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How Comedian Gary Gulman Went From the Psych Ward to Carnegie Hall

·4 min read
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Getty

It’s been two years since Gary Gulman released his remarkable stand-up special The Great Depresh. And despite a global pandemic that caused its own parallel mental health crisis, he says he’s really never felt better. The 51-year-old comedian is currently touring two new hours of material, one of which will land him at Carnegie Hall in November, less than five years after he walked out of a psychiatric ward.

On this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast, Gulman opens up about how he turned things around and achieved a new level of comedy confidence that has allowed him to be vulnerable on stage in a whole new way. He also weighs in on Bo Burnham’s anxiety-themed special Inside, previews his role in Amy Schumer’s new show, looks back at his “miserable” time on Dane Cook’s Tourgasm, and a lot more.

When I open our podcast conversation by asking, very sincerely, “How are you doing?” Gulman replies, “I’m doing excellent.”

“I mean, I’m really, really grateful,” he continues, revealing that he’s going on about four-and-a-half years of uninterrupted mental health. “It’s probably the longest run I’ve had in my adult life,” he says. “So I’m grateful and vigilant too. I mean, I’m careful about what I do every day so as to not invite a relapse or another episode. I say ‘grateful’ over and over again, and I hope it doesn’t sound corny, but there’s no better way to describe my state of mind these days.”

Gulman continues to hear from fans “every single day” who thank him for speaking out about his own depression in such an unfiltered and often hilarious way. “I got one yesterday where somebody had done the ECT because of seeing me talk about it in my special and credits the ECT with changing their life,” he says, beaming with pride. In his special, he jokes that the rebranding of “electroshock therapy” to “electroconvulsive therapy” was, at best, a “lateral move.”

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You can find evidence of how well Gulman is doing these days in his ambitious touring schedule over the next several months. Whereas he was once unable to get on stage at all and truly believed he would never perform comedy again, he is now set to play a series of huge theaters all over the country between now and the end of the year. And because he had to reschedule a good portion of his 2020 stand-up tour for this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gulman has now made the decision to perform two separate hours of material simultaneously throughout the fall. Both hours are “much lighter” than The Great Depresh, he promises.

Back when he was working out those darker jokes at a club in Grand Rapids, Michigan, he recalls how someone in the audience submitted a comment card on which they had written in all-caps, “DON’T TALK ABOUT DEPRESSION.” Laughing at the memory, Gulman says, “I remember thinking that I would not be deterred by this, because I had just come from a meet and greet where a dozen people had told me how much it meant to them. So for every negative piece of feedback, I had enough positive feedback to keep me pointed in the right direction.”

Since the release of his special two years ago, Gulman has been busier than at any previous point in his nearly three-decade comedy career, landing a book deal to write a memoir about his childhood called K Through 12 and developing a series with Adam McKay’s production company about his “ill-fated college football career.” He also has a recurring role as “Shlomo” in Amy Schumer’s upcoming Hulu series Life & Beth.

”I don’t want to give too much away, but he’s a man who is committed to his religion in a way that I’m not as committed, but can understand and get behind,” he says of the role. “I have enough knowledge and religious education to understand where he is coming from, so it wasn’t too big of a stretch.”

On Nov. 13, Gulman will bring his “Born on 3rd Base” tour to Carnegie Hall for the New York Comedy Festival, his first time playing the hallowed venue that, as of our conversation, he had never had the opportunity to even set foot in.

“It’s just crazy because four or five years ago, I was in a psych ward thinking I may not be able to do comedy after I get out of here, because it’s so stressful and I’m so anxious about it,” he says. “And to do Carnegie Hall, it almost seems like a dream. Or a really corny TV movie.”

Listen to the episode now and subscribe to ‘The Last Laugh’ on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, Amazon Music, or wherever you get your podcasts and be the first to hear new episodes when they are released every Tuesday.

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