Mentally Ill on the Mic: How Paul Gilmartin Brings Us All Together


The stand-up comedian turned podcaster has racked up more than one million downloads in just a year with his special formula for self-help.

The Mental Illness Happy Hour

If you've ever found yourself wandering the self-help section of a bookstore you might have thought the area to be a bit deserted and vacant, perhaps ominous. The stares you can receive from passersby are enough to keep most away. But nowadays those aisle-less self-help sections of sites like Amazon and iTunes are flooded with the curious and often desperate clicks of those yearning for any sort of help and release from the defeatist voices inside their heads. Depression, anxiety, negative thoughts, self-loathing -- the issue of mental health is an immense presence in the lives of nearly everyone: If it's not you then it's someone you're close to. Where are we to turn when that feeling comes crushing down on our shoulders?

The podcast. They're easy to produce and promote, and can defy the usual rules and regulations of television and radio by splitting from larger corporations. And, whether they make us shout in laughter, cry, feel, or perhaps get angry, the podcast is an engaging medium that is in itself a lifesaver, especially for those of us seeking mental help.

With over one million downloads in just a year's time, one podcast stands out among the rest, having been praised by its listeners all over the world for the ability to act as therapy by making us feel as if we are a part of something larger. Comedian Paul Gilmartin's show -- The Mental Illness Happy Hour -- has been making us see that we are not alone with our melancholy thoughts and insecure states of mind.

Paul Gilmartin knew that his own struggles with addiction and clinically diagnosed depression would serve as the ideal catalysts for him to deliver a truly unique show.

According to the comic and host, everyone hurts, even if just a little. Over the past year the former TBS's Dinner And A Movie host/comedian has found himself in an unexpected niche in the ever-widening podcast industry. Instead of following along the path of his comedy peers he has managed to etch his own in the realm of self-help. The decision to do a show was one that took a long while for fear of finding himself in the already lengthy line of comedy podcasts. "I knew I didn't want it listed under comedy," Gilmartin said. "So I thought the closest thing I suppose is self-help. But I was afraid that people would think I thought of myself as a guru, which I'm not."

When the idea of a self-help podcast came about Gilmartin knew that his own struggles with addiction and clinically diagnosed depression would serve as the ideal catalysts for him to deliver a truly unique show. "I never realized I had it [depression] until I was in my mid 30s. I just thought the rest of the world was really frustrating. But I do think I certainly have experience and insight to share that I'm as fucked up as the next person," Gilmartin said. "And I think in a lot of ways that's what makes the podcast work."

So with that thought in mind, he bought a couple of mics and called it The Mental Illness Happy Hour: an hour of honesty about all the battles in our heads. From medically diagnosed conditions to everyday compulsive negative thinking. Dissatisfaction, disconnection, inadequacy, and that vague sinking feeling that the world is passing us by. You give us an hour, we'll give you a hot ladle of awkward and icky.

"The self-help stuff on TV has always been that 'inside the doctors office' type stuff. I wanted the show to be a really fun waiting room that doesn't suck," Gilmartin said. "I think that's an undervalued resource in our lives -- other people that are as fucked up as us." Sure, it's a puzzling mixture when you initially approach the show: comedy and mental illness. But in looking deeper and deconstructing comedy altogether you might find that comedians are perhaps some of the best people to go to for one to feel safe and secure, especially to know you're not alone. "Mental illness is not a cut and dry thing," Gilmartin said. "It lives in the gray area. And that area, to me, has always been the stuff that fucks with you the most, but it fascinates me. So in many ways this podcast is just an extension of my curiosity of the gray areas in not only my life but other people's lives."

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Kyle Dowling is a writer based in New York City. His work has also appeared in PlayboyCOED Magazine, Psychology Tomorrow, and The Smoking Jacket, among others. 

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