I Turned My Depression and Anxiety Into a Hit Instagram Comic
"Blair is here to say, 'This shit sucks and I'm going to bed.'"
A few years ago, comedian Mo Welch hit a personal rock bottom. She was at her mom’s place, reeling from a recent breakup, and eating a Pop-Tart for dinner. “It was blueberry,” she says, “in case you were curious.”
It’s the kind of self-aware low point that many people can relate to—say, anyone still paying off his English degree who's ever drunkenly “checked in” on his ex’s Instagram at 2 AM, only to find her living happily in a mid-century modern with a jet ski parked in the driveway.
“I thought about how depressing and hilarious I probably looked. So, I decided to get out a Sharpie and draw it,” Welch says. “After finishing the Pop-Tart.”
Welch channeled her feelings into Blair, a simply drawn cartoon depiction of a blunt, plainly dressed 30-something single woman with “a dark, but frank look at life; honest in a world filled with gratingly positive YouTube personalities,” as Welch puts it. A typical post shows Blair in her standard pose—white shirt and black jeans, arms hanging at her sides, hair parted down the middle, her facial expression somewhere between sad and content. “Can’t wait to see how many plans I flake on this weekend,” the caption reads.
The comics—which, depending on who you ask, are described as “a younger, less anxious version of Cathy” or “an older, greasier version of Daria”—immediately struck a chord. With each post, Welch’s (and Blair’s) following grew. Today, more than 55,000 people follow Welch’s account, which is almost solely devoted to promoting Blair.
Eventually, the series caught the attention of TBS and, in January, the network began airing a series of new, one-minute animated shorts featuring Blair on its website. (Sample: Tips for a Party You Want to Leave.) Welch herself has also appeared several times on Conan since that fateful night in her mom’s kitchen.
We asked Welch about the comic’s dark origins, why young people seem to find it so relatable, and who really deserves credit for Blair’s popularity.
“I thank the entire Pop-Tart industry,” Welch says, “for any success I have.”
It’s no secret that comedy tends to come from dark places. It seems like the initial motivation behind Blair’s creation was at least partly therapeutic for you, and I’m wondering how much the comic continues to function that way.
Comedy is ripe with rejection, which seamlessly morphs into depression. At the time I created Blair, I felt rejected in my love life and my career. Everything felt chaotic, so drawing these comics each day got me into a routine and reminded me how much I love comedy. Also, I work really well when I’m depressed or annoyed. Blair still works for me in that way. It’s gratifying to me that my personal grievances about the world on any given day are so universal.
Therapy and mental health both play a big role in the comics. Therapy is one of the first topics you joke about in the new animated series, too, and there are now popular podcasts like “ The Hilarious World of Depression ." Are you sensing more of a willingness among people to joke about mental health? And how fine a line is there when making light of conditions like depression and anxiety?
Therapy is obviously so great and I’m all for it. I think there’s comedy to be mined by poking holes in any vocation, but doing so with therapy is just so...therapeutic. Sometimes I walk out thinking, Wow. I just paid $200 for one hour of desperately searching for something to talk about. Also, I do believe there should be snacks at therapy. Like, I’m not asking for a pasta bar. LaCroix and muffins would be sufficient.
Back to your question, though, I so admire the candor of comedians who speak openly about mental health. In my experience, the more honest you are on stage, the more comfortable the audience is.
Other writers have said that Blair perfectly encapsulates "a certain type of millennial sadness.” It’s one that I’ve seen occasionally crop up in other comic strips, such as Relatable Doodles , Introvert Doodles , and Ruby, Etc . Assuming you agree, what about this “certain type” of sadness do you think is so unique to millennials? Or is it something you feel most people in general are experiencing deep down right now?
I think social media makes us believe that everyone is constantly out partying and just generally having a better life than you. Logging onto Instagram at 8 PM in bed on a Saturday night can really make you question your existence. Blair is here to let those people know that she doesn’t care, she doesn’t want to go to any parties, and she’s never downloaded Snapchat.
Blair’s audience is all over the place, from millens—I needed to shorten it, how millen of me—all the way up to super old people. Everyone gets down and depressed. Everyone is a little bit cynical. If you’re not, you’re a robot and you need to stay away from me and my family. I think that millennials—ahem— millens are quick to relate to Blair because they’re so emotionally open. Probably because of therapy!
You’re right that Instagram mostly consists of people doing things worthy of celebration—running half-marathons, celebrating weddings. I think what I appreciate most about Blair is her shamelessness about hiding from the world and doing nothing, and the implication that it’s okay. If anything, it seems to be the most recurring theme in the entire series—and a highly comforting one to introverts, at that. What do you make of the fact that people seem to connect so strongly with it?
Social media is totally a giant “fuck you” to everyone you know. (Especially your exes.) It’s insane. If you didn’t take a photo of yourself at a marathon, did you actually run it? I also think we can stop pretending that every birthday, wedding, and baby shower is the best event you’ve experienced. Sometimes those events and people are insufferable, but we labor over the perfect caption and filter that says, “MY LIFE IS PERFECT.” Blair is here to say, “This shit sucks and I’m going to bed.”
I think people connect with her POV because it’s how we feel but rarely express. When a stranger asks how we are, we’re trained to say, “Great!” whereas Blair might go with, “Dead inside!”
People draw comparisons to Cathy and, of course, Daria. Those seem fair, but what are the differences to you? Where else did you draw your inspiration? And as the series (hopefully) evolves beyond one-minute shorts, how do you see Blair setting herself apart?
I love Cathy and she was such a great, different female voice of that time. Daria was the perfect voice for high school apathy and grunge. I’m flattered when Blair is compared to these two characters. I didn’t think about them as I created this because it was more of an illustration of myself telling a standalone joke. I think the main difference, aside from the aesthetic, is the times. It’s more women’s marches and social media, as opposed to high school issues and shoe sales.
As far as a series, I would love to see Blair in a longer format. She’s blunt and has a strong POV and I’m dying to see that clash in every part of her mundane life. There’s almost a Curb Your Enthusiasm vibe to her day-to-day life. She’s never just going to accept something that bothers her. And a lot of things bother her.
Tell us a little about how the series has evolved into its present incarnation—it’s now grown into a series of animated one-minute shorts on TBS. How did that come about? What’s the reaction been like?
The good people of TBS were familiar with my comics and my work as a stand-up. We started chatting about what a short, digital series for Blair would look like and went from there. It was a really fun learning experience. The digital series is bringing a great, new audience to Blair, and it would of course be a dream to expand her stories into a longer format. I mean, Daria was like 20 years ago!
What’s been your most successful post to date? Did its success surprise you at all?
I think it was the one that I posted the day after the election. You know... the election. It was relatable to a lot of people, but I wasn’t expecting the amazing response it got. I was having a hard time explaining the feeling of November 9, 2016, and mostly drew this comic as a means to heal myself.
We’ve written before about how therapists recommend naming your anxiety in order to tame it. It made me wonder if, in a way, that’s kind of what you’ve done with Blair—given depression a name to help better recognize it, and perhaps even overcome it. What do you make of that?
I think Blair has a bit of depression, a bit of anxiety, and a proclivity toward anti-social behavior. Above all, she’s a realist. It’s just modeled off of me. A sprinkle of everything.
If things are going well for you, as they appear to be right now, do you find it any more difficult to channel the same everyday anxieties and sadness that make Blair seem so relatable to people? I’m reminded of that question the kid asks the singer in Almost Famous: "Do you need to be sad to write a sad song?"
You can be happily married and still feel lonely. You can have success and still feel like a failure. All it takes is a viewing of Cosmos to feel immediately sad and insignificant. Your personal bar for happiness and success is always shifting, and it’s so incredibly easy to dip below that bar on a daily basis. Or at least it is for me. I always feel like I’m one misstep away from eating Pop-Tarts for dinner at my mom’s house.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of Tonic delivered to your inbox weekly.