'Hilarious World of Depression' Podcaster John Moe on What's Most Important to Understand About Depression

John Moe, the acclaimed public radio personality and podcaster, discusses his personal story and the essential things he's learned about depression in his new book, The Hilarious World of Depression.

In this Q&A, Moe shares his uneasy alliance with depression, what's important for friends and loved ones to know about depression and his favorite podcasts.

Q&A: John Moe Leslie Plesser

Why this book?

I lost my brother to depression and suicide after he had spent a lifetime struggling in silence, too ashamed to get help. At his service, it dawned on me that these are issues that have a chance of getting better if people can talk about them but we, as a society, are willfully choosing not to. We're empowering this homicidal illness. I decided I would be noisy about it instead. I'm not a doctor or a therapist, but I can string some words together pretty well, so that's what I did.

You liken depression to a "close friend who keeps trying to kill you." Do you want to break up?

I don't want to marry the friend. But in terms of an odd, eclectic friend who it's valuable to hear from once in a while, yeah, I won't unfriend depression. And while the friend wants to kill me, I have learned to deny it the means and opportunity to do so, so we're good. Honestly, the perspective that depression has on the world can be edifying even if it is full of distortions.

What do you think is the most important thing for people who aren't depressed to understand about depression?

It's not a mood, it's a psychological disorder. A sad mood might be improved by a walk in the sunshine, but a disorder won't be because that's not how it works. The simplistic solutions sometimes given by people who have never dealt with it might be well-intentioned, but they're useless to the point of being insulting. It's like saying, "Just go for a nice walk and you won't have such leukemia. Think of all the people who love you, and you won't have broken collarbone anymore."

How did you first get interested in comedy?

My whole family was comedy nerds. Things like Monty Python and the first seasons of SNL were a really big deal. We had Richard Pryor records around, Steve Martin, George Carlin. We watched Carol Burnett religiously. When I earned my first paycheck in eighth grade, I bought the Bob & Doug McKenzie album. By then, I was having some problems with my mind, but comedy always seemed like a safe harbor. The jokes had novelty, but the process was reassuringly familiar.

On a recent SNL skit, Satan claimed to have "invented podcasts." Is this new medium heaven sent? Or the reverse?

One, I don't think it can be considered new anymore. It's not a baby, it's like a toddler or a first grader by this point. But also, it's not all that different from the radio shows I've been making for most of my career. It just has fewer limitations. I still need to make something that tells a story and is worthy of a listener's time and attention, I just don't have to worry about length or swear words as much. It's like a television show made for Netflix. It doesn't have to be exactly an hour for broadcast networks; it can be as long it needs to be.

What's your favorite podcast, besides your own?

No Dunks is a great NBA podcast by friends who really love basketball, and their delight in the game really shines through. Chris Molanphy's Hit Parade is all about songs on the Billboard charts through history; it's extremely focused and informative.

Hilarious World of Depression

How are you staying sane during the pandemic?

I'm not sure how sane I'm staying, but I've been trying to appreciate some of the changes. It's a quieter, simpler life. My bedroom closet is now my office, I rarely drive a car. The dogs are very happy because it's the greatest thing to ever happen to dogkind. I try to focus on the things closest to me. I'm doing just OK. Not doing great, but I have faith.

What's next for you?

The book comes out just as summer will be starting, so I'll hang out in the backyard with the family and dogs. Then on to something else having to do with mental health. I'll think of how best to use my time and abilities to make the most difference, and then I'll do that.