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


Beth Stelling

“[My sister]’s only eating like 300 more calories a day to accommodate the life form growing inside her bod, which blows my mind. Because I consume at least 1,000 more calories during a pregnancy scare. And I’m always boozing for two.”

When Beth Stelling is imparted with life’s insanity, she comes back with a matching in-kind contribution. Watching one of her sets is like seeing someone play a game of chicken with every oddity she encounters. If she’s mistaken for a man while biking in the harsh Chicago winter, she wears her bra on the outside of her coat; if stockings can keep her legs warm and tan, then why shouldn’t she wear them over her face to combat winter paleness… to the bank? All of Beth’s problems are grounded in reality, but her wacky proposed solutions allow us a peek into a very unique comic mind.

In an especially funny bit, Beth marvels at her sister’s restraint and aplomb for only eating 300 additional calories a day while pregnant. Just who we know who we’re dealing with, Beth immediately establishes herself as an extreme foil to her sister’s strict adherence to normalcy confessing that she consumes “at least 1,000 more calories during a pregnancy scare.” This self-characterization doesn’t soon let up. In another bit, Stelling harbors no qualms with the idea of dating her teenage brother – if he were as rich and had as many resources as The Bachelor. You wouldn’t know that this bit began as a pretty straightforward satirization of the superficiality of the show’s female contestants because, not content with a perfectly satisfying pop culture joke, Beth masterfully maneuvers the bit back to her point of view.

Beth exhibits a lot of her quirks in hypotheticals – If I were in this situation, this is what I’d do – and in doing so, is able to extend the shelf life of transient jokes (though most of her jokes veer more personal) and store them in her bag of tricks for as long as she’s able to keep them relevant with her fresh and funny perspective.

Beth says: “I DID have problems. Then I told thousands of people about it and I feel better.”

Full interview with Beth Stelling HERE.

Chicago Winter is my birth control.less than a minute ago via web


James Fritz

“I hate to be a glass is half empty motherfucker, but happy shit ain’t funny.”

Through a skeptic’s lens, James Fritz examines the world and often finds it wanting. Politicians, his personal and love life, seasonal depression, human rights, his home town – by the end of one of his sets, Fritz will have convinced an audience of what’s off about each – and he’d be correct. James’ intensity doesn’t wane on topics of pop culture; he’ll sneak in a reference to Glee and Rubicon, but only as tools to illustrate his paranoia and disdain of joy. In a fit of realism I can only describe as refreshing, Fritz explains why he won’t be having children with the conviction of a T-888 hellbent on preventing the apocalypse: “I feel like it’s my job to kill the Fritz lineage. We are a horrible, depressed, miserable people. That’s like child abuse if I do that to a child. Why would I do that – genetically – to a little person?” Though he employs more than enough hyperbole and it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard, as someone who thinks that because of her own genetic maladies and bad dating record, her children would be Voltrons of innately screwed up human beings, I appreciate the truth behind this joke.

James Fritz on what he’d be doing if he didn’t have comedy as an outlet: “Dying in a cubicle somewhere. Or street preaching about aliens in my stomach.”

Full interview with James Fritz HERE.

At 32 I really shouldn’t feel THIS proud of myself for doing laundry and making it to a movie on time. All in one day!less than a minute ago via txt


Glee is stupid. The emotion not the show.less than a minute ago via HootSuite


Lucas Molandes

“I think if you have student loans and you didn’t graduate, you shouldn’t have to pay them back. They bet on the wrong horse as far as I’m concerned.”

Lucas Molandes is a champion of what he calls a “truth joke” –- which makes sense coming from a comic who told Austin 360: “’One of my earliest jokes was that I wanted to be a philosopher, but I got into comedy so people would take me seriously.’” Lucas Molandes’ sets concern dead end jobs, defaulted student loans, debt, dropping out of college, and living with your parents as an adult –- subjects not usually happily acknowledged, but Molandes attacks them with this attitude: “I try to swing for the gut when I’m on stage. Once you open up a crowd at that level, they are more willing to go along with something that may not be traditionally funny because they trust you more.” Molandes’ charismatic, often cerebral style keeps audiences captivated by his musings, rather than enslaved by the fact that he’s assaulting their expectations while making them laugh.

Lucas says: “I know that I have always had that nagging feeling of, ‘there’s something wrong with everything.’”

Full interview with Lucas Molandes HERE.

Maria Bamford

The Maria Bamford Show could have easily been ripped from the pages of my depression journal. The similarities are uncanny: A gal whose life is on track suffers a mental break, goes back home, and tries to piece it all together. SOUNDS FAMILIAR! And without knowing it, Maria may have found the perfect antidote (besides her hilarious stand up) to my predicament: “If you need mental health help and you don’t have insurance, call the operator because they are there and they are standing by and if you get the right person, they will give you a full 45 minute session.” At this point, I just may give it a try.

Maria Bamford has never shied away from uncomfortable subject matter and seems to feel at home being the odd-woman-out. She even has a bit that flips audiences’ perceptions of female comics on its ear -– because she’s not your typical, generic road comic –- or your typical anything for that matter. From her voice to her mannerisms, Maria Bamford embraces her idiocyncrasies, but can parrot normalcy to the point of hilarious parody. Have you seen her Target holiday commercials? We all know some incarnation of the overzealous woman she’s portraying. Maria’s impressions aren’t often of actors or singers or well-known celebrities, but of everyday people. Because she’s spent so much time on the outside looking in, it’s no wonder she knows the act like the back of her hand.

Relax on the Black Sabbath. Take break from uplifting. Think small, negative thoughts. Think of the infintite lack of possibilities. Wow!less than a minute ago via web


Patton Oswalt

“A month with no Prozac: my depression was like a happy puppy running through my body… ‘PUT ON YOUR BATHROBE FOR 8 DAYS STRAIGHT!’ Ok, depression. I know I haven’t done this in a while. Does this feel better? ‘WATCH THE PRINCESS BRIDE 11 TIMES IN A ROW’… Oh, depression. This is the best day you’ve ever had.”

Though many have tried in the last year or so, it’s impossible to successfully crib Patton Oswalt’s material – and not because it’s all so intensely personal no one could pass it as their own. (Patton would just as soon riff on Paas Easter Egg Dye and KFC Famous Bowls as he would his love life and depression.) It’s because when he’s talking about something as mundane as Stella D’oro Breakfast Treats, he delivers the bit with the passion and conviction of a liberation edict. But Patton’s not preachy and to diminish the quality of his writing would be criminal.

In the clip above, we’re made to understand just how eagerly Oswalt’s mind regresses to a depressive state while he’s off his meds because he of his perfectly analogous comparison to a dog anticipating a walk by interpreting the physical cues his owner. To a lesser comic, the dog material would have been the entire bit. In an anecdote about a rat in his backyard, Patton could very well have let the story stand on its own, but instead, he elevates the tale, illuminating its improbability and absurdity by positing that only a small god could have been responsible for the event. “Beans and grapes! What jokes and japes! I’ll play!” Extrapolate those examples and you’ll understand the level of commitment Patton Oswalt invests in his work. As a fellow depressive type, I wish I could muster up that kind of dedication to ANYTHING. And everything Patton says is hilarious.

You: “Why me?” The Universe: “And you are…?”less than a minute ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®


Carmen Lynch

“I went to therapy for 2 weeks and now I feel like I can’t stop or I’ll go backwards. The therapists says you can’t go backwards. You can’t put the egg back into the chicken… And that’s all I want to do now. I’m going to find a chicken and shove an egg into its chicken hole and take it to my therapists and say ‘You’re right about everything except for this. Can I have my money back?’”

Carmen Lynch has in common with the venerable Maria Bamford a facetious attitude toward therapy and the importance of leaving the house –- and uses escalating absurdity to show how high a priority she considers anyone’s expectations but her own. Things society and her family consider sacrosanct for a woman her age –- having children for example -– Lynch dismisses as little more than annoyances. “My mom’s like ‘When are you gonna have a kid?’ and I’m like, ‘What about what’s her face in Bolivia? I have to pay $28 a month!’”

Carmen says: “When people approach me and ask if I’m the comedian with scoliosis or with the Bolivian child, it feels good, like they know me a little.”

Full interview with Carmen Lynch HERE.

I like windows. I don’t have to go outside to see shit, and I like that.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck


Ali Waller

Because there aren’t many clips of her stand up online, you’ll just have to trust me on this one: Ali Waller is hilarious. Besides working as a stand up comic, she writes for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and that’s got to be endorsement enough. Though her job requires her to adopt the comic persona of her energetic, earnest employer, Waller’s personal style is markedly more sardonic. I don’t think anyone could imagine Jimmy Fallon uttering these words, spoken by Ali Waller during an appearance at Big Terrific, a comedy showcase in Brooklyn: “I don’t burn bridges. I just fuck bridges and make them awkward to cross.”

75% of the time I pee it’s out of boredom or to avoid socializing.less than a minute ago via web


I can’t stand the subway in NY but I also can’t stand the traffic in LA. Bottom line: maybe I just don’t like leaving the house.less than a minute ago via web


Joselyn Hughes

Joselyn Hughes plays the role of the resigned slacker very well, but this stand up comic and Tosh.0 staffer may have just pulled the wool over our eyes. From her material, one could infer that Hughes thinks herself an irresponsible, undateable, alcoholic with bad credit –- but the truth reveals Joselyn to be an insightful observer. Her admitted exaggeration allows her to be the Greek Chorus in the tragedy that is the life of an urban 20-something.

Full interview with Joselyn Hughes HERE.

Joselyn says: “I second guess everything; I’m neurotic. Sometimes I sound lonelier or more pathetic than I mean to. I have a great life and great family and friends, but talking about how happy you are isn’t that funny.”

Sometimes I don’t blame my dog for avoiding eye contact with me.less than a minute ago via ÜberTwitter


sadly, i’m still hanging onto that “win the lottery and tell everyone to fuck off” plan.less than a minute ago via web


Brooke van Poppelen

“I realized that when you’re single for a really long time basically what happens is you react violently to human touch because you don’t recognize it anymore.”

Few comics mention The D-Word by name, but Brooke van Poppelen lampoons depression, its effect on her life, and the industry that’s sprung up around the affliction –- not only in her stand up, but on her blog in a pointedly tongue-in-cheek outline of the Dos and Don’ts of Depression. “DON’T: Accept any employment that is beneath you. You are an artist, people need to recognize that and they can find you if they need to. They WILL come to you. DO: Continue old spending habits because it feels good. Going out for every meal and hobnobbing at the bar every night is good for your soul. Your little brother works very hard and you can borrow money from him.” Between reminding us that “brunch is for assholes” and admitting that her favorite activity is appearing “drunk in the background” of her friends’ Facebook photos, Brooke manages to tackle some unpleasant realities (aging, divorce, hypochondria) most would just as easily choose to forget.

Brooke says: “I excavated material from a topic I knew well: me and my heeee-larious flaws. In the process it really became a cathartic experience and I can honestly say I don’t need any sort of therapy outside of AA and colon cleansing.”

Full interview with Brooke van Poppelen HERE.

Aparna Nancherla

“Please use your inside voice. We’re inside my head right now.”

It may seem counterintuitive for a self-proclaimed introvert to be a stand up comedian, but Aparna Nancherla’s quiet, introspective style reveals a comic who’s very much at home in her own mind and on stage. Rather than finding them uncomfortable or awkward, audiences are endeared to Aparna’s disclosures of her insecurities, neuroses, and resentment of her youthful appearance. But she won’t abide your sympathy: “Sometimes I will get an ‘Awwwwww’ instead of a laugh, and I ask that person to be escorted out of the venue. I don’t need your pity!” Because of this perceived innocence and vulnerability, there’s leeway for Aparna to delve into subjects that could, if handled improperly, make audiences recoil. Instead, they lean in, listen, and laugh.

Aparna says: “I like to make light of things like depression, alienation, loneliness, rejection, anxiety, and disappointment because my neuroticism isn’t too proud to laugh at itself, not to brag or anything. Well, a little bragging.”

Full interview with Aparna Nancherla HERE.

thinks the mom of a depressive invented the saying, “You made your bed, now lay in it.” You finally did something! You earned your sad nap!less than a minute ago via web


doesn’t want to be a warm up comic; I want to be a cool down comic. I want to manage the crowd’s expectations before they reenter real life.less than a minute ago via web


Kyle Kinane

“I’ve been getting fat and going bald. It’s obviously some kind of Buddhist stigmata.”

Comedy Central chose to put Kyle Kinane on this year’s Hot List for a reason: the man can make anything funny. I could incorrectly attribute it to his distinctive voice, which doesn’t hurt, or to his comedy beard, to which no civilian could do justice, but Kinane’s brilliance is owed to neither. Kyle is the archetypal slacker with a heart of gold -– though his accomplishments in 2010 tell a different story. Kyle obviously works harder and is funnier than most. On his debut album, Death of the Party – Amazon’s number one comedy album of the year – Kyle blames his parents for his mistakes like any good millennial, pledges a bizarre allegiance to Bob Seger, and bridges cultural gaps in seedy bar bathrooms all while making us laugh.

Full interview with Kyle Kinane HERE.

Woke up in my clothes again. Do I play it as “ready for action” or “clearly I didn’t get any action?”less than a minute ago via web


In another example of optimism and stupidity being two sides of the same coin, I constantly try changing pants without taking my shoes off.less than a minute ago via web


Jena Friedman

“My mom supports my comedy by sending me articles of other comedians… who’ve killed themselves.”

Though her bile isn’t as inwardly directed as some of the comics on this list, Jena Friedman judges herself as harshly as she does the subjects of her jokes. With a not-so-convincingly contrite shrug, Friedman excuses herself from jokes about abortion, cancer, and suicide without ever giving the impression that her bluer material exists solely for shock value.

Full interview with Jena Friedman HERE.

sorry, I don’t have $2 to give you for your bus ticket, but it’s nice to know you think I look like I wouldless than a minute ago via mobile web


check out that sad girl roaming the frozen food aisle at the 24 hr bodega wondering what tastes like happiness and pretending she’s not meless than a minute ago via web


Chelsea Peretti

There are more representative clips of Chelsea Peretti’s stand up available online, but none that more accurately reflect the ups and downs of depressive episodes (watch the whole clip!). The energetic (feigned?) apathy that exists at the core of Peretti’s material makes her enthusiastic critiques of her appearance, elaborate tales of dating woes, and insistence that she’s a something of slacker (her appearances on Louie and The Sarah Silverman Program and the fact that she writes for Parks and Recreation suggest otherwise) easier to swallow.

Depression: I just heard the faucet drip and was like “I know”less than a minute ago via web


I mention “my ex” a lot to make it clear someone was able to love me.less than a minute ago via web


Josh Comers

“This will make me sound really insecure, but sometimes I feel like everyone in Al Qaeda hates me.”

Josh Comers makes Eeyore seem like The Tazmanian Devil –- and I say that as a compliment. Though he insisted during an interview on the We’re All Friends Here podcast that he’s not depressed, Comers admits that in his 20s, he “spent a lot of weekends in bed.” Even his employer, Conan “Please-Don’t-Be-Cynical” O’Brien, picked up on his mopey demeanor, as Comers revealed in the same episode: “[Conan would say] ‘When Comers walks by, flowers wilt, birds fall out of the sky dead.’” Still, Josh somehow manages to crank out topical and pop culture jokes for his boss (and for a while on his blog, Jokes That Won’t Matter Tomorrow) like a machine. One would think that the dramatic differences between his job and his personal style would have, by now, caused enough cognitive dissonance to make the average man explode -– but Josh Comers clearly contains multitudes.

I’m like the Don Draper of nothing.less than a minute ago via web


Met a guy with a better inferiority complex than me.less than a minute ago via web


Mike Drucker

“I would be a jellyfish because when you don’t have a nervous system you can’t be sad.”

Splitsider and Professional Comedy’s own Mike Drucker is not exactly a habitually dark comic, – his style tends to mix the personal with the observational – but he dabbles in enough lighthearted self-deprecation to whet my dark appetite. Drucker’s manner often matches the matter of his bits with self-referential – occasionally amusedly harsh – appraisals of material he’s just completed. With a shrug and a chuckle, Mike submits, “That tag will never work”. It works, Mike. It works.

Today’s realization: Working out doesn’t make me less depressed, it just makes me too tired to hate.less than a minute ago via web


Almost bought a giant foam twenty-sided die until I realized it was a bit of a lateral move solution to this depression problem.less than a minute ago via web


*Rebecca O’Neal doesn’t want you to worry. Thanks to Obamacare, she’ll be insured as of January 2011.

The Depressive’s Guide to Comedy: Laughing to Keep […]