A smile that Hides the Tears
It is difficult to wonder that people whose job is to make others laugh often live at a state of emotional darkness and depression. It is widely known that many famous comedians face or had faced serious psychological problems. Woody Allen, Jim Carrey, Larry David, Sarah Silverman, Owen Wilson are some of them and the list goes on.
Few years ago the public opinion was shocked by the sudden death of the beloved actor Robbin Williams by suicide. Taking into consideration this tragic event the matter of discussion that is born, is if comedy and depression affect each other. A realistic approach could be that many people use comedy as a means of dealing with their mental state, expecting to get away from the emptiness they feel inside them. Big thinkers and philosophers had been trying for centuries to understand the evolutionary purpose of comedy.
Plato and Hobbes marched in a line whereby persons who create “mockery” feel superior to the rest of the people.
Aristotle, who created a definition for comedy, reaches his final point telling us that comedy is the imitation of a painless ugliness, it does not cause sorrow. Kant and modern psychologists began to connect comedy with various cognitive serious situations of human existence. Sigmund Freud spoke about humor and laughter recognizing two different persons. The first one who creates the joke and the other one who accepts it. It is a process that releases the man from his internal mental energy and satisfies the pleasure and the innocence of childhood’s age. This is a conclusion that includes not only comedians but also other “funny” people in your life. Being a funny guy doesn’t mean that you are also happy at all.
“Depression is as real as the weather. It’s all about a kind of mental
umbrella .Hey-ho, it’s raining inside: It’ isn’t my fault and there’s nothing
I can do about it, but sit it out. But the sun may well come out tomorrow and when
It does, I shall take full advantage”
– Stephen Fry (British actor)
Fighting With An Internal Demon
Some years ago researchers at Oxford University conducted a very interesting study on the psychology of comedians specializing in the stand-up comedy. The survey involved 523 comedians, both male and female from the US, Australia and the UK. The same survey was also conducted on 364 non-comedic actors as well and 831 non-artistic professionals. Afterwards, the researchers compared the results.
The findings showed that comedians, especially those who were involved in the stand-up comedy, often showed psychotic elements in their personality, which according to researchers explain why they had increased capacity of entertaining people. They presumed that the elements of creativity that they are essential for a personality that can transmit humor are similar, though in a healthier form, to those found in psychotic people, such as those suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar disorders like manic depression.
According to the survey, comedians had at a much higher degree, than the average, psychotic elements. The research emphasizes to the fact that comedians also identified with increased mental disorientation such as frequent mental disintegration and difficulty in concentrating, decreased appetite and lack of the sense of pleasure, avoidance of close relationships, and other symptoms including compulsive nonconformity and antisocial behavior.
“Most people have demons. The folks in the audience may be alcoholics, or they’ve been divorced. They just don’t have the spotlight” The research has shown that the act of trying to be funny makes people seem more troubled than they might actually be.
Humor is Made Of Sorrow
Professor Gordon Claridge of the Oxford University who was the leader of the study came to this significant conclusion:
“Although schizophrenic psychosis can be detrimental to humor, in a more gentle way it can improve people’s ability to associate strange or unusual things or to think in a more productive way, factors that among other creative procedures, generate humor’’.
Comedians tend to be slightly distant, introverted people who do not always want to be sociable and for whom comedy is a way out of routine, a kind of self-healing. Obviously, not all comedians belong to this category, but there seems to be a tendency for these people to have these characteristics in their personality. So according to Claridge this is of course the concept of a “sad clown’’.
From time to time we have heard that people who laugh the most are the ones who cry the most.
Nowadays this phenomenon not only can be observed but it can also be proved by medical science. This makes the justification of Winston Churchill, who said, that the secret source of humor is not joy but sadness, totally true.
“Many of the people who give us plenty of laughter and show us their smile are those who struggle with their own sorrow and suffer their own Calvary”
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