Lucy Porter is known for her infectious, bubbly humour, write Jodie Armstrong and Leo Forfar, but when it comes to her involvement with mental health a very different story unfolds, including a bipolar grandmother, tinned food and the dark comedy she finds in the issue.

A popular stand-up comedian and a regular on hit TV shows Mock the Week and Have I got News for you, Lucy Porter, 43, has won over the nation with her feel-good humour.

So it was no surprise she was chosen to host the latest event in the Seriously Funny Business series, organised by Nottingham company Laughing Matters and comedy club Just the Tonic.

The debate centred on whether the arts can be used to treat mental illness and why so many comedians have depression, a serious discussion lightened by Lucy’s injection of humour.

During the gig, Lucy cited Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and Douglas Fairbanks’ silent film The Mystery of the Leaping Fish as influences, breaking the tension with well-timed anecdotes and audience interaction.

But why did she want to get involved in the first place?

Lucy says that when Kirstie Macdonald, founder of Laughing Matters, got in touch, she couldn’t resist the opportunity.

“It just leapt out at me,” she says, speaking after the gig.

“I’ve always found the area of mental health interesting. Some of my family members have had various difficulties, and I’ve also had issues myself.”

And it is her experience with one family member that is especially bittersweet.

Suffering from bipolar disorder, Lucy’s grandmother would collect far more tinned food than was necessary when she was depressed.

Lucy and her mother would arrange visits around these episodes so that they could clear some of the tins out of her way, and collect some free food for themselves of course.

“I used to call it the harvest,” Lucy says, adding a comedic touch to the dark story.

“it’s nice to think that laughter truly is the best medicine.”

Lucy’s motivation for getting involved was even stronger because of her history with Nottingham. Her mum, who was the first in the family to go to university, completed her pharmacy degree here and then went on to work for Boots.

“My mum has incredibly fond memories of this place and wanted me to come here but I ended up in Manchester because I was in love with Morrissey at the time. I realise now that was a terrible mistake and I should have come to Nottingham instead.”

Lucy, whose sister is a psychiatrist, says she is fascinated by the human condition having studied a degree in social anthropology and spends her spare time reading psychology books.

And she says the event only made her realise more that there are definite medicinal advantages to comedy but the question is how to prove it.

While it might be difficult to understand how humour ties into mental health at first, it becomes clearer when Lucy talks about how psychiatry has been portrayed in films and books in the past, referencing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

“Art and comedy have always been critical of men in white coats but there is definitely a brotherhood or sisterhood of comedians who are doing radical things in areas of mental health,” she adds.

Lucy knows that turning mental illness into comedy might offend some people but says that the issue needs to be explored.

Every time I talk about comedy and mental health I feel, as a comedian, that there’s a difficult balancing act between your right to self-expression and freedom of speech, and your right to make light of something someone else finds painful.

“It’s an ongoing conversation. How much do you worry about offending people? How much should you worry about offending people?

“The Laughing Matters event was great because we cut deep into the idea of taboo-busting and how you marry that with just laughing at people who are ill,” she adds.

So Lucy believes that comedy should be seen not only as entertainment but as a tonic as well and as a practitioner she wants to make a positive difference.

She adds: “It can be a lonely, thankless task being a comedian so it’s nice to think that laughter truly is the best medicine.”