Comedian Adam Grabowski encourages fans experiencing mental illness to #sayitanyway

Image courtesy the standup

Image courtesy the standup

Comedians are known for being filter-free. Adam Grabowski is no different, but he extends the no-filter invitation to his fans as well, especially when it comes to talking about mental health. Grabowski’s #sayitanyway campaign encourages open dialogue about depression, anxiety, and other mental-health concerns.

Adam Grabowski

Sabes Jewish Community Center

“Talking about things that affect you the most is difficult,” the 30-year-old from suburban Chicago says. “What I’ve recognized throughout the years by performing for a lot of 18- to 24-year-olds is that people -- young people especially -- don’t feel that it’s acceptable to show who we actually are and what we experience.”

Older generations were taught it was impolite to talk about their feelings; younger generations put it all out there on social media, or they seem to, but online lives are often carefully curated. In comparison, many feel like their lives don’t match up to the glamorous, jet-setting, exciting-looking lives of their peers. “It’s this constant pressure to produce, to appear happy, to keep up,” Grabowski says. So when someone feels depressed or anxious, they’re unlikely to declare it – or find support – on social media.

And yet, 16-million American adults experience depression per year; over six million experience anxiety. A recently released study by the American Psychological Association showed 63-percent of Americans felt the country’s future was a “very or somewhat significant source of stress.” What’s more, 59-percent of Americans consider 2017 the “lowest point in U.S. history” in memory – lower than World War II.

In other words, we’re depressed and anxious AF. But few people talk about it, either because of the stigma or because they assume others won’t understand. “We all have this internal dialogue where we think that it’s only us that is experiencing something, and that’s clearly not the case. If anything has shown true, it’s that we all experience very similar things because we have the same instincts and genes and functionality as humans,” Grabowski says. “You can talk about the things that you are experiencing. Doing that helps you understand that you’re not alone. It also helps you find a potential path or a way toward feeling better about what your experiences are.”

Talking about these tough subjects has helped Grabowski’s depression, which started at the end of his undergrad years at the University of Illinois. He finished a degree in psychology and sociology with a “great GPA” ahead of schedule, but he couldn’t decide what to study at grad school, or if he wanted to go at all. “Trying to find your identity or how you work within the world is difficult. That’s when I started experiencing the most depression, because I was worried about what my identity to the world was,” he says.

As a means of “productive procrastination,” he tried standup for the first time at age 21. Within a year, he was doing comedy full-time. Grabowski has since headlined 47 states (Alaska, New Mexico, and Mississippi are the holdouts) and appeared on America’s Got Talent in 2016. (“TV is fake” is all he’ll say about the experience.)

The depression toured with him. Sometimes it descended when he was lonely. Other times, it was because he was dissatisfied with his circumstances. Often, there was no cause or explanation for his despair.

A year and a half ago, Grabowski moved to Los Angeles; the warmer weather helped his mood. Though he initially resisted medication, a year ago he tried a low-dose antidepressant. “I was like, ‘Oh my god. I’m such an idiot. This is way better than before,’” he says. Though he has never had thoughts of self-harm, friends of his have attempted suicide. That’s what prompted him to launch #sayitanyway. As part of the campaign, he designed bracelets with the hashtag inscribe on the outside and “You’re not alone” on the inside. He colored them gray because “just like depression and mental illness, they blend in,” he says.

Don’t dismiss Grabowski as a downer, though. He doesn’t overwhelm his show with mental-health talk. He has bits on “food pervs” and the “Jedi mind trick” some people do when they apologize (and end up receiving an apology instead). And while he’s performing in St. Louis Park this Saturday as part of the Twin Cities Jewish Humor Festival, he doesn’t include religious jokes in his act. “I’m not afraid to talk about religion. I have no problem with that,” he says, but even when religious jokes are “the most appropriate, politically correct thing, someone is going to be weirded out and be annoying about it.”

Instead, he prefers to focus on the human experience. And if fans want to share their mental health experiences with him post-show, he’s all ears. “All feelings can change and the only constant in life is change,” he says. “Let’s discuss out loud how this is not a ‘you’ thing. It’s a people thing.”


Adam Grabowski with Chuck Gallop
Sabes JCC
7:30 p.m. Saturday, January 20