Mark Critch revisits his childhood epilepsy diagnosis in 'Son of a Critch'
As advocate for Canadians with epilepsy, Critch says you can still be anything you want to be.
As Canadians across the country observe Purple Day and Epilepsy Awareness Month, one Canadian Comedy icon is speaking out about his journey with epilepsy, in hopes of bringing more awareness to the condition that affects over 300,000 Canadians.
Mark Critch (Son of a Critch, This Hour Has 22 Minutes) created Son of a Critch to take a comedic dive into his childhood through the eyes of his preteen self, with the role of Young Mark brilliantly played by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth. When it comes to how Real Life Mark discovered he had epilepsy, his story is pretty similar to how it was portrayed on the show.
Mark describes being at a party with friends in junior high, and the kids going up to the strobe light to see if they could stare into it. He felt weird, but he did the same to fit in – resulting in a seizure. Next thing he knew, he was staring up at his parents from a hospital bed, no recognition of who they were.
"There's a bit of an amnesia thing that happens," Mark describes, "I remember looking up at my Dad and thinking 'I must be older than I think, because that guy is an old dad.'" In Mark's experience, the amnesia can be described as looking at a chair, knowing it's a chair, but if you were asked what it was called not being able to say 'that's a chair.'
That experience is similar to how Critch wrote it on the show. Season 1, Episode 10 – where the adults of the Critch household end up in the hospital – seemed like the natural way to include his epilepsy diagnosis. Another time it comes up is Season 2, Episode 11 – when Young Mark gets a case of bronchitis and can't do a reading for the visiting Pope.
One thing Critch wanted to make sure was that the subject of him having epilepsy wasn't just "jammed into [Son of a Critch] for no reason." While he is not embarrassed at all to talk about it, he wants to make sure he portrays his experiences with the condition in an authentic manner, to show that he lives a relatively normal life.
"I have been quite fortunate. I have photosensitive epilepsy so I know what my triggers are. Being overtired, a lot of stress, and the flashing lights. I try to remove myself from situations where one or two of those things happen, and I've been seizure-free for a long time."
He also mentions the support from the crews on This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Son of Critch, noting they will warn him if certain lights are planned for scenes or sketches. He's able to approve the conditions or ask them to make a change if needed.
Through Son of a Critch, Mark has been able to not only share his childhood stories, but also gets to act as his own father on the show. "Sometimes we don't think about the past for a lot of reasons, so [playing this role] you end up sympathizing with people a lot more. I get to see the world through Dad's eyes. As a kid you're pretty selfish, really. As I'm watching Young Mark grow up [on the show], I'm looking at it from Dad's perspective like 'oh, he's right.' It's a great gift."
He describes the melancholy that can come with being on a set designed to look exactly like his childhood home, the feelings of missing his family – but now getting another chance to experience new things in his childhood home. "I see the kids on set laughing, having the best time of their lives. It's a different kind of family. I'm making new memories in these walls."
When asked how it feels to be an advocate for Canadians with Epilepsy, Critch says he wants to show other people with his kind of epilepsy that you can make small changes to your life and still be anything you want to be. It can limit you from doing certain things, but it doesn't have to hold you back entirely.
"Don't try and be someone you're not," Mark advises, "One thing I've noticed doing comedy is people who may be nothing like you, nudging each other to say 'that happened to me!.' No matter how unique and specific you think your life is – there is nothing more funny than the truth."
Whether Son of a Critch is touching on epilepsy, or growing up in the '80s, or being a proud Newfoundlander – all titles Critch is happy to wear on his sleeve – there is something in there for everyone. Mark describes the fan mail he gets from people saying the show relates to them, despite the fact it's set in 1980s St. John's.
"I think there is more that binds us together than keeps us apart as people."
As for having epilepsy, Mark says while it can always sneak up on you, it's no different than a lot of the illnesses people live with. He hopes that by talking openly about it, he can show others not be embarrassed by it, or be scared to be around people who have it. "I just try to put my best foot forward," Mark says.
For more information on Purple Day and Epilepsy Awareness Month, check out www.epilepsy.ca
Seasons One and Two of Son of a Critch are available to stream on CBC Gem.