Comedian Gary Gulman On Toxic Masculinity, Depression

By Kelly Burch 10/07/19

Gulman gets candid about depression in his new comedy special, The Great Depresh.

comedian, Gary Gulman
I’ve had episodes of depression since I’ve known myself CC BY 2.0Matt Kleinschmidt via Wikimedia Commons

There’s a lot of pain in comedy writing, but comedian Gary Gulman wants to push back on the idea that you need to be depressed in order to be funny. 

“It’s a romantic myth, ‘I need to be troubled to write well,’” he said in an interview with The Daily Beast. “But it’s not true."

In his new comedy special, The Great Depresh, Gulman speaks openly about his mental illness, and how he keeps depression at bay today. The 49-year old said that he has had a lifetime struggle with depression. 

“I’ve had episodes of depression since I’ve known myself. Since seven years old I can remember having these feelings. The episodes would never last more than a few months,” he said. However, in 2017 he was hospitalized after a severe episode. “This one lasted for two and a half years.” 

Difficulty Coping With Mental Illness

As a kid, Gulman wasn’t taught healthy ways to cope with mental illness. In the special, he jokes about growing up in the 1970s. 

“The only antidepressants we had access to was ‘snap out of it’ and ‘what have you got to be depressed about?’ That was the second-leading brand of antidepressant,” he says. 

Gulman was told to toughen up, a message about being masculine that undermined his health, he said. 

“That didn’t work on me and I paid a price for it in my psyche,” he said. “I was always hiding things about myself and keeping things secret. Name-calling and bullying, either physical or verbal, was very painful for me growing up and when I saw the stance that millennials seem to be taking, I don’t have nostalgia for that. I could have used some more nurturing than I got and it just happened to be the generation I grew up in. We were just so mean to each other.” 

Constant Vigilance

Today, Gulman said he doesn’t feel depressed most days. 

“But it’s in part because I’ve adopted 18 or 20 things that I do every day to stay this way. I’ve never been more vigilant because I’ve never fallen that far.” 

That’s led him to the “longest, sturdiest recovery of my life,” he said. 

Gulman told The Daily Beast, “I’m only comfortable talking about it now because I’ve come out the other side.” However, his comedy special opens with a scene of him at a Boston comedy club, right after he was released from the psych ward in 2017. 

“I have a mental illness. I have a severe mental illness. It’s excruciating,” Gulman tells the audience. “It’s excruciating. This is like a cosmic bottom. This is like a bottom.” 

Gulman remembers that night, and says he felt like he needed to share his pain. “I had to acknowledge that I was suffering,” he said. 

Today, Gulman ends his special by speaking directly to those still suffering. 

“If you are suffering from a mental illness, I promise you are not alone. You are not alone,” he says, then adds, “I’m sorry, you are alone, but only because you can’t leave the house today. But you should.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.