Depression and Comedy: My Experience Being a Depressive Funny Person

Sad Apple Depression is like the animated ellipses that let you know someone is texting. Wait, no. Depression… is like Windows 10 update notifications. No, that’s not it either. Hang on, I have this… depression is… um… depression...

You know what, depression just sucks, bro.

Here’s the truth of it: I’ve been in a depressive state for 24 hours as of the time I’m writing this. I’ve said before that I take a low-level anti-depressant. That’s exactly what it is—low-level. Enough for me to have a wide range of feeling without completely suppressing what it is to be me. However, this means depressive moods are still going to happen. I’m not quite sure what happens—I’m not a scientist, I have a degree in theater arts. Then again, research and studies are still being done about depression, so even the fancy schmancy scientists aren’t all the way sure. As far as I know, it could be anything from an increase in hormones to sleep deprivation to simply forgetting to take my medication on time.

What I do know is that being depressed kills my creativity. There’s a misconception that depression equals sad. While I did want to listen to Adele ballads and the second acts of Hamilton and Next to Normal for most of the day and cry, that’s not what I’m feeling at this moment. I’m feeling apathas if nothing matters. All of my emotions are muted. Therefore, there is nothing to inspire what I really enjoy doing. No writing, no sketching, no playing ukulele, no brainstorming. I would at least have something to draw from if I felt sadness! Just take a peek at my high school sketchbook. So much sadness… so much angst… like the episodes where the Tenth Doctor regenerated. (High five for Doctor Who references, nerds!)

Now the big question is, “How does depression affect performing comedy?” It’s a popular idea that mental illness and funny people go hand-in-hand. That being said, and I’ve only met one other person who experiences this while performing but improvising while feeling numb on the inside is italics-level hard.

Oh! I have another bad analogy for you! Are you ready? Let’s say you’re running a race. Do you know how tired you feel when you’re about one mile away from the finish line? You think, “I can do it. I just need to push myself. I can make it. I’m tired… but people are watching. So I’m going to make myself do this.”

Think about that level tiredness, and imagine having that at the beginning of an improv class or  performance. That’s me doing anything! I am pushing myself for 30 minutes to make something, anything happen. And the whole time, I’m thinking, “Is this what normal people look like? I hope I’m smiling because right now it feels like a gorilla snarl. The initiation for this scene is what? Maybe now is a good time to rest on a more unfeeling character—nope, everybody’s screaming because improv murder. Screaming hurts. You know what, side support is good. I’ll be over here on the side… supporting...” The finish line, the applause that signals the end of my run, and the orange slice at the end of the race is my comfy jammies and laying in bedtime.

The good news is that depressive states come in cycles. It may take a few days to a full week, but the feeling passes. In the meantime, I stick with my “I’m feeling down cycle routine: personal development audio books, an ungodly amount of shimmer pop in my YouTube playlist, avoiding news sites, a few comedy podcasts, re-reading Hyperbole and a Half and Jenny Lawson’s books. When my SSRI levels out the chemicals in my brain again, I’ll be back to my usual self and ready to bring on some funny person whatnots.  

My husband and I just watched a few missed episodes of @midnight, and jokes that would often have me rolling on the floor with laughter didn’t have an effect. Then a bit came out of nowhere and I started chuckling. Not a guffaw, not pee-inducing giggling. Just a little chuckle that ended in a squeak.

I turned to the spouse and said, “Hey, I felt something.”

He smiled and patted my knee. “I’m glad.”

“Rory Scovel actually spent the whole episode naked.”

“Yes,” he nodded. “Yes, he did.”

KC Ryan is currently a Level 5 student at DCH. An office worker by day, she spends her nights writing, improvising, recording podcasts, and having existential crises. She’s a co-host of Parsec Award-nominated podcast Anomaly Supplemental about general sci-fi and fantasy topics. Her greatest achievement so far is convincing her husband to watch Project Runway.