Review: The Great Depresh

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, October 18th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: a new HBO comedy special that tackles a topic you’d think isn’t exactly natural fodder for laughs.

It’s called The Great Depresh. D-E-P-R-E-S-H. Depresh. Meaning, depression.

Here’s WORLD’s movie maven Megan Basham.

MEGAN BASHAM, REVIEWER: I first saw Gary Gulman in 2004 on the NBC comedy competition, Last Comic Standing. The former Division I college football player stood at six-foot-six with broad shoulders, thick, dark hair; and a chiseled jawline. My husband and I shared a brief eye roll, assuming Gulman had made the cut based on his looks—not unusual for reality TV. But then he launched into his act. And his performance, if a little unpolished, was truly funny. It was marked by silly, relatable riffs like his mother, uh, embellishing, the Ten Commandments.

CLIP: We weren’t raised incredibly religious. My mother taught us everything we knew about being Jewish. And a lot of the stuff, turns out, wasn’t even—she would say things were against our religion when really they were just bad for the carpet. Cause I scoured the Old Testament looking for something about, uh, Thou Shalt Not Finger Paint. But there was nothing about that. And Moses wandered the desert for 40 years because he played wiffle ball in the living room.

Every time I came across Gulman after that it seemed his career was going from success to success. He had guest appearances on Letterman, Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, and all the other late night talk shows. He was headlining clubs all over the country. And he was starring in his own comedy specials on Comedy Central and Netflix.

His latest special is a hybrid stand-up act/documentary on HBO. And it proves just how deceiving outward trappings can be. Beneath his prosperous, likeable exterior, Gulman had sunk into a pit of despair. Like certain a Old Testament king, he felt his life had become an exercise in futility. In The Great Depresh, Gulman comes clean about that pain. And, ingeniously, he offers audiences a way to laugh about it with him.

CLIP: I just went on suffering silently which was the only thing you could do back then. The only anti-depressants we had access to in the 1970s and 80s pretty much was, “Snap out of it” and “What do you have to be depressed about?” That was the second leading brand of antidepressant. 

As Gulman stands alone on stage discussing the crippling depression that landed him in a psychiatric ward, it’s both heart-breaking and some of the funniest work he’s ever done.

CLIP: It’s interesting because millennials take so much flak. So much guff. Flak as well as guff. I don’t know which irritates me more. The flak or the guff. From middle-aged men talking about participation trophies. Their argument is how are they gonna learn how to lose, how are they going to learn how to lose? Oh, they’ll get some practice. You familiar at all with life? Oh it’s mostly losing. My twenties—a losing streak that embarrass the Browns.

Gulman, who is Jewish, doesn’t talk about God in The Great Depresh. But he has in previous specials. During interviews he mentions praying fairly frequently. His comedy has always been on the milder end of the stand-up spectrum. And he told one Jewish magazine that his faith was one reason his act has grown cleaner as his career has progressed. The only instance of profanity in this special is when another comedian blurts an f-bomb during an unscripted conversation.

As we’ve seen with some recent, high-profile losses in the church, Christians also aren’t immune from mental illness. And the black thinking Gulman describes during impromptu exchanges with his wife, his mom, and other comics, will likely remind believing viewers of a friend, family member, or perhaps themselves.

CLIP: Yeah because I was afraid that I wasn’t going to be able to earn a living to pay my rent. And when you’re depressed you catastrophize and you think, I’m going to be homeless. Not thinking that, worst case I could live in your shed. Yeah. I mean, the way you paused when I put out living in your shed. Was the shed not open to me? No, the shed’s open to you. I was just thinking how much I would have to charge you. Because I couldn’t just give it to you for free. I’d have to give you goals. Right. It’s funny because I didn’t know I had depression until a few years ago. I just thought that’s how everybody is. You get great at something and then you feel good about yourself. That’s the reward. And then you get great at something and you’re like, I still feel the same.

Part of the problem is a culture—and sometimes even a church—that idolizes positivity and preaches a gospel of success. It’s no surprise then that so many hurting believers find their faith questioned if they reveal struggles like Gulman’s. As if Elijah, Jeremiah, Jonah, and many other Biblical figures didn’t lament with the psalmist, “Darkness is my closest friend.”

As Scottish Pastor Martyn Llloyd Jones wrote in 1965, “There is nothing more futile, when dealing with [depression], than to act on the assumption that all Christians are identical in every respect.” Years before his time, Jones also pointed out that while the condition has, at root, a spiritual component, it can also have physical causes. Some brain—even faithful, Bible-believing brains—just seem wired for introspection and melancholy. And God uses that personality, too, to build His kingdom. Just ask Charles Spurgeon. Or John Piper.

And though Gulman isn’t a Christian, his experiences offer insight, along with laughs, for a church that must do a better job caring for its own. Along with medication, he says he made the biggest strides when he felt he could be open about his struggles. Whether it be sin or suffering, man wasn’t made to bear burdens alone. To borrow from King David, when we keep silent, our bones waste away.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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