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Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Book Review: The Hilarious World of Depression by John Moe


I wasn't sure how hilarious this book would be. Or if its hilarity might be inappropriate for its subject matter. But I needn't have worried. John Moe knows precisely how to balance the two.

Books about depression aren't funny. And that's a big reason why no one reads them. The subject matter is rough enough just in its existence. And John noticed over time that a lot of comedians used depression or other mental health problems in their stand-up acts. He had a successful NPR show in Seattle, and when it had run its course he was offered a job in NPR in the midwest. From that, his podcast grew (which is an official podcast of NPR even if it's not an on-air NPR show.) As word got out, impressive people contacted him, most of whom really surprised him, like Peter Sagal, the host of NPR's Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me and Andy Richter, best known as Conan O'Brien's sidekick. But he wasn't wrong--there are a lot of comedians who either are open about their depression or were eager to be so when given a platform. And the podcast became wildly successful.

As he's interviewing these guests, he rarely talks about himself, He acknowledges that he has depression too, but the focus is always on the guest, never on him. And in this book, John Moe tells his own story. He tells of struggling with depression since his childhood. Of his family dynamics that probably didn't help. Of times over the years when it became really problematic. And then there's a crushing blow out of left field that makes him rethink everything.

Along the way, he's really funny. Mostly in the if-I-don't-laugh-I'll-cry mode which, as a Southerner, I'm very familiar with. But as he's a Seattleite, he has his own, slightly more sardonic spin on it. He never actually laughs it off--in fact that's a really unhelpful piece of "advice" (which I'm putting in quotation marks as it's such a truly terrible piece of advice that it doesn't deserve to have the word advice attached to it.) But he points out how it does have its moments of ridiculousness and absurdity, and how giving it too much power is a big part of why it's problematic. It's his own story, but it's incredibly useful for anyone. If you've known anyone with depression (and if you know any humans, you fall into that category), this book is chock full of humanity, empathy, understanding, good humor, and gut-wrenching stories. It truly helped me to better understand a disease that is pretty difficult for those on the outside to comprehend. And I laughed along the way.

This book is published by St. Martin's Press, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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