“It was hard to admit I had been in the hospital,” admits comedian Gary Gulman in our recent webchat (watch the exclusive video above). He continues, “Whenever I was told somebody had been in the hospital with mental illness, I had such pity. I went on stage one night and said ‘Who here has been recognized in the psych ward?’ Comedians are addicted to getting laughs. No matter how wild it seemed to admit that, when the laugh came in a major way, I couldn’t wait to say it again.”
Gulman’s latest comedy special “The Great Depresh” takes on the comic’s battle with depression. He explains, “I hadn’t done a lot of comedy which took any great courage. And actually, I think the really brave thing is getting through the illness and getting up every day. I’m exaggerating the depth of it, but I tell my odyssey. I didn’t have to fight a cyclopes and other mystical monsters, but I did have to go through a gauntlet of my own. I almost feel an obligation to share that with people. Especially people that are suffering so they know there’s hope.”
The HBO special contains a stand-up set broken up with documentary interludes which all explore his mental health journey. He reveals, “I had anxiety before I started to talk about it on stage. I was just very sick. It became a necessity to address how I looked and how I was moving. There was clearly something off about me. I’ve always thought the easiest way to address things is through some humor and jokes. After the shows people were saying it made them feel less alone. It’s ironic that I’m telling this by myself but there is a larger audience of people that are giving me instant feedback. They are enjoying and interested in this. Also, it’s broken up regularly with jokes and lightness. There was a spoonful of sugar with all this medicine.”
While other comedians have explored depression Gulman thinks, “I may be the first one to talk about having electroconvulsive therapy and extensive hospital stays. The challenge was to make it funny and de-stigmatize the entire process, the treatment and the condition. I was aiming high and I knew it would be a challenge. My feeling after doing comedy for 26 years, is there is usually a good reward when you take a big risk.”
In the special he speaks with fellow comic Robert Kelly about the myth that “contentment is the enemy of funny.” Gulman explains to us how comedy can help find contentment. He says, “At an early age I noticed that when I was getting laughter from my family and friends I was at least distracted from my pessimistic ruminations and anxieties. I think there’s in an antidepressant effect to humor. When you hear a comedian belittle certain aspects of their lives that you think are horrific, it gives you courage. You say ‘well it’s not that bad. This guy is laughing about it. Maybe I can get through this too.’ There’s a funny side in the unfairness of it all. It’s so absurd, I think the healthiest thing to do is laugh at it and jeer at it.”
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