Laughter is the best over-the-counter medicine for our soul! Comedy provides a reprieve from our mundane life and gives us a few hours to laugh at someone else’s problems whilst conveniently forgetting that we might be returning to a few of those when we get home. It gives us the opportunity to put a positive spin on our tribulations. But ever wonder what the comedians that are actually delivering this humor have dealt with? What makes them so funny? It can’t be that they all came from happy, easy backgrounds. What would they even joke about if their life has been nothing but roses and bunnies. It’s like taking weight loss advice from someone that’s never been fat…ever. 🙂
Two weekends ago, one of my favorite comedians, Jim Jeffries was in town for a show. His tickets went on sale late last year and I had set myself 5 reminders to make sure I was first in line to get them and I did. Not surprisingly they were sold out faster than one can spell “comedian”. His show was hilarious! I was laughing hard and unabashedly for over 2 hours, as were the people around me. We were each realizing the parallels in our lives through his humor but instead of it pulling us down, it was actually uplifting to see our trials through a humorous lens.
Somewhere two thirds through the show, he discussed (as he has done several times before) his battle with depression during his early years. He also talked about suicide and how he has fought his demons to rise to the top for the most part, and used his skill to help other people deal with their issues through the medium of comedy. That got me thinking about how many other comedians I love, that have had similar dark pasts. Is that maybe what gives them the perspective to bring their humor, often dark and satire-ridden to the audiences? Dealing with depression, trauma and tragedy can give anyone a better appreciation of life, especially when they emerge valiantly on the other side. It also gives them a renewed and albeit buoyant outlook on life. Of course there is the matter of social intelligence. A wit that involves putting controversial ideas together quickly, while still being perceptive enough to offend your audiences a little.
I think it’s the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately.
So that brings me back to some of my favorite comedians that have achieved immense success. What did they have in their pasts?
I absolutely love Robin Williams and we all know his battle with depression, drugs and alcohol that affected his onstage performance and his life. He went into rehab a few times, relapsed a few times and eventually took his own life when he couldn’t deal with how his body was failing him. Seeing him perform, you would never know what lay behind that facade. His humor was clean, biting, teaching, and always produced a laugh!
Jim Carey is another such comedian. I must admit it took me a while to warm up to his flamboyant style and in-your-face humor. How did he get so funny? He used humor as his own pick-me-up when life was dealing him and his family blows as he was growing up. He then started using it as a way to earn a paycheck and how!
And last but not the least, George Carlin. He grew up abandoned by his alcoholic father and raised by a single mother. I’m sure his childhood experiences shaped the black humor he brought to the stage. He even shocked me when I first watched his show years ago. While his style was crass, child inappropriate and caused an uproar during his days, he has been instrumental in formulating how comedians today use humor to address some of the more contentious issues of our times.
It takes a lot to choose comedy as a means to deal with life rather than letting life make a joke out of you. You can either get mad at all the injustice being done to you and resort to crime, or you can choose the higher road, recognize your challenges, channel them positively and heck, make a buck or two while also doing good for your fellow humans.