Comedian Helps Laugh Away the Tears

Shannon Brown, Features Editor Sonoma State STAR

In association with Mental Health Awareness Week, Sonoma State University brought comedian and speaker Brian Wetzel to share his personal knowledge and struggles with depression through comedy on Thursday. 

Comedy and depression may not seem like they go hand in hand, but Wetzel was able to tie them in together in a way that kept the audience both laughing and thinking. Throughout the hour he spoke, there were no uncomfortable laughs from the crowd. Every joke he made didn’t seem unusual or out of taste, and the audience was kept entertained the entire time. A large part of why it wasn’t uncomfortable was the fact that Wetzel knew comedy and depression didn’t go together and acknowledged it. 

“I’ve been dealing with this for over 25 years of my life. I think it’s really hard to talk about but I think the best way to deal with those things that are hard to talk about is to put them right out on the table and talk about them,” said Wetzel.

For those in the audience that had never dealt with any form of depression, Wetzel explained it as “the common cold of mental health”—it’s hard to explain and difficult to treat. Giving the example of the late Robin Williams, Wetzel’s hero, he told the audience, “If it can happen to Robin Williams, one of the best comedians of all time, it can happen to anybody.” This was a powerful message to begin his discussion into the misunderstood world of mental health. What made Wetzel connect to every student  that filled the Student Center Ballroom was his humor. 

“I’ve never been through depression personally, but just to hear what he went through as a person my age and beyond, I was able to get a glimpse as to all the difficulties that he might have faced with depression,” said freshman Madison Muro.  

Much of Wetzel’s young adult life was spent being depressed. For some students who have never experienced this, Wetzel was able to build a picture in their minds about how tough it was for him to have depression while in college. “I did pretty well in college even dealing with depression,” said Wetzel. “I was fighting, trying to stay alive and get through college like all my friends were doing.” While in college, Wetzel recounted the amount of confidence he had while struggling with depression. With his sarcastic humor, Wetzel told the audience  about a time he wanted to ask a girl for her phone number. 

Wetzel said, “I ended up walking right up to her and going ‘Hey how you doing? My name’s Brian. I have intimacy issues, low-self esteem and I’m chronically depressed. Can I get your phone number?’” 

Audience members seemed to enjoy Wetzel’s story as they were kept laughing most of the hour he  spoke. 

“I really enjoyed the humor but I also thought that his story and how he overcame depression was what really made the talk memorable,” said freshman Sarah Fishback. 

Toward the end as Wetzel was wrapping up his story, he made a point to address how one can get help and how others can help someone if they know they are going through a difficult  time. 

“Getting help can be very overwhelming for anybody and who wants to admit it? You are vulnerable when you ask for help…but there can also be an exhilaration to it, a freedom, a new way of finally breaking through and living,” said Wetzel, “and I think you owe it to yourself instead of carrying that burden around versus not wanting to get help.” 

Even though he had more than 25 years of stories about how much depression affected him, he only got to share an hour’s worth. Wetzel made it clear how difficult and challenging it could be for someone to admit they need help and then receive that help from those around them. 

Mental Health Awareness Week was a time to reflect as well as to understand the personal struggles that many students go through. Wetzel was not only a delight to have on campus, but an inspiration to those struggling with the hardship of depression.