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How comedian Mo Welch channeled depression into a morbidly funny Instagram comic
‘It was really an ‘I give up’ moment.’
Comedian Mo Welch and her Instagram character Blair are very different, but she admits they’re pretty tight. Welch writes down the random depressing thoughts that cross her mind, and hands them over to her crude line-drawing creation.
Blair, also known as Barely Blair, isn’t an overthinker, nor does she have a sexuality other than “Don’t touch me” or “I am alone forever.” Those are just thoughts that come to Welch randomly, even if she’s having the best day ever. Over coffee in L.A.’s Silver Lake neighborhood, where she lives with her girlfriend, Welch explains that the idea for Blair came to her when she had hit a special sort of rock bottom. In many ways, it was the best thing that could have happened to her at a time when she felt ready to give up.
“I was going through one of my ‘I want to quit comedy because it doesn’t make any sense’ phases, and it makes you feel so vulnerable sometimes… like, you hate yourself,” Welch said while downing a pint of strong coffee. “I had left L.A. for the summer, and was at my mom’s house in Lombard, Illinois. I just got through a couple of breakups. I wasn’t sure if I would come back to L.A. I was feeling sad, and I found these sketchbooks in the basement that were my sisters’ and I had a Sharpie, so I was like, ‘Oh, I wanna try to draw a comic, because I want it to be super simple, just about the joke or the feeling.’ But I knew I wanted art attached to it.”
That’s when Welch discovered Blair, a surly, two-dimensional character with one or two-liners who perfectly occupies Instagram’s one-square-panel space. Welch creates about one Blair post per day. Sometimes, Blair lets people know about Welch’s upcoming comedy gigs, like The Mo Show at UCB Theatre in L.A. But most of the time, Blair expresses a certain type of millennial sadness that many working creatives have encountered.
Before moving to L.A., Welch hosted The Mo Show back in Chicago, the city closest to her hometown of Oak Park, where her parents moved from central Illinois when she was 12. Raised by a single mom, Welch is one of five kids. She has three sisters and one brother; her brother is also gay.
Welch explains that as a kid, she was never a good student—teachers would say she had a lot of potential, and while she did well at math, she was more interested in science. She was also fascinated by the visual art and theater kids, but her free time was spent playing sports. In her standup set, she talks a lot about basketball, and how she could’ve gone the athlete route. Instead, she went to the University of Wyoming at Laramie, started working in radio, and then dropped out of college to do radio. It was around that time that she discovered comedy, and also realized that she was a lesbian, though not in that order.
“I was never a performer but I started watching all these SNL DVDs because they were on sale at Walmart,” said Welch. “I would watch them alone and then one day I was just like, ‘Yeah, I can do that. I’m better than that.’ Blind confidence—always the key to getting into comedy.”
She started doing improv in Denver, where she moved after Laramie. After a year, Welch moved back to Chicago and became a student at iO, Second City, and the Annoyance Theatre. She admits that she thinks she “still owes them all money.” In 2011, she moved to Los Angeles, and Blair was eventually born in August 2014.
Welch’s comedic persona is separate from Blair, who is less about being funny and more about the depressing thoughts that will make viewers laugh. One of the stranger facts about Blair is that she began with a Pop Tart.
“My mom loves Pop Tarts and she has them in her cabinet, and I was home alone eating Pop Tarts [the summer I went back to Chicago],” Welch explained. “I was going through other people’s accomplishments, and then I looked down at my paper plate and I was like, ‘Fuck this shit.’”
It’s a common story for many creatives, who often hit a turning point in their work after they surrender to the fact that they’re unhappy, broke, single, lonely, or all of the above. Welch decided to start sharing Blair drawings on her Instagram account.
“I just started posting them, and people started liking them,” she said. “It was really an ‘I give up’ moment. A couple of good things happened from that, and one of those was Blair.”
Rather than dismiss her as an idea that arrived during a low point, Welch decided to keep drawing Blair. It wasn’t like the depressing thoughts stopped entering her head, even when things were going well. The comic grew even more when Welch separated those thoughts from herself and gave them exclusively to Blair.
“I’ll do a standup set and get validation from the audience—get laughs and then leave—and I don’t normally talk to any audience members,” she said. “But with Blair I can see all the comments and it is really reassuring. It’s validating to see that people relate to Blair in a certain way or they want to show their friends. So it’s essentially a meme, but it’s nice to see people be like, ‘Oh, that’s so me!’ And I’m like, ‘Good, it’s nice to see that we’re all depressed!’”
Welch is currently working on a longer book of comics. In time, she hopes Blair will become animated as well. She could become another voice of our Internet generation.
Blair’s a lot like Daria and Cathy, both animated characters who speak rather bluntly about their not-always-positive internal thoughts and feelings. But whereas Daria is perpetually adolescent and Cathy is a grown woman, Blair might strike viewers as a millennial who has yet to figure out basic adult responsibilities —and it’s unclear if she really even cares to.
A photo posted by Blair (@momowelch) on
Blair has accepted her loneliness, mostly embracing it to the point of not giving a shit. Occasionally she will stalk an ex’s social media account, but mostly she’s just alone, broke, and content enough just eating ice cream in bed.
In her standup, Welch jokes about the nature of comedy as a strange “last resort” for creative people; her long-standing love affair with basketball; the real nature of stranger danger that every Uber driver inspires in female passengers; and the fact that for gay ladies, their hands are pretty much their dicks. Blair is merely an outlet for those random, dark, unwanted thoughts that creep into her brain.
Though Blair doesn’t appear on stage, if audience members listen hard enough, they might be able to find her in Welch’s voice. Anyone who knows Blair would definitely understand that standup comedy isn’t on her list of things to do. How could it be? She rarely leaves her apartment.
“What I love about Blair is that people message me and they’ll be like, ‘I had such a Blair day,’ or ‘I had such a Blair moment,’” Welch said. “It’s basically depression.”
Images via Mo Welch/Instagram | Remix by Max Fleishman
Alicia Eler is the author of 'The Selfie Generation: How Our Self-Images Are Changing Our Notions of Privacy, Sex, Consent, and Culture.' She is the visual art critic at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. Her work has been published in the Guardian, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, New York Magazine, CNN, LA Weekly, Chicago Tribune, and Chicago Sun-Times.