Mental Illness As Material

Jaime Lutz fears that many young comedians "are romanticizing their mental illness; that they see it as the source of their power":

If you go regularly to open mic nights and indie improv shows, you will notice certain archetypes of struggling comedians: the panicky over-talkers, the undeservedly confident, the oblivious raging misogynist. But most prominent of all, to my eye, is the guy who is doing this because he is sad.

This guy imagines himself (and it is usually a "himself") a darkly funny truth-teller. And indeed, he is being honest about his feelings. But he hasn't yet grasped what's funny about his situation. He's just an asshole, standing on stage, making people uncomfortable with explicit details about his sex addiction. 

She goes on:

Damaged comedians who haven't dealt with their issues are like premises without punchlines: all tension, no relief. No surprise. No funny.

On the other hand, Nathan Rabin points out how comedian Maria Bamford has not only been able to use her personal battles with mental illness for material, but also to raise awareness and  destigmatize mental illnesses for others:

[Bamford's new direct-to-Internet comedy special, Special Special Special,] begins dark—even a bit about professional glutton Paula Deen quickly takes a sinister, despairing turn—and grows progressively darker until Bamford is baring her psychological scars in a heartbreaking closing segment that transforms a prolonged, public battle with suicidal depression, compulsive thinking, anxiety, and institutionalization in a nightmarish mental hospital into cathartic, pitch-black comedy. Bamford lays it all out here, addressing the horrors of aging in a culture and a business that worships youth, the paralyzing fear of dying alone or never finding anyone, and most profoundly, the agony of mental illness. Special is particularly scathing and righteous when attacking the double standards of a society that refuses to afford the mentally ill the same concern it affords people afflicted with other forms of illness. She’s uncharacteristically blunt when taking on the stigma still associated with diseases of the mind rather than the body.