Former American Public Media/Minnesota Public Radio host John Moe is back with a new podcast, Depresh Mode, after his previous show was canceled amid layoffs over the summer.
Both Depresh Mode and its predecessor, The Hilarious World of Depression, aim to remove the stigma surrounding mental health through frank and sometimes funny conversations about the struggles of daily life with depression and other mental health conditions. Depresh Mode, produced in partnership with Maximum Fun, will allow Moe to expand beyond depression to cover topics like burnout, obsessive-compulsive disorder and how to navigate mental health apps.
Though Moe was upset about losing his job, as soon as the news of his layoff became public in June 2020, he started hearing from colleagues who were interested in working with him and from fans who relied on the show to help them navigate their own mental health issues.
“When I launched that show [The Hilarious World of Depression], I concentrated on depression, and I wanted to go really deep on one thing,” Moe said. “When the show ended, I started thinking about what I wanted to do next and how I can help people in a variety of ways. I had a lot of time wandering the desert to think about it.”
Moe began his career in public media at Seattle’s KUOW in 2001. He joined APM in 2007 and previously hosted its shows Weekend America, Marketplace Tech Report and Wits.
After the layoff, Moe considered leaving media entirely and using his severance to go back to school to become a mental health counselor. He wasn’t sure he could face the possibility of something similar happening again for reasons he couldn’t control.
“I don’t know how to not put my whole heart into what I make,” Moe said. “Shows get canceled sometimes, but you’re at the mercy of metrics, and the creative industry is locked into these numbers.”
During his time away from the microphone, Moe said, he began to think of himself more as an independent business rather than an employee of a bigger organization. He realized that he now has complete creative control over his show and the intellectual property he creates, which opens the door to video, books, events and other types of content down the road.
“I’d been on this long narrow road for a really long time. If you want to work in public radio and you live in the Twin Cities, there’s one long road you can take,” Moe said. “Now I’m at an eight-way intersection and see all these possibilities before me.”
Moe said one challenge facing APM and other public media outlets in the long term will be figuring out how to retain creative talent who find a sizable audience as he did. If people can make more money and have more creative freedom on their own, why would they stay with a radio network?
“If you’re a top commodity, your reputation will only continue to grow,” Moe said, citing Spectacular Failures host Lauren Ober as another example of someone whose star power extends far beyond APM. “If public media doesn’t change, I don’t know what they’re going to do.”
Finding a new home
Once he decided he wanted to continue a career in media, Moe took his time choosing a production partner. The podcast industry has grown tremendously since The Hilarious World of Depression started, and Moe had a lot of people knocking on his door.
He said that many of his conversations with industry insiders ended up with the same recommendation. Maximum Fun, a podcast production company whose roster also includes The Adventure Zone, Judge John Hodgman and My Brother, My Brother & Me. The company was founded by Jesse Thorn, host of the NPR-distributed Bullseye with Jesse Thorn.
“The Hilarious World of Depression had a huge following in our audience community, and also amongst our hosts, and we were sad to see it end,” Maximum Fun Managing Director Bikram Chatterji said in a press release. “From our first conversations with John, it was clear that his goal is one that we care deeply about — this show is meant to help people.”
Rebecca Weseloh discovered The Hilarious World of Depression in 2016 when the show was in its infancy. She was immediately hooked and eventually became an administrator on THWoD Balls, a Facebook group created by the show’s team and maintained by volunteers.
“I kept listening because I had never heard anyone talk about mental health so candidly before,” Weseloh said. “The show has helped me be more open about my mental health and that it’s not something to be ashamed of. Knowing other people share my symptoms encouraged me to share my story to advocate harder and stop the stigma.”
Weseloh has also interacted with Moe on Facebook and even won a drawing of a bison, her favorite animal, after sharing a screenshot of a book preorder. She’s followed Moe’s updates about Depresh Mode and said she looks forward to hearing the same discussions she’s come to value but on a wider range of topics.
“I have several diagnoses myself, and while I liked hearing from other depressed people, I’m hoping to hear about people who struggle with other illnesses as well,” Weseloh said. “It’s nice to listen to people who are no longer ashamed and don’t want you to feel ashamed about your mental health.
Moe and Maximum Fun are still in negotiations with APM about how, if at all, Depresh Mode will be promoted in The Hilarious World of Depression’s podcast feed, which remains active even though no new episodes have been released since May 2020.
“American Public Media sees Maximum Fun as a valuable partner in the podcasting space, and we are open to working with them in the same way we work with other audio publishers and podcast companies,” said an APM spokesperson.
However, the organizations were not able to reach an agreement to license The Hilarious World of Depression’s back catalog, so Depresh Mode will start from scratch.
Moe said Depresh Mode will release 48 episodes per year on a rolling basis, unlike the seasonal format of The Hilarious World of Depression. The show premieres Monday; its first guests include Patton Oswalt, Kelsey Darragh and Dr. Ken Duckworth of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that Moe started working for American Public Media in 2010. He began working for APM in 2007.