I am a depressed person. Comedy helps with that. More specifically, comedy about depression really helps with being depressed.
I’m certain there are people that are more depressed than me and, objectively, I’m better off than billions of people, with living in the suburbs of Southern California, having graduated from a prestigious university, having both of my parents still together, and being currently debt free. Still, that doesn’t mean there are absolutely no reasons to get sad, depressed, and overwhelmed with melancholy at times. L.A. is physically huge, and the needing a car versus using public transit, biking, walking, etc. can make it an incredibly lonely city. Combine that with doing stand-up at open mics, and the idea of killing yourself floats through the ether of your mind more than once. Personally, crashing into a freeway median seems to be my go-to in that regard.
Obviously, 1) I’m here and 2) I’m writing this, so I’m OK, but, right now, a lot of that has to do with comedian Maria Bamford’s latest hour of stand-up comedy, the Special Special Special. A focus of the material within said special navigates incredibly dark territory that, surprise surprise, has nothing to do with rape, 9/11, or the Holocaust. Mental illness, suicide, and existential crises can often be much darker topics for comedy than stock racy topics, especially when there is sincerity behind them.
Personally, I’ve found, and it may be different for other people but I rarely ever hear that to be the case, that such serious issues I’ve dealt with like depression and suicide are easier to manage when I laugh about it. Bamford’s Special Special Special is not only hysterical as a work of comedy, but leaves the viewer feeling like they’ve gotten one big warm hug from Bamford, whispering that it’s going to be all right because she’s been through all of this mental and emotional turmoil too. From accidentally killing her pug to pondering dying alone, Bamford openly talks about her fears and owns them by joking about them. One of the main messages of the Special Special Special is actually that none of us are ever alone, no matter how horrifying or unforgivable we think we are.
Even more impressive is that Bamford does material about her parents which does not paint them in the best light, right to their faces. They laugh heartily and don’t stop Maria during her set to offer up a correction or qualification, despite her nailing their voices perfectly and painting them to be self-involved or emotionally cold. From watching that alone, I’ve rethought my own relationship with my folks, which can be confounding and embittered along with the very dark jokes I’ve written about them.
Of course, absurdist humor is hilarious, and even in my darkest times I’ve laughed at things that come from that place of sublime stupidity. Yet, jokes about very personal issues and things that could be thought of as “dirty laundry that shouldn’t be aired in public” offer a doubly therapeutic effect in that they’re funny and acknowledge that our worlds that we’ve created in our heads aren’t ending, even suggesting how ridiculous it is to think otherwise.
Without censorship in comedy, it might not seem worth to even know that there is shock humor that would make just one person feel bad. Yet, I offer up Maria Bamford’s Special Special Special or Tig Notaro’s Live as the good that can come of trying to find the funny in life’s darkest corners.