Depression kicks the door in, struts onto the set in his popped collar leather jacket, and faces the studio audience. He spreads his legs like he’s mounting a horse, gives the air a one two punch and shouts, “Hee-yaw!” He punctuates that with a high kick, puts one leg over the other and spins 360 degrees.
Depression runs a comb through his hair, moonwalks back and forth, until the audience’s applause dies down. He snaps, points at me in the booth, and delivers his signature catchphrase, “Shouldn’t you be at home contemplating the meaninglessness of existence?”
Like Steve Urkel saying, “Did I do that?” or Bart Simpson saying, “Eat my shorts” or Arthur Fonzarelli saying “Ayyyyy!” the crowd can’t help but lap this line up. They know it’s coming, but they love the repetition, even if it’s bad for them.
Depression follows his catchphrase with this episodes subtle variance. “Those personal failures aren’t going to remember themselves.” That’s his way of clueing the audience into this week’s theme (in this instance it’s past failures).
“It’s cool Big D I’ve got a photographic memory.” This is where I’m supposed to make a space for his leather chaps in the booth.
“The psychiatric community seems pretty quick to dismiss photographic memory as a myth.” Depression slides a chair over and sits on it backward, ignoring the stage directions completely. “I’d say if you really want to recount your failures you need to do a deep dive. Try to find the moment when it all went wrong and Quantum Leap that shit. Your last string of bad luck didn’t happen in a vacuum. You’ve got to find out what set you on that path.”
I tilt my head. “And once I do that means I can move forward on another one?”
Depression tips his head back, raises an eyebrow, and pauses mid nod. He bursts into laughter. “God no.”
Depression hasn’t gotten to a punch line but the studio audience can’t help but laugh along with him. He’s just that infectious.
Confidence has been sitting across from me the entire time. He’s turtled up in his pea soup cardigan. He’s been given one stage direction: bob your knee up and down like you’re manning an old fashioned sewing machine, and he’s committed to it with gusto.
Depression turns toward Confidence. “Yo, leg syndrome! Give it a rest.”
Confidence stops. That’s the extent of his work for the day. Now he’s a prop, like a grade-schooler playing a sheep in a Christmas pageant. He hasn’t had any lines for some time.
Depression turns back to me. “The way I see it is once you’ve sorted out all your failures I could move in.”
Depression ad-libs all the time to get me to flub my lines. Now I have nothing to play off of, but to repeat his statement in the form of a question. “Move in?”
Depression got me with an improv trick show boaters use to hold the ball longer. He’s checkmated me into setting up his Yes and then scenario.
“Yeah, move in.”
“Where? I live in a one bedroom that’s full of baggage.”
Depression gives the same cocksure grin he wears so confidently in his headshot. “We’ll use all that vertical space where your daydreams used to be, loft your baggage on top of you, and I’ll have plenty of room to stretch my shit out. It’ll be sweet. I’ll teach you the life changing magic of giving up.”
I could already see a season full of Odd Couple cliché’s playing out.
There’ll be an episode where we stretch a piece of duct tape down the middle of the apartment. I’ll hold court in the kitchen while Depression declares the bathtub part of his sovereign nation. He’ll say I can take a shower only if I agree to his terms. I’ll have to sit on the porcelain, with my head between my knees as lukewarm water flows through my hair. He’ll direct me to wrap my arms around my legs and dwell on how alone I truly am.
There will be that episode where I tell him I need the place to myself for a date. We’ll get our schedules mixed up and I have to spend the whole night hiding all the signs that I’m living with Depression. My date will try to peek into my room and I’ll have to hide my copy of the Noonday Demon in my shirt. I’ll have to relocate the contents of the medicine cabinet into the dishwasher and wipe my browser history before she sets a finger on my computer.
If I’m lucky there will be an episode where Depression and I swap jobs for a day. That old I bet you wouldn’t last one day doing what I do premise. I’ve watched him over the life of the series. I think I could pull off a good impression, but then again, he probably makes it look easier than it is.
And do I really have the quick-fire creative reasoning to take someone down in the middle of their greatest acomplishments? Could I lean over someone’s shoulder and turn a cover letter into an emotional minefield? Could I find a trigger on Facebook without having to scroll down a page?
Depression is a one-note joke. Here I am reading into his empty lines, looking for nuance in his performance, and envying his screen time. How did it ever come to this?
I started out as the series lead. I had a fresh face and charismatic presence. My sense of humor had that newness that audiences really connect with. The problem with comedy is that it cracks over time. What critics found charming about the pilot they found grating when the series got picked up. They predicted the show would commit suicide before it got to syndication, but the show runners pushed on with every gimmick they could imagine.
We did the tried and true will they or won’t they relationship trick that made Moonlighting/Cheers/The Office such successes, but the audience didn’t feel like shipping me with any of the female leads. Desperate, our casting agent brought a slew romantic guest stars in the hopes of bumping them up to series regular, but I could never make the chemistry work on my end.
The writers tried retooling the show by making me switch careers. I went from being a failing artist to a failing musician to a failing filmmaker, before they finally settled on a failing writer.
Our writers set up plotlines where I dabbled with social media super stardom, started podcasting, and shopping novels around, but none of them went anywhere and they were all but forgotten when another season came around.
Depression came in for a one off episode (I think it was after a funeral). He had some colorful zingers, nothing that original, but viewers really responded to him. Then he got a callback. Then he showed up in the opening credits. Then he got top billing. My role was reduced to the straight man, the butt of his jokes. This was Depressions show now.
Sure, Depression might pander to the lowest common denominator. His cool factor might fade from popular culture, all his bobble heads will get buried in a bargain bin and all his t-shirts might be relegated to the clearance rack, but he’ll be there for the last curtain call when we get canceled.
Back at the diner set Depression leans forward on his backward chair. He restates his question. “So what’s it going to be? Are we going to be roomies?” He flickers his eyelashes and gives me a pair of premature thumbs up.
Usually Depression only asks open-ended questions so he can control the scene, but he slipped up in this little moment of improvisation. He’s afforded me the rare opportunity to try out a catchphrase I’ve been working on.
“I loathe you to my fucking core. While I may accept your existence I will never welcome it. So take your thumbs and sit on them.”
Sure, it doesn’t have the same ring as, “Bang zoom! To the moon Alice.” But I like it.
The audience falls silent. I figured it might take a while before the line caught on.