Matt Hoss is busy making a success of combining two professions: one as a passionate mental health worker for Darlington Mind, and the other as a professional stand-up comedian. PETER BARRON reports

IT might seem a funny juxtaposition to be a mental health worker by day and a stand-up comedian by night – but for Matt Hoss it makes perfect sense.

On the face of it, his occupations are worlds apart: helping others to overcome depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts; then finding ways to make an audience laugh.

Both can be tough gigs in their own way, but Matt, a 28-year-old mental health training specialist with Darlington Mind, sees lots of positive parallels.

“I think there’s a big crossover because, in both cases, you’re there to help people find relief. In fact, if I wasn’t a comedian, I would probably be terrible at my other job in mental health,” he smiles.

His role with Darlington Mind involves visiting businesses and schools to give them expert advice on how to support employees or pupils with mental health issues.

“In many ways, it’s similar to doing stand-up comedy. You’re going into a room of people you don’t know, telling them things in a specific order for them to understand, and creating a fresh relationship every time,” he explains.

“Having experience of comedic timing and public speaking skills helps to get people to engage, and having that engagement is vital when you’re helping people cope with mental health challenges.

"Humour is a great way to disarm people because the warmth makes people feel at ease, builds trust, and then they can start to talk about their feelings."

Matt hails from Brompton-on-Swale, in North Yorkshire. Dad, Karl, has a car-spraying business, while mum, Amanda, works for North Yorkshire Police. He has an older brother, Alex, who he describes as “one of my best friends”.

Friends weren’t always easy to find when Matt was growing up. “I was quite an oddball – not the class clown exactly, but the slightly weird one. I was an outsider.”

A seminal moment came during Year 10 at Richmond School, when he had to unexpectedly stand up in front of the class and talk about his work experience, which had been split between a North Yorkshire County Council festival, called Cultureshock, and assisting with administration at The Georgian Theatre.

“I didn’t intend it to be funny, but it just seemed to be relatable, and it was probably the first time something I’d said inspired laughter. It felt good and my English teacher, Mr Smith, told me to keep at it and I'd go far,” he recalls.

Matt went on to the University of Kent, at Canterbury, choosing the unlikely combination of a joint honours degree in drama and theatre studies, with classical and archaeological studies.

While at university, he became a regular member of the audience at a comedy club, called Monkeyshine, which was run by students studying for a master's degree in stand-up comedy.

He was increasingly “mesmerised” by the performances and, eventually, built up the confidence to do his first five-minute gig at a local vegetarian restaurant.

“I talked about being a northerner down south, but it didn’t go at all well,” he admits. “In fact, it was pretty awful, but I’m a tenacious boy, and I was determined to learn from the experience.”

A second chance arose six months later when he accepted a last-minute booking to perform at the Monkeyshine and, this time, it went so well that he stayed on stage for 15 minutes.

“That was the moment I planted my flag and I realised it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” he says.

After graduating, he signed up for the master's in stand-up comedy himself before embarking on a precarious career as professional comedian once his studies were over.

Half-hour slots at the Edinburgh Fringe between 2015 and 2018 followed before he was given his first solo show – Here Comes Your Man – for an exhausting run of three and a half weeks in 2019.

“The Edinburgh Fringe is a pressure-cooker, but it went really well. I had several sold-out shows, some good reviews, some bad reviews, but I thought to myself ‘I’m here – I can do this’.”

However, making a full-time living from comedy isn't easy, so Matt applied for a part-time job he’d seen advertised with Darlington Mind. He’s now been working for the charity since May 2018, juggling his training role on a programme, called Mental Health Champions, with being an active stand-up comedian.

Along with many in the arts, he was hit hard when Covid-19 did its best to wipe the smile of the world’s face, but he adapted by increasing his activities online.

They inlude a regular podcast, called Castival, in which he talks to other comedians, who are invited to pitch their dream music festival.

However, his first love remains getting up on stage and hearing an audience laugh, as he did when he performed in a variety show, organised by Darlington Mayor, Cyndi Hughes, at The Hippodrome Theatre, in February. The show raised £4,000, split between St Teresa's Hospice and Darlington Mind.

The Mayor's support of Darlington Mind was clearly close to Matt's heart, and he's always been open on stage about his own personal experiences with mental health issues.

"Back in 2016, I was suffering with depression and anxiety, and had suicidal thoughts," he explains.

"It was a feeling of not being worth anything, but I came through it with help, and it's something I've drawn on during my stand-up comedy.

"It's important to be open and truthful if we are going to lift the stigma around mental health and, if I'm going to tell others to talk about their problems, I can hardly shy away from talking about it myself."

He's also used material from his experiences as a mental health worker, though it's always done with respect, and confidences being kept.

These days, Matt's happy in his personal life with partner, Rosie, who works for the NHS, and he has ambitions for both of his professional careers. He's training to become a mental health counsellor, and is  also planning a new show for the Edinburgh Fringe next year, under the working title 'Blizzard of Hoss' – a comic twist on the Ozzy Osbourne album, Blizzard of Ozz.

"The aim is to do my mental health work during the day, helping people as much as I can, then go out and make people laugh in the evenings," he says.

"Whichever job I’m doing, I'll be trying to do it with a lot of joy.”