Play shows fun side of depression 

Comedian brings ‘Side by Side’ to Cañada College

REDWOOD CITY — Four years ago, Bay Area comedian Brian Wetzel found himself in a very unfunny situation: sitting face-to-face with a doctor in a Santa Rosa psychiatric crisis center in the middle of the night.

His depression, which he has battled since he was a teenager, had combined with too much time on the road performing his comedy routines. Shortly after returning home, he quit his job and dropped out of school — and stumbled upon a new performance project that, for the first time, allowed him to shed light on this dark illness.

"The depression had gotten to the point where I was sort of immobile," Wetzel recalls. But out of that period came the writing that would become his one-man stage play, "Side By Side: A Journey With Depression," a tragi-comic event that Wetzel will perform at Cañada College on Thursday.

In "Side by Side," Wetzel approaches the often-stigmatized topic of depression and suicidal thoughts with plenty of humor. In his performance, he pokes fun at psychiatrists he’s seen and delivers a comedic "Top 5" list of things never to say to depressed people, including "Just buck up."

"I call them ‘buckers,’" Wetzel said.

Wetzel began working on the routine in 2004, and it took about six months to shape it before its debut performance in September of that year. Within six months, "Side by Side" took off, and has since played from Washington to Los Angeles, in schools, theaters and even mental hospitals, according to Wetzel’s manager and friend, Lizann Bassham.

"He shaped it so the humor would draw people in and they could hear the harder stuff without the harder stuff beating them down," Bassham said.

That message is an important one at colleges like Cañada, according to head nurse Leslie Sachs. Cañada administrators dropped the campus’ full-time student psychologist four years ago and recently reinstated a part-time mental-health program last November after a student committed suicide.

"Depression is phenomenally on the rise among college students," said Sachs, who attributes that increase to everything from global crisis to the increased demands on modern students. "It’s a very hard time to be a young person."

"Side by Side: A Journey With Depression" plays at Cañada College’s Main Theater at 9:45 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Thursday.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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