Mental health has long been a problem amongst comedians. For instance, it’s telling when Hollywood’s best stand-up comedy club, The Laugh Factory in Los Angeles, CA has an in-house psychologist. In 2007, there was a rise in premature deaths amongst comedians. So, the owner of the club, Jamie Masada hired psychologist Ildiko Tabori to assist comedians’ hardships as they embarked on their journeys.
Tabori acknowledged the ups and downs comedians face. “Being a comedian is truly the hardest job in the entertainment industry,” Tabori says. “You have a lot of late nights. You have good sets, you have bad sets. It is kind of a lonely existence at times,” said Tabori to the Los Angeles Times.
Sarah Silverman and Ellen DeGeneres battle depression
Sarah Silverman, Ellen DeGeneres, Wayne Brady, and Jim Carrey are all award-winning comedians, hosts, and actors. Their quick-wit and comedic timing entertain audiences all over the world. However, underneath their lighthearted monologues often lies real-life drama.
Sarah Silverman, actress and comedian, recalls dealing with depression since her teen years. She once told Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross, “The depression I experienced [felt] like a chemical change… “It was like my perspective of the world changed about three degrees, and everything I saw was different.” Prior to this experience, Silverman recalls being an outgoing teenager –usually the class clown– in her school.
In 2016, Silverman’s own life was parallel to her role in “I Smile Back,” a mother who suffered from depression. Silverman is known for parodies on real life topics. Nonetheless, this role wasn’t simply acting for Silverman as she has dealt with similar issues first hand.
Silverman has included her own experiences in her monologues, discussing women’s issues, mental health, and her personal life–commending her therapy sessions as inspiration. “And also, something I learned in therapy … which is darkness can’t exist in the light, and then that made me think of something that Mr. Rogers said, which is, “If it’s mentionable, it’s manageable.”
Another powerhouse, Ellen DeGeneres, Emmy award-winner talk show host, revealed earlier this year that she battled with depression as she managed the highs and lows of her career. Depression affects one in six people and one-third of women according to the American Psychiatric Association.
In an interview with Dax Shepard for his podcast Armchair Expert, Degeneres disclosed that upon revealing to the public that she was gay in the late ‘90s, she faced a harsh reality as she dealt with the public scrutiny. Although she felt liberated by her action, the public’s reaction altered her outlook and affected her greatly. However, her honesty also caused a rift in her career.
“Because of [people making fun of me] and because my show was canceled, I was looked at as a failure in this business. No one would touch me. I had no agent, no possibility of a job, I had nothing” as mentioned in Marie Claire.
DeGeneres was used to telling the jokes but after disclosing her sexual orientation, she became the butt of the joke. She recalls the torment she endured as fellow celebrities also poked fun at her. She had to rebuild her career at the same time she was ending a relationship with her then girlfriend, Anne Heche.
DeGeneres also battled with the responsibility that transpired from her revelation. She felt as though she was plunged into a leadership role as a representative of the LGBT community, but she did not believe she was adequate enough for the role.
After returning to stand up and slowly regaining momentum in her career, DeGeneres made a full comeback as Dory in Finding Nemo. In 2016, having come full circle, Degeneres was recognized with the Medal of Freedom by former President Barack Obama for her dedication to equality. Although an illustrious moment, DeGeneres recalls the hardships endured for disclosing her sexuality battling depression but overcoming it.
Male comedians also face depression
Sarah Silverman and Ellen DeGeneres are two fierce women mentioned in Part 1 of this two-part story pertaining to the sad clown paradox, a connection between comedy and mental illness. Jim Carrey and Wayne Brady are two prominent male comedians who have exposed their truths concerning depression.
Jim Carrey and Wayne Brady
Jim Carrey, comedian and once the highest paid actor in America, has shared that he was prescribed Prozac, an antidepressant to cope with his depression.
Carrey endured the pressures of Hollywood for some time. Nonetheless, he has now come to terms that his career cannot affect his overall health. “I’m free of the business. I’m not the business… All I want is for people to think of me as a good energy here, a nice fragrance that has been left behind,” he once told Thei.
Another star Wayne Brady, host of Let’s Make A Deal, battles with depression. He first shared his own struggle after seeking treatment. He discovered that by withholding his depression, he only increased his undergoing pain. Therefore, he eventually chose to come forth about his experience in an appearance on Entertainment Tonight.
Brady believes that in Hollywood, a celebrity who goes to rehab for drug-use and addiction attains less criticism than a celebrity battling mental illness. “If someone says, ‘I’m clinically depressed,’ that sounds like someone’s making something up. It’s like, ‘Psst, you’re not depressed,'” he told Entertainment Tonight.
Brady and his wife divorced in 2016; however, he did not seek help until after he underwent a distressing incident. “I was there by myself, in my bedroom, and had a complete breakdown,” Brady said. “When I say breakdown, go ahead and imagine for yourself. Just a brother in his underwear, in his room crying. On that birthday was the beginning of ‘OK, I’ve got to make a change.”
Brady recognizes that he has a greater appreciation for his life after seeking help. “I’m very blessed to have a great job and family. I can now appreciate all of it much more. I love being able to bring those laughs to other (people) daily and laughing for real myself,” Brady told ET.
Their stories remind us that our own struggles are relatable
Comedians can fill a room with their humor and bright personalities. They are perceived as extroverts with sociable dispositions and riveting storytelling tactics that capture an audience’s attention. Yet, a majority of comedians are masking their own relatable pain with humor.