Comedian comes to Vail to get serious about mental health
SpeakUp ReachOut hosts comedian Vinnie Montez to raise awareness about the importance of men's mental health
Boulder comedian Vinnie Montez came to Vail on Wednesday to break down the stigma around mental health in the best way he knows how — by opening up and cracking up.
Montez, a longtime cop and proud Mexican man who “wears his heart on his sleeve,” wasn’t always so open about his mental health, he said in an interview Wednesday.
During his first 10 years with the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office, he kept his head down and worked excessively, ignoring the impact of the continual exposure to trauma that comes with a career in law enforcement.
“Mental health wasn’t really at the forefront of everybody’s mind during that time,” Montez said. “You don’t really realize the different type of trauma you’re taking on, not acute (trauma), but over the course of a long time.”
He was forced to face the reality of his mental health after an incident that occurred late one night in 2008, when he was flagged down by a woman while driving in Boulder Canyon. Montez was off duty, but a young man had just crashed his car and he wasn’t breathing, the woman told him.
“He was having trouble breathing. He wasn’t conscious,” Montez recalled. “There was no cellphone coverage, so it was going to be a while before we got help to us.”
Montez immediately got to work trying to save the man’s life and kept at it until backup arrived. Despite their efforts, the young man breathed his last breaths that night.
“The supervisor on scene pulled me off of the scene and put me in his warm Tahoe,” Montez said. “And I just had a moment where I broke down, and I never had such emotion or feeling overcome me during an incident like this before. I really kind of hit a wall.”
After that night, Montez said he realized he needed to take a step back and spend some time looking inward. He started going to counseling and dabbling in comedy as an outlet to talk about his mental health.
Now, he only wishes he could have reached this point of relief sooner.
Unfortunately, it is quite common for men to avoid speaking about their mental health, said Erin Ivie, the executive director of the local suicide awareness organization SpeakUp ReachOut.
“We know that men are significantly less likely to reach out for help. In Colorado, the working-age middle class man is the person who dies by suicide the most and that’s also true here in Eagle County,” Ivie said.
For this reason, SpeakUp ReachOut wanted to host a more fun, accessible event targeted towards local men, she said.
“We wanted to bring the serious conversation to that audience, but also get some of those people in the room that aren’t going to come to a standard suicide prevention training because they don’t want to have that conversation necessarily,” Ivie said.
And Montez was just the guy for the job.
The free event held at the Donovan Pavilion kicked off with appetizers by The Grazing Fox followed by a buffet of food from Moe’s Original BBQ.
Then, Avon Police Chief and mental health advocate Greg Daly took the stage to welcome a full house of guests, many of whom were fellow law enforcement officials and their families.
“One of the things that I really appreciated was how many spouses and support networks for our first responders were there as well,” Ivie said. “I just think that is so valuable because they need to know what these things look like too to be able to support their spouse that’s working in law enforcement.”
Daly spoke out the importance of putting the tough-guy act aside and treating mental health like you would a physical ailment: as something that is necessary to monitor and address.
“I strongly encourage people to reach out and don’t be afraid to reach out,” Daly said. “We all go through tough times in life, whether it be personal or work situations.”
When Montez took the stage, he spent some time sharing his own journey with mental health before getting the crowd pumped up and transitioning into his comedy act.
Montez has a certain high-energy physicality to his comedy that instills a sense of sincerity, authenticity, and love for his craft. He seeks out ways to connect to the audience in new and dynamic ways, making big gestures and spontaneously breaking into song.
Many of his jokes targeted Coloradans, specifically those Birkenstock-wearers who feel a strong moral obligation to stop their Subaru Outbacks for small rodents crossing the road. Punchlines about his Mexican heritage were interspersed with slapstick jokes like the story of a particularly unfortunate hot yoga session following a trip to Taco Bell.
And then there were a few bits of what Montez called “dark humor” pointed directly at the first responders in the room, of which there were many from the local police and fire departments, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office and even the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
“We, as police officers, are forced to see, taste, smell, hear things that are just not normal for the average person to see and experience,” Montez said. “But we have to process those, we have to get through them, and we use that dark humor sometimes in order to do that.”
“It’s not that we’re making fun of the situation. We use it as a coping mechanism,” he said. “Even in the most dark and complicated situations, it is a way to let some of that pressure out.”
Overall, the night was a big success, Ivie said, with audience members stopping to wipe away the occasional tear from laughing so hard.
“We just really wanted to bring people together – it’s been a long couple of years – and have that opportunity to laugh and have community and be maybe a little more lighthearted than the last two years has really allowed anybody to be,” Ivie said.
At the end of his act, Montez circled back to the topic of mental health, encouraging his fellow men, fellow first responders — anyone and everyone — to make use of local resources like the Hope Center of the Eagle River Valley.
SpeakUp ReachOut also used the event to plug information for ManTherapy.org, a popular and easy-to-use mental health resource designed specifically for men. The website offers a “20-point head inspection,” a questionnaire that can be used to get gauge how your mental health is doing from the comfort of your home, Ivie said.
The event even featured a “zero-proof bar” with specialty, nonalcoholic cocktails with creative names like the “Men Cry Too Marg” and the “Stigmas are Old Fashioned.”
As people filed out of the pavilion at the end of the show, many milled about for the opportunity to shake Montez’s hand and tell him how much they enjoyed the show, flashing smiles that lit the night air as they walked to their cars to go home.
“We have to be able to speak up and reach out about this topic, and make sure that this is no longer taboo,” Montez said of what he hoped to get out of the show.
“You can’t just say, ‘We’re going to reduce the stigma and gosh, dang it. It’s gone,’” he said. “It’s those incremental steps, slowly, over time, that reduce that because people see other people who they respect not being afraid to speak out.”
For more information on local behavioral health resources, visit EagleValleyBH.org, SpeakUpReachOut.org or call the Eagle Hope Center at 970-306-4673 or Colorado Crisis Services at 844-493-8255 (or text “TALK” to 38255).
Email Kelli Duncan at email@example.com