Just because comedians are laughing on stage doesn’t mean they are smiling behind the curtain.
In Laughing Matters, a new 30-minute documentary, 12 comedians speak candidly about their mental health struggles, showing that there are often dark lows lurking beneath the highs of comedic performance.
To help start the conversation, Sarah Silverman, 48, opens up about her battle with depression.
“All of us learn a skill set inherently as children that gets us through childhood,” says Sarah Silverman. “One hundred percent of comedians become comedians because somewhere in their childhood they needed to be funny in order to survive.”
Silverman reveals that she was put on Xanax to help with anxiety and depression when she was 13 years old.
“They just upped the dose … until I was taking four Xanax four times a day,” she shares.
“The psychiatrist who originally put me on it hung himself,” she adds. “I mean, I can’t just skate by that — it’s crazy.”
Silverman says many comedians try to find humor in their darkest moments. “These years of torture and shame kind of became my superpower. I think all of us kind of romanticized depression to a degree.”
Now streaming on YouTube, the documentary from SoulPancake and Funny or Die also features comedians Anna Akana, Rachel Bloom, Chris Gethard, Wayne Brady, Rainn Wilson and more.
Brady says most comedians have been taught to keep quiet about their struggles, no matter how much pain they may be experiencing.
“If I complain, strike me down!” he says.
Rainn Wilson admits that he expresses his pain through the characters he portrays on screen.
“Here I am, this really ungainly, insecure kid, feeling generally unloved and unloveable through most of my life,” he says. You see some of that Rainn Wilson trauma in the character of Dwight [Schrute on The Office].”
“I felt dead,” says Anna Akana. “The only thing that made me feel alive was trying to make people laugh.”
But laughter isn’t always the best medicine.
“Comedy is not going to save you,” says Chris Gethard. “And if you are thinking about doing comedy as a substitute for therapy, it doesn’t work. I tried.”
Silverman eventually realized that she had to prioritize her mental health. “There’s nothing more important to me than being funny than being well,” she says.
Laughing Matters is streaming now on YouTube.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “home” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
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