With the recent anniversary of the death of Robin Williams I’ve been doing some reading on comedy and the lives and tendencies of comedians. Generalising anyone or anything, especially in a world as large as the comedy one, is never good but it does point to some interesting connections.
Robin Williams’ passing shed some light on the personal lives of comedians and the fact that a lot of them do suffer. There have been multiple actual scientific studies that have basically told us that funny people are messed up in some way. Making jokes and finding humor are their ways of both dealing with their hardships and hiding their true selves.
A lot of people turn to comedy because it gives a sense of control. You are in command of your audience whether it be at a packed out concert hall or from the back of your 5th grade science class. A lot of people who seek control do it because other aspects of their lives are in disarray.
I can’t call myself a comedian but I did nearly go to school to major in comedy writing so I was never really that far off. Nevertheless, the reading I’ve done and the studies I’ve read did resonate with me a lot. For me personally, I turned to humor because it got people to like me–or at least THINK they liked me. Never having to be serious meant that I was always able to deflect anything that came my way. Unfortunately, it meant I had a standard to live up to. I couldn’t be “the funny friend” for years and then try to have a deep conversation the next day. So the “out” I had created for myself ended up digging me deeper into a hole. This sounds cliche but I truly did lose myself. It became hard to separate my persona from my actual self and instead I began to stop taking myself seriously.
I was focusing so hard on getting people to like me for my humor that I had no idea to get people to like me for me. One day, I made a funny tweet like I usually do and someone came up to me and said, “you’ve lost your charm.” I had never been so hurt. My humor was so much a part of me that a tiny little comment was enough to send me spiraling. I kid you not (pun) I was devastated for weeks. I refused to speak to people because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone else. I realised that that was no way to live and I slowly discovered that my desire to be funny was ruining my life.
Waking up one day and deciding that you’re not going to hide behind your act anymore was easy. Facing the people who EXPECTED your act, was not. Constantly I was badgered with “concerned” comments wondering why I wasn’t funny anymore. Why I wasn’t as light and carefree as I had been. There is no sensitive way to explain that your past few years had essentially been a ruse. There are very few people who can understand that.
Trying to become truer to myself is and has been such an alienating process and I slip sometimes–actually I slip a lot. But it’s important to realise that funny people are people. Humor takes energy and effort. It is a façade and like all façades, it is draining.
Be kind to comedians. Be kind to funny friends. We all come from dark places and sometimes get really tired of having to shed light to our worlds.