Comedian Gary Gulman grew up in Peabody, Massachusetts and went on to become one of the biggest names in stand-up comedy, but not without some challenges. His first HBO special, called "The Great Depresh," is part stand-up routine and part documentary on his struggle with depression. WGBH Morning Edition Host Joe Mathieu spoke with Gulman ahead of special's release to talk about the comedian's experience. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.

Joe Mathieu: Congratulations on this HBO special. That's like the top of the mountain for comedy, right?

Gary Gulman: Thank you very much. It's really the top of the mountain for me. I had given up on it. After 25 years, I thought, if it was going to happen it would've happened by now, but I understand that that's a pretty common thought among artists [and] comedians. But it has a documentary component to it, so there is documentary footage weaved through the special. And one of the things was a — I wouldn't call it a meltdown, but a very difficult show I had. I didn't melt down, I just couldn't find my way in a show at the old Comedy Studio in Harvard Square. There's a new one where we're doing our interview right now, and the one there I was really having a hard time. I was in the midst of a very severe depression and anxiety bout. A bout that lasted over two and a half years. That's where the special starts off.

Mathieu: Because you're going so far as to address the issue of depression, and the fact that you're doing it now. It would have played differently a couple of years ago, do you think?

Gulman: Well, I think that people are becoming more and more aware that success does not necessarily counteract depression and anxiety. They've seen people who you would say, "Oh, what do they have to be depressed about?" which was a common thought a long time ago. And they're having a very difficult time. So I think that people are more accepting of successful people coming out and saying they're not very happy, they're struggling or they're suicidal. So yeah, I think things have changed and evolved.

Mathieu: Success can come in a lot of different forms and can beget depression. Or "The Great Depresh," as you call it.

Gulman: That's a great point. By most accounts I had everything I needed to be happy. I had a lovely girlfriend — we're together still and she got me through it. I had a nice apartment, I had a career, I was making a nice living, I had two great dogs and I couldn't get out of bed in the morning. I was having a really hard time. I would somehow pull myself together for an hour or so every night and go do shows. And then it got to the point where I couldn't even do that, which is really alarming, when your job requires only an hour of your day and it starts at around 8 p.m. and you think to yourself, "I can't manage. I can't function." That was really scary for me.

Mathieu: So here we are sitting in front of this comedy club that is not the original, of course. But you have long memories of this place. The old one's the staging of the special. You must have a lot of emotional ties to that as well; it's all coming around together in one production for you.

Gulman: Right. I watched the footage of the special and the documentary, and when it got to the end, the first time I saw it, there's really nice music and I wept. It really hit me how far I had come and I was so grateful. I mean, that's the word that I keep using over and over again, because I really didn't imagine that I was ever going to emerge from this depression. Because I've had bouts of depression throughout my life going back to when I was six or seven years old, and the remission would last a year or two, sometimes longer. But this one has lasted more than a year and a half. I'm vigilant, but at the same time I feel pretty confident about the strength of it.

Mathieu: A lot of comedians have said that your job is one of the loneliest in the world. And I know it's only an hour a night, you're around all these people and you're the funny guy. They want to meet you and have a beer with you. But when you're up there, it's just you.

Gulman: Right. I will say that one of the components of my recovery is avoiding the isolation that comes from being on the road. So I started accepting invitations either from other comedians or from people who came to the show — I mean, perfect strangers — and meeting with them on Saturdays or Friday afternoons when I was on the road and having lunch or coffee. I really found that isolation, while it may feel like that's the only thing you want to do is avoid people because you feel so lousy, it's actually counterproductive. I found that meeting up with the people at the very least distracted me from my negative ruminations, and in some cases actually gave me the energy and the impetus to have a productive day. So that was very helpful.

Mathieu: Maybe our moms should teach us that we should talk to strangers sometimes.

Gulman: When you feel safe. At around 18 years old, you can start talking to strangers again. Maybe part of the problem is they never let us out from that restriction.

Mathieu: But that's part of being a New Englander, right? You don't even know your neighbor, never mind most strangers on the road.

Gulman: I will say that growing up we knew our neighbors better, because it was prior to this — and I address it in the special — there was a hysteria over kidnapping when I was a kid. And we were never told that the coast was clear; we're still concerned about that. So I think that contributed to our avoiding neighbors.

Mathieu: At least the milk cartons went away. I don't see those anymore.

Gulman: Right.

Mathieu: And you admit to local crowds here that you moved to New York City?

Gulman: I try not to dwell on it, because I was at a Billy Joel concert one time at Fenway Park and he started singing "New York State of Mind," and the people chanted "Yankees suck." They don't have a lot of patience. What level do you have to go to where they're okay with you mentioning New York? It's so obnoxious.

Mathieu: That's what we do best around here.

Gulman: Yes.