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An evening with Gary Gulman

A taping with a stand-up comedian becomes a celebration of surviving despair

An evening with Gary Gulman

Comedian Gary Gulman performs in New York City. (Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Hilarity for Charity)

A New York moment: 

In June I went to a comedy special taping in Brooklyn of one of my favorite stand-up comedians, Gary Gulman. As an aside, comedy and late night show tapings are some of the great free activities New York has to offer. 

That HBO special, The Great Depresh, just went live on the cable platform. It mixes his stand-up with a chronicle of his debilitating struggle with anxiety and depression—illnesses that have interrupted his career and probably explain why many Americans don’t know who he is. 

Gulman’s most famous bit is about how the state abbreviations came to be, a classic example of his obsession with words. How many comedians use the word ne’er-do-well? His humor is quirky, precise, and relatively clean. 

I can’t vouch for everything in the special (there is one expletive from a friend of his), but he avoids cursing, for example, because he thinks comedy is smarter when you don’t use an expletive as a punchline. He doesn’t hesitate to incorporate themes from his Jewish identity and makes Biblical references (in his new special, there’s one reference to Jesus rising from the dead). I’ve mentioned Gulman before in Metro Minute: He recently did a podcast episode where he offered a pastor advice on being funny.

At the taping he thanked everyone for showing up—“You came!”—and it was truly a joy, at a time of record suicide rates for young people, to see someone who had struggled with suicidal thoughts come and perform and be alive in front of us.

Worth your time:  

An entertaining narrative of the 1964 jewel heist from the American Museum of Natural History. The story involves robbers wearing velour jackets, pigeons nearly killing the robbers, and, unexpectedly, a Christian prison ministry. 

This week I learned: 

Nyack College’s undergraduate enrollment has dropped by about 23 percent compared with last fall. Its enrollment has been declining for several years, and we recently reported on the college’s financial straits. The college also told students it would once again delay the move from its old campus in Nyack, N.Y., to downtown Manhattan. 

A court case you might not know about: 

The British High Court ruled on Tuesday that a group of doctors can challenge the Royal College of Physicians (a physicians’ group like the American Medical Association) over the procedures it used to change its position on assisted suicide. The RCP has long opposed assisted suicide, like the AMA, but this year it changed its position to “neutral” on the issue even though a majority of its members oppose assisted suicide. 

Culture I am consuming: 

The book Promises in the Dark: Walking With Those in Need Without Losing Heart by Dr. Eric McLaughlin, a doctor in rural Burundi with the missions agency Serge. I spent time at the Burundi hospital with McLaughlin in 2017, and he and the team there are doing remarkable work as a lone hospital in a densely populated area. This book tells hard, discouraging stories, which you don’t often hear from missionaries who are trying to inspire churches and donors. But I appreciate his honesty so far in what I’ve read. 

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org