Pod-Canon is an ongoing tribute to the greatest individual comedy-related podcast episodes of all time.
Rob Delaney’s name will forever be associated with Twitter. Delaney has emerged as one of the true masters of the form. For the early part of his career in particular, the public processed Delaney primarily as a Twitter sensation, a man pumping out impeccably crafted jokes and one-liners within the powerful website’s 140 character limit. Instead of laugher and applause, or sustained hooting, Delaney’s wisecracks were rewarded with oceans of likes and re-tweets from famous folk and the unwashed, anonymous rabble alike.
Though Delaney has had to work on his craft like any other comedian (despite being a man who, by all rights, should be able to coast on being extremely handsome, not to mention white, male, and heterosexual), he rose to fame in an unmistakably newfangled way, and his Twitter comedy has tended to be a little on the impersonal side. His comedy has subsequently taken a more personal turn, as he put out a memoir, released comedy specials, and starred in a TV show, but it was fascinating to hear Delaney appear on a 2012 The Mental Illness Happy Hour relatively early in its run and expose a side of himself that was raw and painful and intensely personal.
The episode gets off to a rousing start with Delaney sharing his bottom, which involved getting blackout drunk and then driving his car into the Department of Water and Power building, only to wake up in a jail cell in a wheelchair he kept sliding out of with two broken arms. As bottoms go, it’s pretty hard to beat for almost comically over the top melodrama, and it afforded Delaney nowhere to go but up, but his journey from suicidal alcoholic depressive to author, father, husband, and sober comedian on the rise was rocky and full of setbacks.
Delaney’s story comes off as almost too good to be true. Delaney recounts the soap opera twists and turns of his life with an even, calm matter-of-factness that borders on detachment. Yet the relatively dry way in which Delaney shares his anecdotes just makes them more compelling. They’re fascinating enough in their own right; they don’t need to be performed or exaggerated for effect.
The strapping writer and comedian experienced some terrible luck, largely of his own devising, but he also benefitted from preposterous bits of good fortune, like when he foolishly put a bunch of medical procedures on credit cards, only to have a group of nuns in Kansas looking for good deeds to perform pay off his medical bills for him. Stories like that, which can be hard to believe, illustrate the kinds of good things that can happen you actively look for help when you find yourself in a desperate situation.
The Twitter fixture is casually revealing and blunt in capturing the brutal realities of suicidal depression. He walks Gilmartin through a painful daily schedule when in the depth of depression where insomnia was followed by diarrhea and then vomiting when his toothbrush entered his mouth and touched his skin and then suicidal ideation and no sex drive to finish out the day, at which point the cycle began all over again the next morning.
Delaney is just as casually eloquent in succinctly describing the oppressiveness of depression, describing it, in a particularly memorable turn of phrase, as “a prison cell you carry around with you.” Delaney is able to delineate the complexity of depression both from the inside and the outside, to understand it on a bone-deep level, as something that has controlled his life at various junctures, and also as something he’s increasingly able to understand from the outside.
Delaney is not saccharine or sentimental in his take on overcoming depression. He’s frequently sexual in his candor, like when he talks about how masturbating for the first time after weeks of depression-induced sexual apathy can feel like a veritable triumph of the human spirit. He’s just as observant talking about the way being a father changes the contours of your emotional life and the compromises endemic in being in a successful marriage, one of which involves having your partner tell you to put your fucking phone down, even if you make your name and reputation for being very good at writing funny things into your iPhone. As someone whose own wife is continually on the verge of hurling his own iPhone into a large body of water, like Nev did in that particularly fake-seeming scene in Catfish: The Series, I was weirdly relieved that even a Twitterer as successful as Delaney deals with a spouse understandably annoyed by the hold social media can have over otherwise sane human beings.
Episodes of The Mental Illness Happy Hour regularly last longer than two hours these days, but this standout early episode lasts under an hour. Because it’s so meaty, substantive and memorable, this podcast feels much longer than it actually is, but this is one of those rare instances where that’s actually a positive. Delaney and Gilmartin get to the heart of things almost immediately, and what follows covers an extraordinary amount of weighty, intense ground in a surprisingly short amount of time.
Delaney may be, as Gilmartin dubs him early on, a “Twitter monster” but this riveting podcast powerfully illustrates that he’s a Twitter monster with an aching soul and one hell of a story to share.
Nathan Rabin is the former head writer of The A.V. Club and the author of four books, including Weird Al: The Book (with “Weird Al” Yankovic) and, most recently, You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me.