Depression in Comedy (originally posted August 2013 on KnoxComedy.com)

This blog is a repost from comedian Mike Cody originally posted on KnoxComedy.com in August of 2013. If you know someone (comedian or otherwise) suffering from depression, help them get real help.  Professional assistance for depression is out there and often is free.

It has happened to me. I came off stage and didn’t want to shake anyone’s hand.  I was sure of only one thing, I hated what I just did on stage and was embarrassed by it.  Some comics and audience members sought me out to give me praise, but no matter what they had to say, I was sure they were simply being polite because they didn’t want it to be awkward.  On the way home I listened to nothing. No music, just the road. I stared ahead and thought about hopeless things like “This is why you don’t get bigger gigs..”  and “You are terrible, how can you quit without it affecting the young comics that enjoy what you do.  After this specific show where later I learned I didn’t do nearly as poorly as I had envisioned that I did, I decided it was time to address the feelings of depression related to comedy performance.  I had submissions from many comics, but the one that I want to share with you came from New York comic Mike Cody.  It hit the nail on the head. Here it is.

The Home Depot Fantasy
by Mike Cody

Sometimes club sets just don’t click. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. My favorite thing to do after a horrible set is run back to the green room and pretend I know which of the 17 different remote controls turns on the TV. Or, if the green room doesn’t have a TV, I stare intently at the menu. No one knows I’m thinking about how much I temporarily hate comedy. They just assume I’m having a hard time choosing between Chicken Finger Nachos and The Dumpster Burger. 

The reason why I head for the hills in those situations is because I hate saying goodbye to audiences as they leave a show they didn’t enjoy. Few experiences are more stressful than saying “Thank you for coming” to strangers, especially when I really mean “Please don’t hate comedy because of me.” The only thing that bothers me more than feeling apologetic after a bad set is when I have a great set and people walk past me anyway. 

I’m no egomaniac. When I kill, I know that nobody owes me anything other than the laughs they already gave me. I’m happy when people smile at me after the show. I’m even happier when someone shakes my hand and says, “Good stuff.” But when I nail it… I mean, REALLY nail it… And 198 out of 200 people walk past without so much as acknowledging my existence… That’s when the shame cycle begins. “I made them laugh. But they didn’t like me. Why didn’t they like me? Did I smile too much? Sometimes I look effeminate when I smile. I wish I had cheekbones. Maybe I wasn’t mean enough? Were they hoping for a meaner show? I don’t want to be mean. Being mean isn’t funny. “Maybe they liked me but didn’t remember me. That’s even worse. Am I forgettable? How could they forget about me? I made them laugh really hard. The headliner had a great set but that doesn’t mean they should have forgotten about me by now. It hasn’t even been an hour. “Is it my look? Should I dress differently? Grow my beard back? I can’t do that. Too many people have beards now. Did they hate my shirt? No, if they hated my shirt they would remember my shirt and by extension remember me. I never liked these glasses. I need new ones. The only reason I got these stupid frames was because they were affordable. That’s no good. Audiences can smell affordability. “Was I too locked in? Robotic? I wanted them to have a good time. It’s inexcusable when people go up there and just jerk around for half an hour. I want to earn my money. I think I did. They liked it. But they didn’t love it or else they would have talked to me. Maybe they did love it but they’re shy.

“Why do I keep doing this to myself? I know what triggers my sadness and yet I keep putting myself in situations like this. Do I belong on the stage? Do I belong anywhere? “Why didn’t they care about me as much as I cared about them?” After shows like that, I fantasize about changing my name, growing a mustache, and moving to North Dakota. I’ll get a job sweeping the floors at Home Depot and never, ever make anyone laugh again. “Hey, Fancy Joe,” my co-worker Larry will say to me at the end of our shift at The Deep. “They’re having a comedy show at the VFW tonight. You wanna go?” “You go on without me,” I reply. “I don’t care much for jokes.” “You’re an odd one, Fancy Joe.” Just to clarify: This is an actual fantasy that I have at least once a month. 

The best solution I’ve found for countering comedic experiences that leave me questioning my own self worth is to spend time with people who love me unconditionally. Usually that means my family or my closest non-comedian friends. I never tell them about my feelings of inadequacy, or my worries that even though certain people think I’m very funny, I’ll never be able to do the sort of things I want to do with my career. In fact, I try not to mention comedy at all. Comedy can be both exhilarating and torturous, occasionally during the same show. No matter how successful or unsuccessful they are, the comedians I feel truly sorry for are the ones who say the only people they enjoy hanging out with are other comedians. I love being part of the “brotherhood” but my non-comedian friends are the ones who make me feel human. When I’m low, I reach out to people who don’t care about whether or not my look is marketable. I turn to the friends who thought I was funny before anyone else did. Their laughter is the dragon I’ve been chasing all along. I’m lucky to share my life with people who would never walk past me. They’re the ones who give me the strength to carry on. If that doesn’t work for you, might I suggest an imaginary career at Home Depot? The benefits aren’t great but their aprons are pretty snazzy!

Mike Cody is a comedian of 9 years from Cincinnati now living in New York City. His debut CD on Rooftop Comedy Records “I Don’t Want To Take a Nap” can be purchased HERE>>.  Follow him on twitter @mikecomedy

Matt Ward

Matt Ward is a comedian and producer of the Cape Fear Comedy Festival and Scruffy City Comedy Festival.