A former writer for "The Tonight Show" uses comedy to speak about suicide and depression. YPR sat down with Frank King to talk with him about his experiences.
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You look like the pinnacle of what someone who wants to be a working comedian wants to be, but you've struggled with depression, suicidal ideation, so why does someone who seems to have success - why do they struggle?
It’s a double-edged sword of being high functioning. I mean, people have said to me, ‘No, depression and suicide. That's fashionable. You don't have - I mean, do you really have thoughts of suicide?’
And I love to stagger ‘em back with this, ‘Yeah, I can tell you what the barrel of my gun tastes like.’ Which usually makes them take a step back, ‘Oh dear god, I can’t believe you said out loud.’ Well, you’re questioning whether I have an illness or not.
I’ve got a cousin with bipolar [disorder]. She said, ‘I wish I had cancer ‘cause I'd be bald, and people would be doing fundraisers for me and bringing me casseroles, but bipolar, nobody comes, nobody calls, nobody will have anything do to with me, and my mom won’t let me live in her house.’
And sometimes I feel guilty because I have a good life, so sometimes I feel like, ‘God, with all the people who have it so much worse in the world than I do, how can I be depressed?’ Well, it's just organic. It's just the way I'm wired.
Why do you think that so many comedians struggle with depression?
A friend of mine, Mike MacDonald from Canada, comedian, now deceased, said there are two type of comedians: diagnosed and undiagnosed.
I believe my comic ability, the way I process, is simply the flip side of my mental illness ‘cause I can teach you to write standup comedy, I can teach you to perform standup comedy, but I cannot teach you how to process the information that I get through my eyes and ears that becomes jokes.
What do you want the takeaway to be?
Silence kills. I want to start conversations. I want people to feel free after they hear me speak, to say to a roommate, a friend, ‘You know what that guy said about depression or about suicide or about - that's me. That's me all over. I have those thoughts all the time.’ So that the other people know from what I said how better to support that person.
Frank King will speak on the MSUB campus Tuesday night starting at 7 p.m.
Below is an edited version of YPR’s full interview with King.
If you are struggling with depressive and suicidal thoughts, there are resources you can reach out to, including the Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Montana branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.