Depression Comedy

Living With Depression

Contrary to rumors, I am not a medical professional. I wish I were, my parents wish I were, my bank account wishes I were, but I’m not. Despite not being a doctor, I’ve been to a few, and know, irrevocably, that I have clinical depression. I also may or may not suffer from anxiety, an obsessive disorder and addiction; that’s for some other doctors to determine. Nevertheless, whether there is a chemical imbalance, or someone simply down in the dumps, everyone needs a way to minimize the pain and trauma, if not eliminate it. It’s human to want relief, to avoid what’s causing complications, even if what’s causing said complications is your own brain. I’ve tried many “solutions”, which have helped to varying degrees.

In addition to therapy, meditation, mood stabilizers, exercise, alcohol, marijuana, bubble baths, masturbation, playing with my dog Sandee, talking with a friend, blogging, and consuming media that I enjoy, I’ve always found a solace in comedy. Comedy got me through my parents divorce, helped shape my mind and personality, gave me a language and knowledge base to communicate with like-minded comedy nerds.  Some days languishing at work, I would be thirsty for a laugh. Not just from one via a podcast or a comedy album, but a live one. I thankfully knew where to get it at, which local shows or favorite comedians were available, that could take me out of my funky mind and towards a knee slap.

None of these means to take care of myself are infallible or consistent. Most of them are unmonitored self medication, are damaging without moderation, or are deeply susceptible to diminishing returns. Even comedy. Especially comedy. Some shows leave an empty feeling, regardless of the quality. Sometimes hearing my favorite bits only get a nostalgic, closed-mouth smirk.

So, since a limit can be acknowledged, and a persistent problem can be resigned to, what about depression comedy?

Depression comedy, a genre I just made up, is comedy about depression. Some of it is confessional, one-person-show monologues about being on the edge, some of it is juxtaposing sad people or situations with cheer, some of it not “comedy” per se, but a hilariously candid depiction of the debilitating and inescapable doldrum. Beyond larger, more vague, subcategories of “alternative,” “dark,” or “blue” (which isn’t often that “blue”, ifyaknowwhatimean), depression comedy laughs in the face of feeling better, or attempts at feeling better, or the concept of “better”. Themes of nihilism, anger, frustration, absurdity, melancholy, sarcasm, existentialism all get their due, a punk rock tribute to low energy and laying on the floor.

Of course, comedy is comedy, and if comedy isn’t always the answer, why would this type, this slant be any different?

This is not to make light of depression. But the worst thing for depression is not treating it. And, whether or not giving a space or representation to a condition is holistically helpful, is impossible to know, all things considered. Rather, there’s room to question if affirming the disease would mitigate some of the negativity felt while dealing with that disease, a feeling that often exacerbates the condition. “Feeling bad about feeling bad” making you feel worse is an unfortunately common quagmire.

Most of my mental health issues are rooted in incongruity, something being thought, or experienced, but behaving as if it’s not, or worse, overcorrecting to whatever expression is deemed most positive. There’s an injustice in the paradox that my mind (and subsequently) my body can’t abide, especially if the maligned feelings are entirely reasonable. Most feelings are reasonable. So, what if I embraced the struggle by consuming media that reflects it, where I can see myself and feel being seen. What if there might be a limit to laughing at the light or delightful, but a benefit to laughing through the pain, with pain? Most attempts at making oneself feel better is worth a shot.

So, in an unmonitored, amateur, pseudoscientific, inconclusive, anecdotal experiment, I’m going investigate and relay where I am on the equally unverifiable 1-10 “depression scale,” after watching some “depression comedy.”

Full disclosure, I’m always at a 4 or 5 on the depression scale. I’ve also experienced some of these items five days ago in the midst of an episode, so I’ll do my best to remember how effective they were at the time. Also, if you believe you have depression, or are curious about it, I suggest you do your own research and get help as soon as possible. Again, I am not an expert.

1. “Crying in Public” by Casey Wilson, June Diane Raphael, Danielle Schneider and Funny or Die

Let’s start off with something inherently silly. “Crying in Public”, lives up to its name. The video is three minutes of beautiful sadness: crying on the street, crying in restaurants, crying in cars. There’s an absurd brilliance in the sheer range and variety, the many ways and places to cry, the quick-cutting bite-sized vignettes with a roster comedy juggernauts including Tig Notaro, Eddie Pepitone and Kulap Vilaysack. Swelling Harry Nilsson’s “Without You” and the raw, convincing emotionality is surprisingly moving for a comedy video. The most resounding thing about the video, aside from showing the perfect place to cry in public—a drive thru car wash—and giving shine to the ways we pivot when someone enters our sadness bubble, is the hand shaking.

Like a dog, your body is involuntarily trying to release the stored tension, but, like a socialized adult human, you’re trying to stifle the embarrassing outpour. That “we’re not doing this here,” frantic, slippery, internal battle is the most quietly violent and honest things. Glad this video accurately captured the struggle.

I feel better already. I’m going to say I’m at a three. Certified great for depression.

2. Chris Gethard’s “Career Suicide”

I’ve known and lived with Chris Gethard’s Career Suicide for years. It was a great live show in early 2015. It’s a great HBO special released in 2017. There’s plenty of praise for the work already. For me, there will always be the question of what happened in 2008. What I’ll take away from the piece, outside of the nervous breakdown at UCB story, the absurd drinking story, and how weird it is to hear Gethard say the N-word, is this:

“It probably will not be easy. You don’t get to pick what breaks you. You really cannot predict what’s going to save you, but please keep your eyes peeled for it. Please, because I bet that it’s out there, and I bet you can find yours, because I found mine, and I never dreamed I’d be strong enough to say that. I’m not wasting all this time pretending comedy is gonna fix me somehow. It’s not. This isn’t the type of thing that gets fixed. You just, you’ll live with it.”

I’m. Not. Wasting. All. This. Time. Pretending. Comedy. Is. Gonna. Fix. Me. Somehow.

It’s wild to think it can. Comedy has an intensely intoxicating false sense of security. As long as you’re doing it, you’ll never have to worry about anything outside of it. When it makes you feel less, you’re supposed to do it more. There’s a true freedom in taking responsibility for yourself. Comedy is real. Depression is real. But to treat them as the end all be all, or to pretend that they don’t have power, real power, is delusional. Chris Gethard looks at the dark, pulp inside, and Career Suicide is tragic and triumphant and brilliant and beautiful, but it doesn’t diminish the real. At least, in Career Suicide, it’s in his hands.

3. If There Was An Olympic Games For Depression. Written by Amanda Rosenberg, Directed by Mimi Cave

This sketch wins as a brilliant, emotional sports broadcast parody. Flourishes like post-nuptials depression, precise body language and references to inescapable thought pattern about being “over it,” accentuate a dedicated skill for detail. Everything said, shown, and felt, is authentic and pitch perfect. Getting a sense of the “sport” of depression throughout the story, learning rules and anticipating outcomes, is nice touch. Al Madrigal and Milana Vayntrub are excellent commentators, echoing real life broadcasters’ dry analysis, occasional explosions of excitement, playfully detached rapport, buttery cadences and ultimate indifference to the raging angst. Expertly executed visual gags, as Anna Seregina wallows around the bedroom, really captures depression’s encompassing unease.

Anna Seregina is soooo good in this, great even. She’s always been good. In every project, whether in this, as a stand-up, especially in “Stepsister,” she evokes something familiar but specific. It’s always “Anna,” she’s recognizable, sure, but each version has its own mystery, an unsettling feeling of unknowing, that she could do anything. She emanates a dynamic range of emotions, with subtle shifts, but also embodies a fully realized, expressive palette.

Also, I found a supercut of super ref Parker Seaman that brightened my mood. 

Depression scale: All things considered I think this and the video of the referee dancing is going to take me to a two. I’ll be able to open the blinds in no time. Oops, I’m sorry. I’ve been writing this in the Patreon text editor and the browser just froze and erased all my writing, like I should have known it would. Stupid me. Up to an eight now.

4. Sad Boy Edgar. Written and Directed by Edgar Momplaisir

Edgar Momplaisir

Black sadness is a gift. It’s far too complex and expansive to get into here, and I’m far too dumb to do it justice, but the space for black people to embrace and express their internal truth and trauma, is golden.

Sad Boy Edgar, full of talent, tone and technique, intimate and self contained, captures a hopelessness in good intentions. The web series, a collection of micro films, are brief moments, earnest, neat, of simple, personal desires and objectively grand generosity. Each time, Edgar is dunked on, caught slipping, taking Ls. And after the loss, in that simmering, blue afterglow, against the blunt weight of disappointment, the titular Sad Boy stares forlornly into the distance, or into the camera. It’s such a sincere resignation, to accept the comedy of errors, or unfulfilled expectations, or denied gratification. Sad Boy Edgar’s various roadblocks and ironies are so normalized. It’s so common for Edgar’s friends and loved ones to not see Edgar or acknowledge his sadness.

Depression is so isolating. Not only does it feel like you’re the only one going through it, it feels like people around you are purposefully neglectful. In that isolated void, it’s easy to cast those familiars as conspirators, withholding or dismissive or narcissists or unkind, maliciously obtuse, ignorant and grossly unaware. How could they be on your side, if they can’t even notice the obvious, the insurmountable, the inescapable, the calamitous? Obviously, in those times, it’s all in your head and you should push through to reach out. Still, ironically, it being in your head doesn’t make it less real, and realizing it’s in your head exacerbates the original loneliness.

Sad Boy Edgar isn’t alone. We’re with him at the crest of crestfallen. We see.

Depression scale: I’d say I’m at about a six. But like, a good, clear-headed six.

5. “Feel Good Anxiety Mix Tape (with Emily Heller)” by The Soft Spot (podcast), hosted by Julian McCullough and Meg Molloy.

The Soft Spot, a playful, bantering affair, bills itself as an “Easy Listening” experience, focused on investigating the lighter side of things. A remarkable flow and congeniality permeates, prioritizing consideration and awareness, with displays of high emotional intelligence. There’s also Julian’s charming irreverence, which never sidetracks or takes over, thankfully. It’s pleasant people being pleasant for being pleasant’s sake.

Special guest Emily Heller is a primo get for The Soft Spot. Some of her jokes, like her bit about Trump as a political stand-in for Air Bud, or imagining her brain as a disagreeable radio DJ, crystalizes angst in cartoonish absurdity. Emily Heller owns herself, her many facets and multitudes, in a way that gives a model to own yourself for yourself. Her hilarious analogies and insights are building blocks to building resolve and relief. Her appearance on The Soft Spot is akin to her stand-up, forthright and heady in ways that are accessible and reassuring.

Overall, the episode is a compelling conversation, winding, wondering, loose and open-ended, as podcasts tend to be. There’s a frank discussion about how friend breakups are much harder than lover breakups, despite a lot more songs about the latter than the former. Julian realizes he may love the Indigo Girls. Labi Siffre’s “Bless the Telephone” comes up, it’s doubly tragic unrequited connection and realizing when you need that connection, and that the song may go down as an all-time in-the-feels banger. Pop punk looks worse in hindsight. Ska can contain multitudes. Reminiscing about teenage day takes a different skew with scientific backing that hormones are a hell of a drug. It’s hard to let go of things you can’t control.

In a way, podcasts are the methadone for the aforementioned loneliness; not the real high of genuine human interaction, but close to it. It’s easy to graft artificial, one-side friendships with your audio buddies. The barrier of entry is low, they’re readily available, right on your phone, always at your fingertips. Sure, listening to podcasts can be at the expense of others, the friend you’re procrastinating to call, the lover sitting nearby, also with earphones on, listening to another program, or yourself, and the projects you’re neglecting. And, the media you’ll never be able to catch up on piles up, and you may get overwhelmed, and you may start to resent all these steadfast and prolific creatives, resent the obsessive completionist in you, in the face of new digital media’s monstrous, gaping, endless maw.

But, at least there’s the podcast, reliable to some regularity! And at least indulging in conversations you can’t contribute to won’t lead to stress about real life plans falling through, or worse, that people are unavailable! Yay!

Depression Scale (Conclusion): I’m cured! No more depression for me. Kidding. Still, conclusively, it’s nice, every once in a while, to hear people vocalize or perform what you’re going through, expressing what you can’t.

Bonus: “Demetrinox.” Written by Biniam Bizuneh. Directed by Mike Bernstein.

This is pure, manic magic. The way it recreates the moody, abstract-but-literal antidepressant commercials. The way it tries to explain depression and antidepressants to Black people. All the references to Black culture. How it escalates to utter ridiculous. That laugh. The breakdancing. The crowd reaction to the breakdancing. The burger flipping. That shot of the romantic lean in that lingers a second too long. The way the commercial flips it around and shows how much Black people would hate this commercial, or other plastic pandering. The Kaseem Bentley and Greg Edwards of it all. How it’s all one big setup for a really funny dick joke. Even just the name of it. Demetrinox. It’s all perfect. “Demetrinox” is my Demetrinox.

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