Laughter Is Not Enough

I know many people were surprised by Robin Williams suicide, but given the relationship between comedy and sorrow, was it really such a surprise? Comedy has its roots in tragedy, deep insecurity, and loneliness, and we laugh at comedians because they give us a socially acceptable way to vent our own insecurities and fears, without being so damn vulnerable in the venting. On some level I knew Robin was lonely, depressed, and hurting, for the hurting in me resonated with the hurt in him, and it is this resonance that caused many of us to connect with him. Like many, I am saddened by his passing, but I am also disturbed, because when a comedian dies by suicide it is a bracing reminder that laughter, as good as it is, is not enough. We need vulnerability because it is the key to connection: to genuinely knowing others and being fully known, and living in connection is the kind of creatures we are.

Having said this, I realize that depression, clinical depression, adds a biological depth to the relational dynamics I am describing, such that a depressed person can have many significant relationships, and yet the depression keeps them from meaningfully engaging those relationships. In rooting depression in tragedy and loneliness I don’t mean to undermine the biological aspect of depression. I just want to acknowledge how all of us, whether we are clinically depressed or not, have a share in Robin’s pain, because, living in a fallen world, none of us are unscathed.

As I am writing my way through this, it occurs to me that laughter points to compassion, and compassion is what we really need. Laughter is sometimes a blessed reflection of compassion, and sometimes its dim shadow. Like laughter, compassion connects us to one another through our pain and insecurity, but unlike laughter, compassion is always vulnerable. As I said before, this vulnerability is so hard to accept, and is likely why genuine compassion is hard to find. Yes, we all feel compassion at times, and express it here and there, but to live in compassion requires that we be at home in our vulnerability, and that is just too much.

So, where am I going with all this? Simply put, I’m just processing, and hopefully moving towards compassion even as I laugh along the way. I’ll just finish by saying, “God have mercy on Robin; God have mercy on me, and God help me to live in compassion by embracing my vulnerability, and thereby learn to laugh with unyielding joy.”

2 Responses to “Laughter Is Not Enough”

  1. Paula  

    Well said. I’ve always felt that many comedians find their material in things that can cause pain.

  2. K.L.B.  

    How fascinating.

    Consider also the theatre’s two masks and the etymology of the word “hypocrisy” – being the Greek “hypokrisis” meaning “acting on the stage, pretense” derived from from “hypokrinesthai” meaning to “play a part, pretend,” also “answer,” from the stem “hypo-” + “under”, and the + middle voice of “krinein” meaning “to sift, decide.”

    See also “crisis” which is from a Latinized form of the Greek word “krisis” meaning “turning point in a disease” (and used as such by Hippocrates and Galen), meaning literally “judgment, result of a trial, selection,” and stems from the root selection meaning “to sieve, discriminate, distinguish.”

    Words can tell us much.