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Depression Among Comedians: No Laughing Matter


Comedians with depression–that sounds like a contradiction in terms. How can someone who creates humor and makes us laugh along with himself be depressed? Usually addiction has a lot to do with it. Use of drugs and/or alcohol that leads to dependency and overdose has taken the lives of too many beloved funny men.

Think about Chris Farley and John Belushi. Each of them was over taken by lethal quantities of powerful drugs (cocaine, heroine, morphine), both dying at age 33. Then there’s Freddie Prinze, who was driving under the influence of quaadludes not long before shooting himself. Robin Williams battled alcoholism and drug addiction, rehabilitated, then relapsed.

ABC News explains the paradox of depression and the creative comic mind in the following article:

Robin Williams’ apparent suicide has put a spotlight on the dark side of comedy. Williams, like many comedians, lived with long-term depression and addiction.


Experts say these mental illnesses are no laughing matter.


“Comedy can often be a defensive posture against depression,” said Deborah Serani, a clinical psychologist who treats performers with depression and other mental health problems.


Serani, author of the book, “Living With Depression,” said that for many comedians, humor is a “counter phobic” response to the darkness and sadness they feel. Their intelligence, she said, helps them put a funny spin on their despair.


“They often wear what we call ‘the mask of depression,’ which helps them put on a more acceptable face to the world,” she said. “But behind that mask there is a terrible struggle going on. There is a stigma about depression and oftentimes the laughter distracts from feelings of weakness.”


Williams spoke openly about his lifelong battle with addiction, alcoholism and depression. In 2006, he checked himself into rehab after a relapse, and then checked himself in again for undisclosed reasons last month.


He is certainly not the only comedian who has ever lived with depression and addiction. Comedian Marc Maron has spoken publicly about having severe depression. So has stand-up comedian Jim Norton. John Belushi, Chris Farley and Greg Giraldo all died of drug overdoses. And in 2007, Richard Jeni committed suicide by shooting himself in the face.


The reason so many comedians are at risk for mental illness is because being funny is not the same thing as being happy, said Dr. Rami Kaminski, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University School of Medicine. He said he believes many comedians mine humor as a way to escape depression and anxiety.

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About Author

Baron Von Kowenhoven

Baron was just a shy kid with a dream, growing up in the 40's with a knack for story-telling. After a brief career in film, Von Kowenhoven went to Europe in search of fringe-scientific discoveries and returned in the 90's to unleash them on the entertainment and political landscape of America.

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