So the loss of a great comedian – perhaps one of THE great comedians – is still prevalent in the news, my mind, and our hearts. As I wrote yesterday, I grew up watching Robin Williams – his stand up at the Met, Mork and Mindy, Patch Adams, and – probably my favorite – Dead Poet’s Society. He had a sense of timing that was just perfect – whether he was telling a joke, doing an imitation, or just being goofy. And yet, there was that sensitive side – Mr. Keating caring for his students, Dr. Sayer with his patients, and even Mrs. Doubtfire (one of the few movies about divorce that I will watch).
So the question many people have – spoken or unspoken – is, “how can someone who makes his living making people laugh, be so tortured inside?”
One of the areas of my life that I don’t brag too loudly about is the time I spent doing stand-up comedy. On a whim, I thought I would give stand up a try. I had often been complimented for my sense of humor (mainly because I don’t think that “weird” had become socially acceptable at that point). I attended an open mic night, became quick friends with the organizer and his wife, and before I knew it, found myself as one of the three principals in our act. I was doing regular shows with varying degrees of success, but I actually found myself enjoying it and thinking I could be someone special.
Then, the day after a show, I tried to check our website and found that my access didn’t work. I called the leader of the group and he said that they had decided that I wasn’t a good fit anymore.
That was all.
I felt so depressed afterwards. I had been looking for a mentor – someone I could trust to help me gain some new skills. Instead, I found the world’s worst friend.
This shouldn’t have come as a surprise. I saw the warning signs. As I got to know this man, I found that he was hurt by people close to him. He carried a great deal of anger on the surface. This manifested as humor, but that didn’t change the source any.
I noticed that general trend with many comedians. They often carry burdens of hurt and anger. They take what ails them and make it into something from which they can capitalize. It’s a defense – and a pretty lucrative one when done correctly. I understand because I do the same things. I make jokes about my weight – how I don’t go to the beach down here in Florida because well-intentioned people keep pushing me back in the water. I make silly jokes about my height – how it’s a disadvantage everywhere but crowded elevators. But honestly – those things hurt me. My weight has always been a struggle. My height – I can’t do much about that, but I still often feel like I don’t measure up (in more ways than one) to the people around me.
And there’s where the cycle starts for comedians – a great big intellectual and emotional S&M party. I tell a joke that hurts, they laugh, so it looks like they accept me – but I know they’re laughing at me. Add to that the ironic loneliness of stardom and the pressures of being a celebrity and it’s pretty much a recipe for disaster.
I don’t know what was going on in Mr. Williams’ life that made him feel so hopeless. But I know he didn’t have a monopoly on that feeling. I have felt that way more than once – my lowest point was the one where I met God before I had ever been serious about going to church. That night, an angry teenager had made plans to take his own life, only to be interrupted by a pervasive thought that there was a purpose and a plan for his life.
My admonition is to look around and see – TRULY see – the people around you. Christians, pray for discernment – to see with God’s eyes. Find those who are suffering – even if they are laughing on the outside and speak into their lives.
“Let no]unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29 NASB)
And – just for the record – you might find me doing public speaking again sometimes, but I highly doubt I will ever pick up the joke book again. Not even just for laughs.