary maker, and a filmmaker. He is so inspiring. I've done a couple of courses with him a few years back, and he always says when he does his courses, if you like any of these things, use them in your own. So I do my own version of it. You know?
Calla: Put your creative spin on it. I dig it.
Leanne: Do you find that as you progress through your healing, you're kind of like, worried maybe that like shit, I'm like, running out of material.
Lizzie Allan: No, no.
Leanne: Always work to be done.
Lizzie Allan: Yeah, I mean, that's still big stuff about like, I'll tell you this story because we're friends now. I don't put this out on the internet because I'm not ready. But I've started doing it in certain circles. When I was about 27, I was over in Australia, and I kind of fell in love quickly. I was in a bit of a messy part of my life, you know, but running away still in, in sort of whatever. I fell in love quickly with this American woman who was absolutely amazing. And she was over in Australia doing a film course, and we collapsed into each other, and it was all very codependent. And you know, the cocooning and all that worse kind of scenario. So she went back to America, and I didn't have enough money to follow her and a couple of these friends that we've met, just Australian friends. They said, Well, why don't you do erotic massage?
Leanne: I like that that is their go-to.
Calla: How very Australian. I'm married to an Australian, so I can say that.
Lizzie Allan: Exactly. Because it's legal, right? So you've got all these like, it's not underground at all you can just show that's what I did for two months, and it was like you know hilarious because I am not really...
Calla: Stop! I'm not there yet. That's not like a quick, "So I did it..." What was going on to the point where that was suggested and to when you did it. There has to be a story there.
Lizzie Allan: There is a story there, and it's turned into the most hilarious bit of stand-up I've ever done!
Leanne: If you need to save it, we understand.
Lizzie Allan: No, I don't have to save it. It's fine. I mean, what I'm using as an example is something I'm not wholly ready for my immediate community to know about me. Because you know, I'm kind of like my mum. My mum knows. I mean, she's heard the set because the set was freaking brilliant. I can share the link with you if you want; it's a private link. I can give you the password. It is so funny. Honestly, it's because it's the absurdity of kind of not being that kind of set. You know, sex, you know?
Calla: It's hard to talk about!
Leanne: You can't even say sex.
Lizzie Allan: Yeah. I've got so many hang-ups around being a sexual being because, you know, that huge trauma.
Calla: Oh, yeah, big intimacy issues.
Lizzie Allan: Thank you for standing up. Me too. Me too. Right. Yeah, and then you swing the other way and end up Being a frickin sex worker. And it's like, what the hell? And you know, the funny thing was, I mean, I went home that day. And I said, Well, these two friends of ours, they said, I should go and work in, you know, just, you know, Wang lots of men are essentially and, and, you know, and I'm not sure what do you think she went? Yeah. All right.
Leanne: Once again, it still sounds classier with the accent. It's just something about it. So the first day on the job, was it better than you expected? As expected?
Lizzie Allan: You know, what the worst part about the job, which you would think would be actually getting naked and massaging a man?
Leanne: Yeah, or the cleanup?
Lizzie Allan: Oh, my God. Sorry, It's all coming back to me now. You think the worst part of it was you had to kind of go and introduce yourself with this fake name. And then I know I have this one name. But when I do my comedy show, I give a fake name. I give this name Chardonnay because it's hilarious. Right? Hi, I'm Chardonnay. You know, so Okay, go back back to the original point. The point is, is I've still got to work through some of that stuff. And so there's so much humor there when I'm ready to face it. And I'm kind of going to this Hoffman Process. I've done about 12 hours of pre-processing work, which is all these questions about growing up. And I've already got an insight into some of the things that I just haven't previously seen. Kareena came over yesterday, the third member of our group, and we just swapped stories of our 80s childhood all day. It was so funny, and these are the things we want to kind of explore in the show.
Leanne: Is she the brunette?
Lizzie Allan: Yes
Leanne: She gives me major Zoey additional vibes. Or
Lizzie Allan: Who is she? Who is that?
Lizzie Allan: Oh, yeah, I know her.
Leanne: I think it's like it's the hair in the eyes and the goofiness. It's a compliment to her.
Lizzie Allan: She's so talented. I mean, we're all just so kind of talented.
Calla: It's such a creative force seeing what you guys are doing. What's a typical day, like when you are in the office or at HQ? What does it look like when you guys are all around the table together?
Lizzie Allan: We go away on writing weekends, and we do a lot of kind of opening up with each other and sharing and having a cry and all of those things and that supportive side of things. But then we also were kind of getting into the flow now. So we're finding our own way of doing things, but it's a brilliant outcome, the costumes, and out come the ridiculousness, and then we're just like, yeah, yeah. And then, you know, I usually stand up and start striding about and saying how powerful we are. Do you know we could do anything? We could go anywhere! Were amazing, you know? And then they're like, "Yeah, all right, let's do it." And I'm like, "We can do it, guys. Honestly, we can go all the way!"
Leanne: That's the best part because you can tell you guys are having a blast. It shows through like you're thoroughly enjoying it, and it makes people who watch enjoy it.
Lizzie Allan: Absolutely. That's part, and that's kind of what I have majorly learned. The very best comedy shows that we've done live is when we are just enjoying it. So that's kind of one of the main things you have to say. And that's, that's where that's life, right? I always say this to my students, "It is not about what we get to at the end. It's about the quality of our journey." So I say that to my friends I make comedy with I say, "If this isn't fun, and we're not going to have a good time doing it, then there won't be any point doing it."
Leanne: It's literally what Calla tells me every day. That's Calla's motto.
Lizzie Allan: Then you've got it right.
Calla: Yeah. Well, thank you. We're trying. I know our vision here at HTC has changed a lot. I know you changed names from Addictive Comedy to Hilarapy. What else has evolved or changed the most from when you had this initial idea?
Lizzie Allan: I have changed the most. I used to runway all the time and move, you know, I'm quite adventurous. So I like to go on these solo trips and just go off to some random country and hang out for a while. I used to feel properly unlovable. And I didn't even know it was really my truth. But I just used to find the proof. Since doing my much deeper therapeutic work and challenging myself to do more with comedy, and therapeutic comedy, I'm in a relationship for over six years now.