IC024: Podcasting about Mental Illness with Paul Gilmartin

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Jess and Margy are recording live from LA Podfest. We feature an interview with Paul Gilmartin of The Mental Illness Happy Hour. This episode contains discussions about mental illness and child abuse. Listener discretion advised.

The Mental Illness Happy Hour

  • Paul started the show in 2011 because he felt it was needed
  • He didn’t know he would someday make a living off the show
  • People get so wrapped up in not laughing about this subject matter, but a little humor can be healing

How do you make a space to have such vulnerable conversations?

  • You either have that skill or you don’t
  • It’s important to be respectful
  • Paul tells all guests that nothing is too dark or off limits, and that he will delete the episode afterwards if the guest asks
  • The things that you are most nervous to talk about are the things that are most healing to other people
  • Empathy is everything, so it’s good to stay in the moment and not prepare too much

What differences have you seen the podcast make in the lives of your listeners?

  • Paul gets emails from people all over the world who were thinking about suicide before they heard the podcast
  • The show helps people deal with shame, especially around sexual trauma
  • Paul has personally dealt  with incest as a child and the podcast has helped him open up and find support
  • Paul has always felt a deep need to be told that he’s ok and to be seen as he really is- the podcast has been the perfect platform to let that out
  • Paul feels his show is less about his courage and more about a desperate need to feel heard

What advice do you have for people who may feel vulnerability hangovers after sharing “too much” ?

  • It’s a personal decision for everyone how much you want to share
  • Share what you’re comfortable with and keep in mind what you are trying to achieve
  • Is your sharing of service to the listener?
  • Paul always beats himself up after sharing, and then opens up about that too
  • Nothing bad can get worse if you keep a light on it
  • Share the stuff that’s difficult to share, as long as it feels appropriate for the circumstance
  • It’s important to know when to share, and when to listen to others who are sharing (and not making it all about you) – support groups are helpful for this

Tell us about your comedy

  • Paul keeps the comedy to a respectful level on the podcast, and doesn’t make jokes at the expense of a victim
  • Paul started comedy in 1987 and quit standup and TV hosting in 2011
  • He never felt safe enough to discuss these issues in his standup, and he found that the podcast was the best medium for this
  • Paul started his satirical political character because he was sick of just complaining and sounding like everyone else
  • His comedy satire is his form of protest

How do you feel that your background in comedy helps the show, and what are your tips for people without a comedy background?

  • The most valuable commodity in podcasting is authenticity
  • People are drawn to the things that are the most authentic and the most compelling
  • Every good podcast has a host who is passionate and curious
  • You don’t have to be funny
  • People deep down think they aren’t enough
  • Most people need to let go of something deep down; shame, pride, etc.
  • Paul used to think he needed to be revered and stand out, but the more he did that the lonelier he got
  • Strive for excellence but also stay connected and be “one of many” in your daily life

Over the six years that you’ve been podcasting, what are the top things that have grown your audience?

  • Being featured on iTunes
  • Going on other people’s shows
  • Having high profile guests
  • Things being written about the show
  • There is no better way to grow an audience than putting out a consistent, quality podcast
  • One bad episode can lose your audience
  • When you are doing podcasting for a living, you have to make certain decisions
  • If Paul’s podcast wasn’t his livelihood, he wouldn’t be so conscious of having high profile guests and curating episodes to break up the heavy ones
  • Paul works to balance growing the show with serving the needs of listeners and those struggling with mental illness

Resources Mentioned:

The Mental Illness Happy Hour podcast



LA Podcast Festival

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