A Funny Thing Happened On My Way to a Depression - Connecting Depression and Humor

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Old joke: A guy with severe depression seeks out a therapist. He’s lonely, feels hopeless, and views life as cruelly unfair. He has no idea how others cope. The therapist has the perfect solution. She advises her patient that the great stand-up comic, the Laughmeister, is in town. Just laughing to the Laughmeister, she explains, can work wonders.


    The man bursts into tears. “But doctor,” he says. “I am the Laughmeister.”


    A version of this joke leads off an article in The Huffington Post, Do You Have to Be Depressed to Be Funny? The author, comic Bruce Clark, writes:


    Intuitive comedians see the world through their very own looking glass. We have an innate ability for spotting the absurdities, the injustices, and the futilities of the world and crafting them into humor.

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    He also serves up this sobering observation: “I personally know half a dozen comics who have committed suicide in the last several years.”


    A Wikipedia list of famous people with depression lists 23 comedians, including Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, and Conan O’Brien. This does not include writers who are funny and one US President.


    Joshua Shenk, in his 2005 book Lincoln’s Melancholy, notes that the 16th President used humor as a way to cope with his unremitting depression, often interrupting meetings to read something he found hilarious. Lincoln was also a master of his own brand of humor. Here’s a gem cited by Robert Mankoff, cartoon editor of The New Yorker:


    In the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, when Douglas accused Lincoln of being two-faced, Lincoln replied, referencing his homeliness, “Honestly, if I were two-faced, would I be showing you this one?”


    Last year, I self-published a memoir with this back-cover blurb: “When you’re both depressed and crazy, life has a way of becoming hilarious.”  For instance:


    Life, unfortunately, doesn't come with a manual, and the tech support is a joke. Seriously, when has God—or St Aloysius, even—ever gotten back to you? Is it too much for God to stop what He is doing for just one second and tell me that the vital piece of hardware I dropped on the floor—the one I desperately need to assemble my counter extender from IKEA—rolled under the refrigerator?


    Yes, some of my funny side comes from being crazy (what psychiatrists refer to as the manic side of bipolar), but what really drives my humor is depression. I’m an outsider, the world makes absolutely no sense to me, and somehow this is funny. 


    Take the way most people deal with the DMV: They breathe through it. They move on. Nothing funny whatsoever. For me, a simple visit brings on an existentialist crisis. There is no such thing as routine. I know this for a fact. I am in recovery from yesterday’s visit.


    Depression, when it overwhelms us, is not funny. Life, when it overwhelms us, is not funny. Too often, I find myself on the verge of tears just trying to cope with the ordinary. When I’m really down, I often find myself saying, “One day I’ll laugh at this.” 


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    Crazy thing, that one day comes along, and there I am, laughing.




    I would love to hear your take on humor and depression. Comments below ...

Published On: July 31, 2013