Laughing at the face of depression (or, how to still make fun even if you want to die)

Posted on April 27, 2017


The animated series Rick and Morty is one of the most thought-provoking shows in this day and age. Its sci-fi comedy plot lines riddled with existential angst and fart jokes have resonated with millions of people looking for entertainment that breaks the mold and speaks to the inner human suffering. Its profound storyline explored themes of nihilism and absurdity but still provides us with the hope we are all longing for in this (these?) universe(s). Like your drunk yet intelligent friend, Rick and Morty believes that the world is meaningless and yet still hopes for the best.

In the episode “Big Trouble in Little Sanchez”, Rick transfers his consciousness to that of a teenage version of him so he can help his grandkids kill vampires at their school. Everybody seems to enjoy the company of “Tiny Rick”, that is until his grandkids notice that something is off. After listening to a popular Elliott Smith song, Tiny Rick accepts his inner self desperate to come out of a jovial facade and things go back to normal.

In this episode, Tiny Rick gives us clues that his inner self is suffering despite how cheerful he looks on the outside. Tiny Rick sings a song containing the lyrics:

Let me out, what you see is not the same person as me
My life’s a lie, I’m not who you’re looking at
Let me out, set me free, I’m really old
This isn’t me
My real body’s slowing dying in a vat
Is anybody listening, can anyone understand
Stop looking at me like that and actually help me
Help me, help me I’m gonna die

He also does a dance number while saying, “Let me out, this not a dance. I’m beggin’ for help, I’m screamin’ for help, please come let me out.”

The thing with Rick and Morty is that it perfectly encapsulates the feeling of trying to mask the desperation with nearly self-destructive coping mechanisms. That makes  it relatable to everyone who has ever experienced a sadness so deep and so hidden that it becomes a joke. Rick (and to some extent, Morty and his family) knows that humans live in an insignificant, fragile planet in a number of vast, meaningless universes. He knows that any attempt to make oneself important and meaningful is futile in a world that can easily be annihilated by talent-loving floating heads. And yet, the show gives us some moments of warmth even if it will be joked about afterwards. This is a show with heart and depth despite being obscured by existential anguish.

Our world may not be as eventful as Rick and Morty’s but that doesn’t make it any less absurd. Sometimes the world’s general political and socioeconomic climate is a complete farce that it’s hard to distinguish truth from satire. Sometimes, we become like Sisyphus and fail despite numerous attempts at pushing the rock upward. Sometimes, we experience misfortune simply because of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes, living feels like a mistake.

Rick and Morty teaches us to laugh at these things and not take them so seriously. It teaches us that if we treated life like a comedy, we can still remain sane. Trying too much to make things happen our way is a waste of time and sanity because we all die in the end anyway. Rick and Morty teaches us to stop trying too hard and let things happen at their own pace. It teaches us that it’s fine to despair, as long as we don’t succumb to it completely that we fail to function entirely.

What I like about it is that it isn’t cheesy when it comes to providing hope for the depressed. It doesn’t provide cheap sentiments nor does it glorify hopelessness (unlike ANOTHER trashy series about teen depression). It recognizes our realization that we’re all looking desperately for meaning but it provides us with the hope that it can be found in small, unlikely ways. Sometimes, they can be funny at the same time heartwarming.

Those who know me well know that I have been suffering from anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember. I used to hate myself a lot for not being enough for anyone. I always felt that I’m not achieving what I’m supposed to be achieving. Thanks to a series about a madman scientist and his grandson, I can take comfort in laughing at every failure I encounter. At least, I’m not living in an alternate universe with inhabited by creatures from David Cronenberg movies.

Now say it with me: Wubalubadubdub.