The Hilarious World of Depression aims to draw mental illness into the public sphere by openly discussing it. In each episode, host John Moe invites a different comedian to talk about their own experiences with mental illness, bringing a comedic element to a sometimes dark and difficult topic. To Moe, the link between the two is obvious; it’s the job of comedians, he suggests, to verbalise things that a lot of people don’t want to talk about.
I started with the second episode featuring Maria Bamford, purely because the title mentions her pugs. John Moe actually makes a pretty big deal of the pugs – which are apparently married – describing them as overwhelmingly friendly and affectionate, “desperate to make me happy”. He even makes metaphors out of them, proposing that, with their frequent seizures, they serve to remind us about the fragility of mental health. Alternatively they could be symbolic of comedy itself (because as we all know, pugs are funny), which Bamford has used as a tool throughout her life to address her mental illness.
Aside from the pugs, something interesting about Maria Bamford’s episode is the evidence that stigmatisation of mental illness obviously still exists. Having been treated for depression and eating disorders throughout her teens, Bamford also suffered from a rare form of OCD, but was reluctant to tell anyone about it for fear of embarrassment. She also states that, despite not being correctly diagnosed as Bipolar II until she was in her 40s, she probably wouldn’t have wanted to have been diagnosed any earlier – again, fearing the trauma and embarrassment of having to deal with it.
On a similar note, in the fifth episode Andy Richter points out that there is still a natural aversion to psychotherapeutic drugs; when he openly talks about his medication he often finds that people disapprove of the fact that he could be on them for the rest of his life. As a child, Richter would listen to ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ over and over again, playing a mental slideshow of the town where he lived with his parents until their divorce. In this sense, Richter reminds the audience of the way that mental illness can physically manifest itself.
Andy Richter’s ‘big break’ in mental illness came when a new therapist asked him to first separate his feelings, and then acknowledge, assume and talk about each one. This, he says, was the first time he was really able to organise his affliction and tackle it head on.
Even after listening to just two episodes, it’s clear that The Hilarious World of Depression is addressing mental illness in a unique and effective way. John Moe opens up a frank and honest conversation, and adds an innovative angle by asking comedians to lead the discussion.
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