Earlier this week, we lost Academy-award winning actor and comedian Robin Williams to the battle of addiction and depression when he took his own life (may he rest in peace). This reminded me of the fact that perhaps the funniest of people can often be the saddest inside.
After all, Williams wasn’t the only comedian who suffered from clinical depression. The lovable Charlie Chaplin did as does my favourite comedian Jim Carrey. So the question arises of whether or not there is a connection between humour and depression. And it seems the answer is yes.
Perhaps when Monica commented on Chandler’s need to make people like him through his incessant stream of jokes on Friends, she was onto something.
It’s been found that comedians suffer from depression which is linked to an unhappy childhood and lack of parental warmth and attention. Comedians use humour as a defense or coping mechanism to escape their troubles.
Supporting this statement is the example of JIm Carrey. His mother was ill when he was young and he had a difficult childhood. In his 60 Minutes interview he said:
“I had a sick mom, man. I wanted to make her feel better. Basically, I think she laid in bed and took a lot of pain pills. And I wanted to make her feel better. And I used to go in there and do impressions of praying mantises, and weird things, and whatever. I’d bounce off the walls and throw myself down the stairs to make her feel better.”
In fact, taking a look at the bigger picture, humour and comedic antics are like a ladder to climb out of the pit of inner turmoil if only temporarily. This is the essence of Jewish humour. According to psychologist Samuel Janus, Jewish humour is born of depression and alienation from the general culture. For Jewish comedians, “comedy is a defence mechanism to ward off the aggression and hostility of others.”
There have been links established between creativity and mental illness like depression and bipolar disorder and humour does involve creative elements of cognition. An Oxford University study compared 500 or so comedians to a control group and their findings affirm the correlation between humour and depression. According to the study author Gordon Claridge, “The creative elements needed to produce humour are strikingly similar to those characterizing the cognitive style of people with psychosis—both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.” He also added that comedians use their act as a form of self-medication.
Thinking about it, life is unfair in how people who make others laugh have no one to make them happy.