When I first saw the flyer, yellow and glaring at me from the bulletin board and read the title, one thing ran through my mind: “A one-man musical? By a…comedian? About depression? This can only be ridiculous.” But the sheer nonsensicality of the concept was what got me walking through the doors of the Student Life Center on May 22, and I tried my hardest to leave my prejudgment at the door.
And I’m glad I did. Because not only was San Jose native and comedian Brian Wetzel entertaining, he also provided a useful insight into the world of clinical depression that can be utilized by people with depression or those who are struggling to deal with depressed loved ones.
The list of “Things NOT to Say to a Depressed Person” will prove especially valuable to the audience. At the top of the list were “Snap out of it” and “You’re thinking too much about it.” As someone with many depressed people in my life, I can agree that, yes, those are probably the two worst things that could be said to them. If there is one thing a depressed person cannot stand, it is to have someone try to undermine their pain by making them feel like it is nothing.
While his knowledge was valuable, of course, it was his stage presence and unabashed honesty that made Wetzel’s presentation shine. He described how he got through 25 years of being depressed and the battle that he would fight on a daily basis; the same battle that made him turn to, and get addicted to, marijuana.
A particularly moving story revolved around his first suicide attempt as a teen, describing in detail how he intentionally kept the car running in the garage while he closed the door and inhaled deeply, waiting for the carbon monoxide to kill him. It is not often that you get the chance to hear about a botched suicide attempt from the person in question, especially one in such detail. I found it gripping; too often we hear the stories of successful attempts and very few about those who overcame the urge to die. It would seem that the latter would be the more beneficial to hear, of the two.
It would be inaccurate to call it a “musical,” since it was really just a guy onstage pressing a button and singing along to one of his prerecorded jingles, all cleverly themed around the various symptoms of depression. “Sea of Pills” and “My friend, Sleep” were a couple of my personal favorites.
“Sea of Pills” perfectly described the over-medicating that occurs when mental health patients are not completely honest with their doctors, resulting in misdiagnosis and a cocktail of pills to take each morning to stay sane. “My Friend, Sleep” told the story of a man who finds refuge in his dreams, and thus spends 14 hours a day in bed because he has no energy to go about his day. The jazz-piano ballad “The Paperwork Blues,” was amusingly accurate in the portrayal of the absurd amount of paperwork it takes to sign into a hospital for a mental health issue, and how many people just give up halfway through the lengthy packet. “Overanalyzer” was about the chronically depressed who constantly have to ask themselves “What if it all goes wrong?” It was among the catchier tunes to be played, sporting a retro bass line and, much to my dismay, getting stuck in my head for several hours after the show had ended.
However, a couple of the songs were just too much to take. “D-preshun,” his attempt at comical rapping, just annoyed me to no end. The plastic bling and sideways hat didn’t help him much in that regard. The rasta-style “Limbic Limbo” was almost cringe-worthy in its cheesiness, both lyrically and stylistically (he kept going back and forth between a Jamaican and French accent that even he had to make fun of). I understand that it was all in the name of comedy, but those two in particular just fell flat. But, hey, two out of a full set of songs is not enough to mar the entire show.
In all, Brian Wetzel made quite the impression with “Depression, The Musical: An Off-Broadway Play.” He entertained and educated, all at once. And when someone can make depression a less difficult topic to discuss, it means they are doing something really special.
– Sarah Venezio