Sasha Merci on How Comedy Has Helped Her Depression

For Mental Health Awareness Month, we asked Latine comedians and creators we admire how comedy has supported them in overcoming trauma and confronting life’s most significant challenges. Read the pieces here.

One of the things I love about comedy is how it fuses my personality with my purpose. I was diagnosed with depression when I was 14 years old, a time when I began comparing my life to that of my high school peers and quickly noticed the differences. At the time, most of my peers had never experienced significant loss like I had. While they were preoccupied with clothes, gossip, and pop culture, I was grappling with thoughts of death. This numbness to ordinary concerns led me into a deep existential crisis.

My struggle with depression was triggered early on by the loss of several family members, including my mother and my grandmother. Processing these losses took years of therapy. Working as a comedian has allowed me to piece together memories like a puzzle to grasp my life’s bigger picture. Every time I unravel the layers of my experiences, I discover the humor embedded within them.

As a young girl, I didn’t know that my biological mother had passed away; I was told to call my grandmother Mama. Although there was a photograph of another woman on the mantle who resembled me, my grandmother would deflect the question whenever I inquired about her. She was a master at making me feel valued and special and was always ready to listen to me chatter, calling me her little Cotorra.

I’m not sure if I had a natural sense of humor, but my grandmother certainly saw a big personality in me and nurtured it. I would gauge her reactions and laughter to adjust my storytelling. Whenever we had visitors, she would prompt me with, “Sasha, ven acá, dile lo que me dijiste!” signaling it was showtime. I remember lighting up the room for the first time, mimicking characters and celebrities from television, thinking all of America was the glamorous Hollywood, unlike my birthplace in the Bronx, NY.

My grandmother passed away from colon cancer shortly after we relocated from DR’s capital, Santo Domingo, to New York. It was around this time that I finally learned about my late biological mother. Transitioning from being a light in the room to feeling like the elephant in the room, I moved in with my father, his wife, and their children. I was starkly reminded that I was the product of an affair. In that household, I learned to wield my humor for survival, to defuse tensions, and often made myself the butt of jokes during one of the most emotionally isolating periods of my life.

In high school, I struggled to fit in because of the amount of loss I experienced at a young age. I felt envious of not having a nuclear family. It was a constant reminder to me of what I was missing. At a young age, I deeply felt my mortality, knowing that no matter how much I prayed, my loved ones would never come back. Not many of my peers at the time could relate to it. As a result, I began to disassociate from my reality and used humor as a way to entertain others to distract myself from my pain. This only worked until I realized I was the only one not laughing. I started to find my true comedic voice after discovering comedy on YouTube. It became a coping mechanism and was a turning point for me. At 15, I immersed myself in all forms of comedy — movies, stand-ups, and sitcoms. Stand-up comedy, in particular, taught me that pain had a rightful place in the world.

Now, I view my family dynamics as a sitcom, typical of many immigrant American families with strong hierarchies. We use humor as a form of microaggression, being indirectly direct about contentious topics like gender and politics. Our disagreements are not reasons to disconnect but opportunities to engage with the chaos and find the humor in all of it.

Comedy became a therapeutic tool when I started using it to express myself through hyperbole, sarcasm, and similes, building a community that helped me combat depression during tough times. Comedy allows for relatability. Feeling like someone understands your origin can often aid in healing. In 2015, I used Instagram to share my stories and perspectives while offering comedic relief to my followers. After being on the platform for a short period of time, my content started to go viral and helped launch my career as a comedian and actress.

Comedy is an essential space for Latines, especially immigrants and their descendants. It allows us to narrate our stories, celebrate our dual identities, and confront the challenges of navigating two worlds. It reflects our resilience, capacity to find joy amid adversity, and relentless pursuit of visibility and understanding in a society that often sidelines our voices.

Today, I see the good and bad moments in life as material, which inspires me to write down thoughts and ideas. Managing my mental health involves a delicate balance of honoring my cultural and familial roots alongside my personal aspirations. Protecting your peace is vital, but not when you isolate yourself in a bubble. Humor lives in my everyday life; it is found in the mundane, pain, and unexpected. I encourage others to lean into it; it might inspire your next piece of material. A good comedian is disarming, relatable, and provocative, and I am committed to being all these things.

Comedy has taught me to cherish my life and eschew comparisons, for comparison is the thief of joy, and it’s hard to feel depressed when one lives in gratitude.

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