The Depressive’s Guide to Comedy: Laughing to Keep From Crying

I often joke about being depressed and uninsured* because laughter is literally the best medicine I can afford right now –- and I’ve shopped around. In my group therapy sessions, each attendee tries to out-sad the last, and one-downers are much worse than one-uppers. Shrugging off that absurdity seems a small price to pay to get the help I need. And lately, I’ve been complimented on my hair and skin while in the same breath asked if I’m having a rough day, which is ironic because the vitamins and herbal supplements I take to help me feel better are doing everything but. Experimenting with free and cheap mental health treatments, as I have for all of 2010, would have probably been unbearable without a sense of humor.

It makes sense, then, that I’d find the most comfort in comedy, which I’ve loved for as long as I can remember. My experience with depression (and my family’s reaction to my diagnosis) has been more accurately reflected in pieces like The Onion’s “Son, We’d All Like To Lie Around All Day Being ‘Clinically Depressed’”, than in any medically sanctioned literature. And I relate more to The Maria Bamford Show and Louie than I have to anyone in group therapy. Witnessing a person publicly and hilariously articulate my more prohibitive neuroses in perfectly witty aphorisms -– and in a way that doesn’t involve swearing at pigeons (which I’ve seen happen outside of group therapy) and won’t make anyone want to call the police (which I’ve seen happen inside of group therapy) –- has been more valuable to me than anything else I’ve tried this year.

My more notable failures include the following: guided meditation, which my cynicism rejected outright; cutting sugar out of my diet for a month, during which time everything began to taste like ennui; and convincing myself that I was smart enough to just reason away depression. This last idea was as doomed as corporate internal ethics investigations: the call is coming from inside the house. Online depression forums made a dent, but I was spending too much time on the internet away from icky human contact, despite knowing that it’s much healthier to engage with people analog-style. And the sound is more robust.

Ultimately, an episode of WTF with Marc Maron was what began to ameliorate the symptoms of my depression. I’d been reluctant to see a grad student therapist because of an unpleasant experience I had at a cosmetology school — and became obsessed with what the equivalent of a bad haircut could mean for my mental health. But if I learned one thing in those sessions, it was that, though I truly believed it, I wasn’t uniquely afflicted and there existed entire textbooks to the study of my thought process. Still, it was hearing Judd Apatow say to Marc Maron that, even at his level of success, he felt “a punch could come from any direction at any time” that made me understand I wasn’t alone.

There are people who know what it feels like to be cripplingly introspective –- who embrace their oddities and express them without fear of reproach. Those people are comedians. Even if you’ve never experienced a mild case of the megrims, the comics in whose work I’ve found solace are universally funny and insightful. As a group, they tend to have a mordant, self-deprecating wit and a few among them may be misanthropic to a fault, but I’d describe myself that way too. For that reason, I have the comedians below to thank for playing a part in preserving my sanity.

Rob Delaney

If you use Twitter, you’re probably familiar with Rob Delaney, one of the site’s funniest and most popular users. Beyond the seemingly never-ending stream of one-liners is one hell of a story. In his one man show, Naked and Bloody, Rob Delaney tells the story of his drug and alcohol addiction, the car accident and incarceration caused by those addictions, and his subsequent recovery – and he tells it with a smile. Delaney’s demeanor as he recounts these events betrays no hint that he’s detailing his troubles in media res. This is clearly a man past his darkest days, recalling them from a safe distance. I almost though him too well-adjusted for my taste, as most of the comics I love are very much still living in the mild hells they describe. I subscribed to the school of thought echoed by Joselyn Hughes and James Fritz, two comedians I interview for this piece: Happy people aren’t funny. And that’s just not true.

I don’t want to give the impression that I can only enjoy comedy that puts my misery in equally sullen company. Eugene Mirman, Hannibal Buress, John Mulaney, and Paul F. Tompkins are among my favorite comics and no one would consider their styles particularly dark. Similarly, in his stand up, Rob Delaney rarely addresses the experiences on which Naked and Bloody are based. His on-stage persona much more closely mirrors the borderline creepy, oversexed character he affects in his tweets.

“C-section scar in the front, tramp stamp in the back.” – the Stripper’s Mulletless than a minute ago via web

Though outside of the context of his stand up, it seems depression and addiction are Delaney’s favorite topics. Before he wrote his amazing piece on comedy and depression for Vice, Rob Delaney took to the internet to share his story – on tumblr, Twitter, podcasts, more podcasts, and with his fans on internet comedy forums like one of my favorites – There, he began a thread on depression which, whether he knows it or not, helped me and I imagine many of the site’s other commenters. Rob Delaney’s success story made me believe that depression was manageable. After all, if he could come out on the other side of his hardships a hilarious, diversely talented comedian, maybe there was hope for me.

If you stacked all the women I’ve made love to over the years on top of each other, I’d be like, “What are you doing?”less than a minute ago via web

Sean O’Connor

“I’m… the saddest person I know. I saw 500 Days of Summer and had to run to the subway because I was crying and didn’t want people to see me. I cry in public a lot a lot. Sometimes I’m running errands while crying because I couldn’t wait it out at my apartment.”

Instead of trying to hide them, Sean O’Connor seems amused by his imperfections, revealing them with a grin. In an appraisal of his younger self, O’Connor remembers a time when he wasn’t quite able to strike the right balance between the disparate elements that define his comic persona -– juggling occasionally awkward oversharing with a jocular self loathing. Because of the things he does disclose on stage and his seemingly extemporaneous style, I was surprised to learn from Sean that he still wrestles with just how unfiltered he allows his material to be. Sean’s “brain does whatever it wants and [he] just [goes] with it.”

Sean says: “I feel like people who watch my stand-up have a better understanding of who I am than my family does.”

Full interview with Sean O’Connor HERE.

The only thing my dad and I have in common is we are both sort of forced to like me.less than a minute ago via web

The worst part of being an adult is you never have pancakes in the shape of Mickey Mouse – that and crippling depression.less than a minute ago via web

Mike Lawrence

Coming from anyone else, Mike Lawrence’s material would sound really depressing. With one reference to Beauty and the Beast, Mike transforms his description of a year-long dry spell from cringeworthy to hilarious. “It’s been so long since I had sex that if I do again I think clocks and candles will turn back into human beings.” And it’d be pointless to include the best quote from one of Mike Lawrence’s sets; I’d end up transcribing the whole thing. Mike Lawrence’s talent for making light of dark topics (his handling of his parents’ divorce and compartmentalizing of his 7-year McDonald’s employment are particularly funny) keeps tentative audiences on board for what I’m sure would be rocky bits in less capable hands.

Full interview with Mike Lawrence HERE.

You never see Freddy Krueger attack people at a Community College.Its hard for him to hurt people who have already given up on their dreamsless than a minute ago via web

It’s been so long since I had sex that if I do again I think clocks and candles will turn back into human beings.less than a minute ago via web

Sean Patton

“Kick that kid or pull your dick out and put it in that old lady’s purse. Choose or I’m going to give you a panic attack.” – Sean Patton’s brain

In the clip above, Sean Patton gives one of the best accounts of a brain acting on its own accord I’ve ever heard, rivaling Maria Bamford’s Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome. Whether discussing his financial woes, romantic mishaps, or unavoidable incidences of fisticuffs, Sean Patton mixes the absurd with the awkward and creates humor from situations that’d make those of a weaker wit and constitution cry.

Sean says: “My subject matter may be uncomfortable, but… laughing at these things is accepting them and accepting is progressing.”

Full interview with Sean Patton HERE.

Master cleanse next week. I can’t drink, so I’ll get drunk on introspection. (“Why did I hate my colon?”)less than a minute ago via Mobile Web

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