Time for the last recommendation in my list of podcast programs that you should try out and enjoy. Well, last for now, that is. I say that because I’m not above coming back to this topic in the future and adding more entries, or at the very least add a list of “honorable mentions.” And I’m definitely not above trying out something that you, the reader, are open to recommending, so hit me up in the comments section and offer your own thoughts and suggestions.
A bit of a caveat about this entry before you read on: This recommendation deals with a usually dark subject. And by pure coincidence, this recommendation comes at the end of a week (first full week of June 2018) that saw some pretty dark news that involves this pretty dark subject, as so succinctly summed up at this link. You probably saw the last word in the title of this post and already feel skittish about hearing anything more about it. But while I do hope you can hear me out (after all, this is technically a post about a podcast), I don’t blame you for wanting to hit the “back button” or “close button” on your browser or clicking on another post link. So, if you want to do so, go ahead, because I’ll get into the subject matter after the jump.
[*quietly and patiently hums to self*]
Okay, for those of you still here, you have certainly heard the news this week about… well, the news that state-by-state rates of… uh, the S-word has climbed dramatically over the past several years. And that not one but two prominent people in their chosen fields reportedly left this world via the route of… uh, the S-word.
I use the term “the S-word” in hesitation as I do not want to glamorize it, nor do I seek to have someone misconstrue my talk about… uh, the S-word as glamorizing it. But let’s agree on the fact that “the S-word” is a difficult subject to bring up, especially to those of us in the LGBT+ community, in particular people in the trans community. At least one or two people who I converse with regularly (trans people both) felt very skittish about the topic of… uh, the S-word this week, so much so that the topic during our mutual conversation was quickly changed.
Still, while I do respect and empathize with those who do not want to talk about “the S-word,” it still needs to be talked about and dealt with, so much so that I’m taking the liberty of posting some outreach/resource links at the end of this post (scroll down right now if you must). Just as importantly, anything dealing with mental health needs to be talked about. I’ve admitted at least once on here to my own history of emotional/mental problems. Discussing my problems with a sympathetic/understanding (and at times professional) person really felt as if I lifted a 10-ton burden off my shoulders. Well, that 10-ton burden is still technically on my shoulders (and in my mind), but it feels as if I don’t have to use my arms to keep it on my shoulders. I imagine others who have gone through some sort of anxiety, autism, bipolar disorder, mental disorder, or perhaps the biggest of psychological concerns — a disease known as depression (and, yes, it’s a disease that can be diagnosed) — have felt the same way.
However, a stigma still exists around talking about or even acknowledging depression and its sister conditions. Someone on Facebook reacted to one of the… uh, S-words this week with a post about the need to recognize depression and treat those who suffer from it with dignity and compassion (their words can be found here or here). Simply put, when someone goes public about suffering some various malady, be it cancer or lupus or even minor surgery, society applauds them and admires their bravery. But if they go public about a mental disorder or depression or any kind of mental or cognitive disease, society passes cruel judgement, basically telling them to “buck it up, rub some dirt on the wound, and get back in the game.” Society even goes so far as to make fun of mental disorders and those suffering from them.
Yeah, that’s cruel judgment for sure, and it creates a negative stigma around mental illness. And thanks to the rest of the world paying no mind to someone’s mental state, that someone is forced to hide their mental condition to the rest of the world. Their reasoning is that it’s better to clam up and say nothing than have to field cruel messages of “you’re not good enough” or “you aren’t suffering from anything at all” or “get over it”… or even, “yeah, go ahead and jump off that cliff; see if I care.”
Is it any wonder that those with mental disorders or depression will find their only cure for it is substance abuse, alcohol abuse, shutting out others who’d dare to show some compassion… or even, “the S-word”?
As the sad news from this week proves, depression and other mental disorders know no race, gender, sexual identity, skill set, or social class. Even if you appear to be content and have a happy family life, that success isn’t a cure-all for a disheartening mental state. And the worst part of is that most of the world will only see the image of success and contentment you project and not the mental state you possess… because all they want to see from you is success and contentment. They don’t want to see you as a mental wreck, which is why you’re hesitant to talk about it, even with the closest of confidants. But the need to talk about it is there. It has helped with me, and it has helped with countless others. Despite a culture of keeping your mental state to yourself, there are still many people, from the psychiatrist in the medical building to the best friend on the other end of the phone line, who will be able and willing to be that ear you can tell your problems to. They’re not too proud to be the shoulder you can lean on, the arms you can get supportive embrace from, or the voice that will tell you, it’s okay, I understand and I’m here for you.
That urgent need to talk about what’s going on in your head is the nature of the podcast I’m recommending here. (Wow, almost 1,100 words into this post and I’m finally getting to the recommendation.)
Have you seen those commercials for that prescription anti-depressive that shows people hiding their real face of pain and depression behind a literal hand-drawn smiley-face mask? That’s not unsimilar to the condition of those interviewed on The Hilarious World of Depression. Yeah, I know, the words “hilarious” and “depression” contradict themselves all too easily. But like that commercial, putting on a happy face so that others can be happy for a while only masks your own world of hurt. On The Hilarious World of Depression, that mask of humor is shed, albeit just a little bit. And it all starts with the question that host John Moe asks his guests at the beginning of nearly every episode:
“Is depression funny?”
The answer to that question? It depends on the guest being interviewed, for every person deals with depression or whatever their mental disorder in their own unique way. Each episode of The Hilarious World of Depression features a frank conversation with a comedian, entertainer, musician, author, or whatever their profession happens to be. From that 3-word starting point, the guests open up about their own bouts with depression. It’s all done with a mix of frankness and, as befits a show with “hilarious” in the title, humor when necessary.
The Hilarious World of Depression concentrated during much of its first season (released between November 2016 and February 2017) on conversations with those with background in comedy and/or humor. During its second season (September 2017 to February 2018), the show expanded its reach to interview those not usually associated with the world of comedy, resulting in a guest roster with wide-ranging backgrounds and wide-ranging stories.
And what kinds of guests have been featured on The Hilarious World of Depression? Well, there have been episodes with:
- Comedians who have been very frank about their depression (e.g. Maria Bamford)
- Comics and improv artists (e.g. Baron Vaughn and Paul F. Tompkins) who come from backgrounds where conflict and strife were all around them
- Another comic who’s had a history of figuring out just who she is and isn’t (Patti Harrison)
- Comics who’ve leveraged her talents to open up about or just attack their anxieties and depression head-on (Jen Kirkman and Neal Brennan)
- A radio host who had not previously opened up about his depression (Peter Sagal, the guest on the very first episode)
- People from the all-too-funny late-night talk world (Dick Cavett and Andy Richter)
- Someone who knows how to act (Wil Wheaton)
- Someone who knows how to write (John Green)
- Someone who knows how to sing (Rhet Miller, who performs the show’s jangly theme)
- Someone who knows how to make people laugh online (Hannah Hart)
- And someone who knows how to act and write and sing and make people laugh online (Rachel Bloom)
- Plus, there are “placebo episodes” and episodes with listener contributions (this holiday-themed episode in particular) that serve as reminders that depression affects people famous or otherwise
Yeah, there have been quite a few guests opening up to John Moe and the listener about their battles with depression. Each guest is quite candid about how they’ve dealt with their depression, from dealing with medication (or not) to going through counseling (or not) to… contemplating “the S-word” (or, thankfully, not). Just as no two people are the same, no two guests’ tales of dealing with depression are the same. And just as life isn’t black and white, no two answers to that question at the top of each episode — “Is depression funny?” — are the same either; there’s more “well, it depends” and less “yes” or “no.”
But I know what you’re thinking, since it’s called The Hilarious World of Depression, there’s a jovial, late night-like vein throughout the show with a rockin’ house band, a jazzed-up studio audience, and recurring bits. Well, there was one episode that’s been like that, but that was the exception to the rule. This show is done with true empathy on the host’s part; John Moe has been open about bouts with clinical depression in his lifetime, and he’s not above sharing his own stories with the guests and, through cutaways from the interviews, the listener. Moe’s empathy helps assure a cathartic, respectful tone throughout the show. The guests are ready to open up and be honest about their condition, and it allows the listener to have more respect and admiration for the guest than they probably already had going in.
Above all else, The Hilarious World of Depression helps lift the stigma and isolation surrounding depression and mental disorders. That’s part of the reason the show was created in the first place. As the show expresses on its website, “Depression is a vicious cycle of solitude and stigma that leaves people miserable and sometimes dead. Frankly, we’re not going to put up with that anymore.” No, they continue, their show isn’t a substitute for getting help, but depression is a disease (and, again, it is a disease) that affects so many people, in all likelihood someone close to you — without them or perhaps even you knowing it — and carries a stigma that needs to be overcome. That’s how this show can serve as a stepping stone for inspiring others to seek their own help, or at the very least help others gain insight and recognize the signs of depression in their loved ones, their colleagues… and perhaps even themselves. Kudos to American Public Media for producing such an important and truly necessary show.
Okay, I promised some outreach links to seeking help and advice on mental health, anxiety, depression, or… uh, the “S-word.” These are just a few links that I came across while composing this post, but don’t let them be the only links you can rely on. May these links be useful and provide at least the first step in getting help for you or someone close to you:
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-TALK or https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/)
- Crisis Text Line (https://www.crisistextline.org/ or text “HOME” to 741741)
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (https://afsp.org/find-support/)
- Call2Talk, a support hotline in Massachusetts that assists individuals and families in stressful times that may turn to despondence (https://mass211.org/call2talk/)
- Make It Okay, an initiative started by the Minnesota-based Health Partners (who sponsors The Hilarious World of Depression) designed to help start conversations about mental illness (https://makeitok.org/)