Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Great Depresh | Lefsetz Letter

The Great Depresh

Do you fit in? Do you ever feel lonely? Do you get depressed?

In our world you must be a winner. And, amazingly, some of the biggest self-professed winners are the trolls on the internet, they’ve got no friends, they think if they yell loud enough they will count and people will care, just like Gary Gulman believes if he’s good enough at something, great, then his life will work out, it will have meaning, people will like him, he will have friends.

I was not aware of Gary Gulman until I read about this HBO comedy special. It’s a funny time, we’re in a comedy renaissance, and the essence is just the work itself. Used to be your standup was a stepping stone to a series. Now, even if you get a series, like Marc Maron did with IFC, you don’t get paid much and no one sees it. Of course there’s still the movie paradigm, Amy Schumer boosted her career that way, but she was uber-hot and today major studios are reluctant to make comedies, because they don’t play overseas and they’re so risky. Actually, comedy is more difficult to do than drama, and when you see someone riding the edge, it’s a marvel to watch.

But comedy is like any other niche these days, rich, but unless you’re a student, a devotee, there’s a chance your knowledge does not go deep, if you’ve got any at all.

So I know John Mulaney is the hottest comedian according to comedians, and I even saw him on Broadway in “Oh, Hello,” which was innovative and funny, but I can’t make it through any of his TV specials. And my knowledge did not go so deep as to know Gary Gulman.

It’s funny, you go to his Wikipedia page and…

You know it was written by him, or someone who works for him. They cite all his TV appearances, late night ones that do not matter, and they try to convince you he’s someone, but is he?

Well, he got a special on HBO when the rest of the comedians have pulled up stakes and gone to Netflix for the green lights and the cash.

And I’d like to tell you this special is hilarious from the get-go, but it isn’t. If you don’t know what is coming, you’ll turn it off.

Having said that, the filmed interludes with Gary’s mother and his best friend and even his shrink bring the facts to light, it’s jarring to have reality intrude on routine, but in a good way.

So, the premise is…Gary Gulman was depressed.

Now let’s make this clear. He wasn’t in a bad mood, he was in a sleep all day, can’t get out of bed, no optimism depression, which most people don’t experience, but an amazing number do. Actually, I hope Gary’s treatment continues to work, but oftentimes it does not, like with David Foster Wallace. Death is a relief. Although Gulman says he doesn’t think he’ll commit suicide, because he’d have to write a note, and even the thought of writing a college essay was too much.

So Gary is 6’6″ and 255 pounds. A man’s man.

Only he’s not. He looks like an All American, but inside…he’s soft.

That’s Gary’s word, not mine.

But soft men get no play in society today. The ones who would never rape, because they can’t even ask a girl for a date. (Don’t go all Me Too on me here, it’s just that there are many good guys who stay good, but not only do they get no press, women don’t want to date them.)

And now there’s this celebration of nerds. They’re not the nerds I grew up with.

And part of Gulman’s routine is to say how the millennials have it so much better. And it’s a switcheroo to see him compliment a generation that is excoriated by his contemporaries and their elders.

Before the millennials, bullying was rampant. The solution to depression was to buck up. Just like the solution to a concussion was to get back in the game.

Now I’ll be honest, I believe there’s been an overreaction, parents believe their kids should never experience anything negative, there’s a time to step in and a time not to. Certain behavior crosses a line. And…

I’ve experienced that behavior. My mother refused to step in, if she even knew about it. She said to stand up to bullies.

But it’s not only the kids who want to punch you out, it’s those just a bit higher on the food chain than yourself, they take it out on you too. Call you names.

I thought I was an outsider because I skipped a grade. Then I believed I was an outsider because my father was, it was inevitable. Writing this…in order to be inside you’ve got to be a certain way, you’ve got to laugh at the jokes, you’ve got to criticize others’ flaws, make fun of them, everything has to be sexualized.

Soft men know this. Their main goal is to stay out of the way.

And if they speak up, they’re told to stay in their place, not even at the back of the line, but in the backwater not connected to the main stream.

It’s cool. It’s business. Yup, most of the original techies were true nerds, they fit in nowhere, they just had an incredible interest in tech. But they became rich and changed the world and gained respect, but they were still nerds. Like Bill Gates, he’s still a nerd. Zuckerberg…he’s an angry nerd, he had the computing skills but he could never be a member of the club. Bezos? Buffing up and leaving your wife? That’s one thing about being a nerd, an outsider, you’ve got to accept your status, you can dress up but you can never be cool. They made a whole movie about this, “Can’t Buy Me Love,” with Patrick Dempsey, I recommend it, truly. The female lead, Amanda Peterson, O.D.’ed back in ’15. That’s right, being good-looking and famous does not solve all your problems, but you think it does.

So Gulman is cracking mediocre jokes, but then he talks about his great depression.

It’s riveting and funny and true. Sans artifice, Gulman is being totally honest, he’s channeling truth, that a good portion of the public is aware of. And now people clamor ’round him, which makes him feel less alone and good.

Yup, Gulman gives some prescriptions.

Leave the house. I learned this by accident. If you walk outside the front door you’ve got no idea what will happen.

Interact with other people. It’s hard at first, but try.

And Gulman was ready to give up standup. He even became a camp counselor.

He was afraid he’d never earn a living.

And speaking of living…

We’ve got an illusion those on television are rich and famous. But Gulman and his wife live in a 600 square foot apartment, with a view of other high-rises. And he’s almost fifty.

But all we hear about are the world-beaters who make 250k after law school, and those on opiates.

But in between…

I’m gonna tell you right here and now, your life will not work out, not the way you think it will, there will be bumps, left turns, moments of extreme angst, even if you play it safe.

If you don’t play it safe…you’ll have even more losses, which is why so many don’t take risks, they can’t fathom this.

Used to be alienation and aloneness were the essence of music. Music was made by outsiders, people who didn’t fit in, this was all they could do, they spoke about their pain. Today? No one has time for those people. You’ve got to be a winner, be good at promotion, never mind social media, the music is not enough, it’s a business and you have to feed it.

The reason it was so different back then is because of the era and the circumstances and the fact that the music business was still being figured out. There were new companies, entrepreneurs, not consolidation.

But Gulman gets one thing right. Life is about story, we’re all addicted to story. You think it’s about your possessions, your image, but people can often see through those and the truth is most people don’t care about others.

But when they do it’s because of their honesty, their credibility, their humanity.

It’s sad that Gary Gulman had to go into the hospital and have ECT before he felt comfortable talking about his mental illness. But if you’re imperfect, you’re on the scrapheap. Come on, look at the makeup influencers online. You try keeping up that image.

And bullies are not only in school. They’re rampant in business. They make sure you can’t get ahead, because they need to be in control, they need all the power.

So “The Great Depresh” is kinda like “Marriage Story.” Many men, who should see it, won’t, because it’s too negative, it might be too close to home. That’s men, their image can’t be questioned while they’re striving for the top. Women? They’re much more supportive of each other. But not all. Alienation knows no bounds.

So what if you don’t want to play the game, don’t want to get plastic surgery, don’t want to drive a Tesla, don’t want to pay fealty to billionaires, then what?

Society believes you don’t count, it pays you no mind

But this is where a great swath of the population lives, even if they’re putting up a brave face because they’re fearful if they show their true colors they’ll be laughed at.


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