A decade ago, Mickey Bell, a 50-year-old comedian from Birmingham, Alabama, struggled to just get out of bed. Now, he tours all over the country cracking jokes and sharing stories from his past hoping to inspire his crowd with messages about mental health recovery.
Bell did just that Nov. 10. At Westside Baptist Church, 10000 W. Newberry Road, he made his first ever appearance in Gainesville, opening for headlining act David Phelps, a 54-year-old gospel singer-songwriter from Texas.
At 7:30 p.m., Bell stood on stage, poking fun at senior citizens, celebrities, sports mascots and several denominations of Christianity. It was not until later Bell returned to the stage, this time on a more serious note. Vulnerable and emotional, he shared his past struggles with depression to hundreds of people, from youth to elderly.
“I am going into the arenas where it’s not talked about,” Bell said. “Most of the time, it is frowned upon to talk about mental illness.”
No matter how taboo the topic, Bell never performs a show without addressing the issue of mental illness. Once battling his own will to live, he said he wants no audience member of his to hit the same rock bottom he did.
About six years prior to pursuing a full-time career as a stand-up comedian, Bell devoted his life to religious work as a church pastor. After making a “moral fall,” he said, he was excommunicated from his pastor’s house and the church.
“That’s the moment I gave up on everything,” he said. “I gave up on myself. I didn’t want to live anymore.”
Hurt, angry and embarrassed, he said he could not bring himself around people, which caused pain within himself and his family.
After years of seeking help with professional counseling, Bell finally mustered up the motivation to start life on a new leaf. He pursued a short stint as a radio host in Birmingham before being let go, a moment he would not let “trigger everything he fought through.”
“I was strong enough to embrace it and applied everything I had learned,” he said.
After emceeing some events held by friends, Bell opened the door to a career in comedy. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, he received regular coaching from L.A.-based comedians on Zoom.
Soon enough, he chased after his aspirations, taking to local stages as a stand-up comic. It wasn’t enough, he said. There was something missing.
“I wanted my shows to be more than ‘I’m just gonna laugh and go home,’” he said. “I wanted to make an impact on people’s lives.”
Slowly but surely, he started incorporating his personal story about his struggle with mental illness into his shows, discovering a myriad of people with similar experiences.
“I would get home, and my social media inbox would be full of people reaching out [saying], ‘I need help,’” he said.
And he was determined to help his fans find what they were looking for. In the comfort of his home, he took to a piece of paper, writing messages racing through his mind.
“I feel like I’m invisible, I feel like no one understands me,” he wrote. “Sometimes I feel like I could take my own life, and nobody would miss me.”
These thoughts culminated into a self-help book entitled “Reverse the Course of Depression,” which he has sold at shows and on Amazon.
“If I can stand in front of people, make them laugh, tear down that wall, give them a safe place to come and…leave encouraged,” he said, “that's worth it to me.”
One audience member Bell touched was Adam Langston, a 38-year-old pastor at Westside Baptist Church. Growing up with friends who have struggled with depression and anxiety, he said he has witnessed their impacts.
“More of that needs to be shared,” he said about Bell’s words to the crowd.
There is no one who resonates with Bell’s story more than his own daughter. Logan Bell Venable, a 24-year-old road manager of Bell, was just 13 years old when she witnessed her father at his darkest points.
“It was really hard during that time seeing him have to go through it,” she said, “but also having to live with it myself as a kid.”
As present as she was at his worst, she was also there to witness his rise to recovery, now booking Bell’s shows and watching him do the thing he loves most while saving so many people.
“His whole life he had hardships,” she said, “but he never let it make him give up.”
Contact Jared Teitel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jaredteitel.
Jared Teitel is a third-year journalism major, and this is his second semester as an Avenue reporter. In his free time, he enjoys running, shopping, and drinking coffee.