Book Review: The Hilarious World of Depression

The Hilarious World of Depression is a memoir inspired by author John Moe’s podcast of the same name. In the podcast, Moe interviews comedians, writers, and musicians about their experiences with depression and other mental illnesses. While Moe hosts the podcast and occasionally peppers his own anecdotes into episodes, the show is very much focused on his guests. In his new memoir, Moe details his own experiences with depression, and also synthesizes the insights he gained about mental illness through hosting interviews.

The book: The Hilarious World of Depression by John Moe
Genre: Nonfiction, memoir
Rating: 4 stars out of 5

The Hilarious World of Depression is honest, powerful, and necessary. John Moe tells his life story through the lens of mental illness, and reflects on past experiences that he now realizes were influenced by depression. He speaks frankly about the trauma of growing up with an alcoholic parent, feeling like an imposter and failure throughout his career, and blaming himself for the loss of a loved one. Some of these reflections – especially Moe’s account of blaming himself for a family member’s death – are painful to listen to, but they are extremely powerful. I believe that accounts like Moe’s are necessary in order for society to eventually stop stigmatizing mental illness and those who suffer from it.

The stories Moe tells will resonate with anyone who has experienced mental illness (even just briefly), and will likely also help some people to realize they’re struggling. His accounts of chasing accomplishments, yet feeling unsatisfied and imposter-like after achieving them – behavior that was common and normalized in my grad program – made me realize that not taking pride in and severely minimizing achievements isn’t healthy! It’s something that I’ve started working on, thanks to this book.

Moe’s stories aren’t only for those who have experienced symptoms of mental illness, though. Throughout the memoir, Moe reiterates that depression is a disease of the brain, and frames the seemingly “illogical” choices of a person with depression through that lens. Combined with vivid accounts of his own experiences, Moe’s characterization of depression as a devastating disease (one which nobody would choose to have) allows readers who might not grasp the realities of depression to better understand and empathize with those who do suffer from it.

While I appreciated the overall message of the book, not everything about The Hilarious World of Depression worked for me. Moe uses a gratuitous amount of metaphors to explain depression to readers who may not have firsthand experience with it, and some of those metaphors overlook the very nuance of mental illness that this book is supposed to convey. Early in the book, Moe says that not getting help for mental illness is like being hungry but not going to the “free pizza shop” around the corner. This metaphor seems more harmful than helpful, because therapy is rarely cheap let alone free (at least in the United States), and also because finding a therapist can be a huge ordeal – it’s not as simple as just walking around the corner to the “therapy store.” Moe also at one point likens a brain with depression to the war-torn Middle East, which seems wrong in a way that I can’t quite articulate.

Ultimately, I really appreciated The Hilarious World of Depression (even with its problematic metaphors), and would recommend it. This book has the potential to help individuals with depression to feel less alone and ashamed, to motivate those with mental illness to seek out help, and to inspire empathy and understanding in people who haven’t experienced mental illness themselves. I also recommend checking out Moe’s podcast by the same name, which achieves many of the same things as the book, but features a wide range of guests and their unique experiences.

Trigger warnings: suicide.

Author: Hannah Celeste

Hi! I'm Hannah, a book-blogger from the Northeastern United States. I enjoy reading many genres, cooking and baking, doing yoga, and spending time with my two cats.

14 thoughts on “Book Review: The Hilarious World of Depression”

  1. I agree with you on the metaphors. There can be a lot of barriers to treatment, so getting to the free pizza shop around the corner might involve trying to scale a very high fence in flip flops.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review! I hadn’t heard of this one or Moe’s podcast, and appreciate having them on my radar now. It sounds like this book is so well-intended despite the few writing snafus- I love seeing normalization of mental health struggles!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!! You are right that the book is super well-intended – the author mentions his hope that by speaking out and hosting a podcast about mental health, he can help break some of the stigma around mental health struggles!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. If this book can reel in people who are reluctant to read about depression but really need to (which, honestly, is most of us, considering how likely we are to have either direct or indirect experience with it), then it’s making a great big contribution to the common good.

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  4. “His accounts of chasing accomplishments, yet feeling unsatisfied and imposter-like after achieving them – behavior that was common and normalized in my grad program – made me realize that not taking pride in and severely minimizing achievements isn’t healthy!” Omg, I feel attacked 😂 While my grad program is relatively chill, I felt like my undergrad was cutthroat and achievement focused and it’s taken me the better part of the years after college unlearning this exact kind of thinking. This sounds like something up my alley and I’ll definitely check out his podcast. Yikes at the metaphors, though—the ‘free pizza thing’ is also problematic because almost everyone likes pizza, but it’s so difficult for someone who’s struggling to admit needing help in the first place! And in the US access to mental health services is pretty abysmal here, and can be quite expensive. Definitely not like getting free pizza.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. HAHA sorry to “attack” you like that Gil 😂😂 I felt attacked by that too, but it was really eye-opening. From what I’ve heard, it seems like a lot of academic programs are that way — it’s unfortunate that so many programs seem to promote unhealthy competition like that D: But I’m glad you’ve been able to unlearn it (that gives me hope for myself too, lol), and glad that the Hilarious World of Depression podcast sounds interesting to you!

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  5. I know a lot of creative people suffer from depression and anxiety, and part of the problem is that when it comes to creativity, everything is subjective, yet we’ll go through programs in which we are judged and graded. There is a reason some of the great masters of painting and music had their work taken away from them: they kept painting over it, changing songs after they’d been showcased, doing their idea over and over until it was nearly ruined. I definitely agree that grad programs normalize thinking you’ve failed when you should celebrate. Ever notice how wound up grad students are? This may be part of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve never considered that before! It must be so challenging and anxiety-inducing to be judged “objectively” on creative work. This also reminds me of how in your “meet the writers” series, most writers say they are rarely ever happy with their own work!


      1. I think when it comes to lighting a fire in the reader, there are things you can do better to surprise and connect with them, and then there are things that feel more “juvenile” that we don’t connect with. But yeah, it’s not like a math test, for sure!

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