I do this thing where I turn to movies and books to tell me how I should be feeling about my life. I’ve always done it. As a teenager, when I was chronically depressed, I turned to any television show featuring a sad female protagonist staring wistfully out a rainy bus window. I wanted my depression to be poetic. I wanted it to follow a narrative arc and for it involve a sweeping, cinematic soundtrack.
I still use pop culture as a means of helping me cope with my depression, but these days I don’t take myself as seriously. My depression doesn’t look like a pretty young actress staring out a window. It looks like me with greasy hair eating peanut butter straight from the jar in my bed. It’s absurd, painful, and boring as fuck. That’s why I now turn to comedy instead of tragedy to help me process my emotions. I don’t recommend falling into a Youtube black hole, but I do recommend laughing your ass off. Instead of wallowing in my own sadness (… okay, sometimes in addition to), I seek out art from people who’ve found the humor in their circumstances.
1. Maria Bamford
If you haven’t watched Maria Bamford’s newest Netflix special “Old Baby,” then you need to immediately re-evaluate your life choices. Stop what you’re doing right now and watch it. Bamford talks openly and hilariously about the time she checked into the psych ward of a hospital, and about the side effects of her medication. She also sings a song about her therapist and live-action roleplays as her and her husband’s mothers.
I’ve watched it three or four times and it still makes me laugh.
2. Aparna Nancherla
I love Aparna Nancherla. Her ability to put my experiences into words and make them something I can laugh at is amazing. She describes anxiety as being like “an edgy improv group in your brain” that just needs a one-word suggestion to spin countless scenarios. She also talks about depression on her Twitter, where her quips are basically the reason Twitter exists.
And if you haven’t seen her web series with Jo Firestone, “Womanhood,” get ready for relatable awkwardness.
3. Jacqueline Novak
In addition to her goofy bits in which she refers to herself as a “sack of sex potatoes,” Jacqueline Novak is another comic who isn’t afraid to share her experiences with depression. In her book “How to Weep In Public,” Novak writes about depression without attempting to give advice to the reader. She just gives you something to laugh about, something to relate to. Which is exactly what I’m looking for when I’m depressed.
4. Tig Notaro
Most comedy fans will know that back in 2012, Tig Notaro was diagnosed with breast cancer and did a now-legendary set at Largo in which opened with “Hi, I have cancer.” In her 2015 HBO special, “Boyish Girl Interrupted,” Tig nonchalantly removes her shirt to reveal her double mastectomy. What I love about her stand-up is that even though Tig Notaro has kept talking about those struggles, she also still makes really good deadpan diarrhea jokes.
5. Jen Kirkman
I include Jen Kirkman on this list just because her Netflix special, “Just Keep Livin’,” made me cry with laughter. That woman really knows how to tell a story. Sometimes it doesn’t even matter if the material is dealing directly with depression or anxiety. Laughing gets my serotonin levels up and makes me feel better.
Of course, I’m not implying that stand-up comedy is a replacement for professional help. Personally, I’m a big fan of prescription medication when it comes to actual treatment. But I am saying that when your brain is telling you that you’re worthless or that life is hopeless, comedy can help remind you to not take yourself so seriously.
These comics show that women can be vulnerable, imperfect and open about mental illness without romanticizing tragedy.