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Monday, 4 November 2013

Captain Comedy and the Oil Rig of Depression.

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day after a stand up night we both performed at about depression and comedy. She was telling me about she wants to do a set entirely about antidepressants and her experiences on them. I imagine this would be more than manageable (the fact she is legitimately funny also helps) as you could do plenty of 'before' and 'after' stuff or anecdotes or whatchamacallit.
But I've always liked the idea of writing a set purely about depression itself, and always came across some roadblocks or felt less than enthusiastic.

Is Depression funny? No, no it isn't. It's fucking awful and every day I want it to be eaten by swamp rats in front of its children.
But can you make jokes about it? You bet your ergonomically efficient Swedish bathroom you can.
I joke about my depression a lot, like...all the time. One of my favourites is that mine isn't cool depression. I don't have the tortured depression of an alcoholic composer or a scarred fireman, you know, the depression that wins you an academy award or gets people hot and/or bothered. I'm literally depressed because I've had far too many experiences that make me feel that the opposite sex decry my existence. That's booooooooring, bring on the mental instability over trying to write the perfect concept album or witnessing a plane plow into your childhood home.

I told a joke in my last set, that was a throwaway line about me not having a girlfriend because I've got 'a face like a marshland'. It was a quick aside, like a footnote, that got a big laugh. It didn't get a laugh because, I am attractive and this is ironic, ho ho ho. But because of the inane and strenuous comparison.
Ah, what was it they said about comedy and dissecting frogs?
You touch me and I'll break your fucking wrists.

I've always felt like it may be awkward for an audience, as if they feel out of their depth or uncomfortable whether or not to laugh or feel bad for whomever's performing. Patton Oswalt is a comedian who can describe his depression perfectly and still be fun on the bun. He's got a routine about prozac and depression that is both very funny and quite informative.

My usual approach is what I half-heartedly dub a 'sitcom-esque' style of joking. I say the actual symptoms or effect and then add an asinine or darkly comedic simile as a punchline. It's easy, it's lame, and quite a cheap joke. PAR EXAMPLE

I wake up most mornings full of self loathing....I must be the opposite of Rupert Murdoch.

I have serious anxiety issues due the fact nobody would want to have a serious relationship with me...just like North Korea.

I don't particularly like this approach as it tends to ignore the overall severity or depth of the condition, instead using it as a springboard for the comparative joke. The depression isn't funny, Rupert Murdoch being a tool is or North Korea's horrendous and farcical political standing.

"What are you wearing? The government mandated unisex jumpsuit? I'm so turned on."

It's quite hard to get a punchline from 'I'm an unhappy individual' but there's something quite satisfying and cathartic (ish) about trying to, as opposed to wallowing in an Indian village sinkhole of grief.
Last year, during one of my worse weeks, the only thing I listened to was Fleetwood Mac's 'Tango In The Night' constantly on repeat. I must have listened to it 5 times a day like some Soviet reconditioning programme. The very notion of listening to anything else was beyond comprehension, like a sentient programming system being given a paradox.
Something like that might make a good anecdote, or a good piece of comedy, because you's kind of funny, but also highlights how fucking wacky and ridiculous some of the symptoms are.

I think the best format for it is a sitcom, where it has the ability to bounce off two characters and we have a sense of comparison and perspective. It's why shows like Peep Show and Curb Your Enthusiasm work well, we laugh and we chuckle, but we also realise, actually, these guys have some pretty serious issues and problems. Unfortunately, hardly any mainstream comedies feature characters with notable mental health concerns.
I think having two characters back and forth dialogue is probably funnier than one person just anecdoting (not a verb) a conversation they had. PAR EXAMPLE...AGAIN.

Character 1: Oh no, this person I slept with isn't calling me.
Character 2: Today I wore only my dressing gown and ate some gherkins out of a jar in the space of an hour...but your thing..that...that is also bad.

Character 1: Me and my boyfriend don't know where to go on holiday!
Character 2: *Annoyed look, mimes shooting self in the head*

They're not brilliant jokes, but you could probably tell who the depressed one is. Which, brings me to the point I mentioned at the start, about trying to turn jokes that are character responses into a more straightforward stand up style.

Or you know, just do some shit about nerds and Nintendos and Bazinga and Girls r dumb and the indian guy cant talk to girls lololololEMMYSANDPRAISE

So, what was my point again?
Oh yeah, is depression a funny topic?
Yeah, definitely. I've joked about slavery, terrorism and suicide, I reckon I could muster up the ability to joke for 10 minutes about my kuh-ray-zee ways. But I'm always full of self doubt or trepidation at the idea. Maybe it's just the awkwardness of the topic, or the reasons I've mentioned above about how it might not translate so well as a one-man show shtick and might grow tired soon. There's also the niche factor that 10 minutes might bore some folks who aren't aware/have similar problems, and then it's just inside jokes with occasional chuckles at punchlines about farting or eating pickled food out of jars.
But hey, I have no problem joking about it openly on the internet (Because I am a smart man thing) so maybe the next logical step is a complete set about how I hate my stupid face and hug like a scarecrow coming to terms with his own existence.

It might not actually turn out so.......depressi-

*This joke has been cancelled by the federal bureau of good taste*

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