Neal Brennan on Depression

Neal Brennan is one of the most accomplished comedians of the past two decades, even if you can’t quite place his face and name. He co-created and co-wrote Chappelle’s Show, still one of the funniest things on TV even after you’ve seen every sketch a half-dozen times. Since that show’s premature demise, Brennan has written, directed, produced, hosted, guested and performed comedy in a zillion venues. He currently has a one-man show called Neal Brennan 3 MICS playing at the Lynn Redgrave Theater in New York City.

In interviews, Neal Brennan frequently speaks about his history of depression and the various treatments he has tried. He brings humor, sincerity and pragmatism to the discussion. For those of us struggling with depression, it’s always heartening to hear intelligent and successful people talk honestly about the topic.

In 2012, Brennan was a guest on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast (episode #287), recorded live before an audience at the Vancouver Comedy Festival. The segment opened with Maron and Brennan comparing notes on antidepressant drugs. Maron said he disliked Prozac and quit taking it because it dulled his angry edge.

Brennan: And you still like that inner you?

Maron: What’s not to like, what’s not to believe in? That’s the authentic self, why are you trying to hide that from you?

Brennan: Cuz mine’s real sad. [Maron and audience laugh] It’s just a very sad guy that I don’t want around. [more laughs] That’s how I feel about depression.

I suffer from depression, and I used to try to outachieve it. I’d be depressed and I’d be like, “Well I’m gonna fucking sell a movie”. Then I’d get like fucking “Wooo!”, like party, sold a movie, and I’d be like, “Fuck you, see you later depression!” And then a year and a half later I’d be walking down the street, it’d be like “Neal”, and I look over and it’s depression waiting.

* * *

Maron: It made my sense of self become like a phantom limb. Like I’d see things and usually that’d fucking piss me off, and then it wouldn’t because I was on Prozac, and then I’d be pissed off that I wasn’t mad. Like “what’s it doing to me? It’s taking away my life.”

Brennan: I’ve never, but I’ve seen people react like that.

Maron: But it’s not doing that for you?

Brennan: No, to me it’s just an equalizer.

Maybe you’ve engaged in or heard similar debates over the years. Both are perfectly valid choices depending on one’s own unique brainstate. I count myself in the Brennan camp. I believe antidepressant drugs have done me a world of good and have not suppressed anything worth preserving in my personality. But I enjoy hearing from people like Maron whose experiences were very different.

Then in 2015, Neal Brennan was a guest on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast (episode #665). Starting around the 01:01:00 mark, he talked at length about depression, what it feels like, his history with antidepressants and other treatments, and his recent experiences using ketamine (in a controlled, supervised setting). The episode is available free on YouTube or as a downloadable mp3.

And in March 2016, Brennan was a guest on The Daily Show. After some current events banter, he and host Trevor Noah talked about depression for a few minutes. Among other treatments he’s tried over the years, Brennan had very positive things to say about transcranial magnetic stimulation.

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Brennan’s personal history plays a big role in 3 MICS. The premise as summarized by one reviewer:

[Brennan] uses one mike to deliver an assortment of one-liners, as if trying them out for future comedy club use. At another he does pieces of a polished stand-up set. And at the third, the one in the middle, he gets serious and confessional, talking about his struggle with depression, his fractured relationship with his father and more.

I haven’t seen this show. Hopefully it will come to cable and/or DVD at some point.

Let’s send some gratitude and respect to Neal Brennan. Open discussions of depression, attempts to demystify and destigmatize the condition, willingness to talk about it with wit and without shame, detailed accounts of how different treatments work — these things benefit all of us.

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