Written and Spoken by Tara Tintin Rahman who lives in Melbourne, Australia. Thank you so much Tintin for your words!They’re dropping like flies at the moment, aren’t they? What am I talking about? Stand-up comedians, of course.
Ladies and gentlemen, on August 11th, Robin Williams, celebrated actor and stand-up comedian, died of apparent suicide. On September 4th, Joan Rivers died. I knew her as a cranky fashion critic with a face that shouted, ‘PLASTIC SURGERY’, on E’s Fashion Police. But in her heyday, in the 1960s and 70s, she paved the way for female stand-up comedians everywhere. Without Joan Rivers, there would be no Tina Fey. And I still remember Robin Williams fondly for his jokes about George W. Bush and his hilarious turn as the cross-dressing Mrs. Doubtfire.
Who can forget the scene in Mrs. Doubtfire when Robin Williams’ character’s fake boobs caught fire?
Unfortunately, the death of Robin Williams has cast a negative light on stand-up comedy. Various articles state, ‘Robin Williams had very high highs and very low lows’* Despite a career spent making people laugh through imitations and wearing costumes, he spent his personal life in and out of marriages, battling addictions and checking into rehab every so often.
*(Singh, CEO of the Global Institute for Forensic Research, wlja.com, 2014).
Is there really a strong link between creativity and depression? Do they go hand in hand?
One study (British Journal of Psychiatry, 2004) found a strong connection between comedic prowess and psychosis. Being creative – writing, composing, painting and being humorous – might be an outlet, an escape from the pain of depression.
As a writer and a dancer, I can honestly say that I wrote my first poem because I wanted to express myself. It may also have been an escape from a boring, regimented school life.
But once I learned how to dance, I found joy. I don’t use dance to escape from depression. I attend tango parties because it makes me feel good. As I dance, the pheromones get released, I get attention from the opposite sex and I feel good. And if I get depressed, I will do what normal people do – talk about it. But I don’t consciously use my art form to escape depression.
My housemate is a jeweller – she makes jewellery for a living. I have seen her sit at her desk and carve and polish and glue things to each other way into the night. And I believe she does this, and spends all her money on machinery and materials, because she enjoys the process of making jewellery. Not because she’s trying to escape depression. And I’m sure YOU know artists who…do what they do because it makes them feel good.
Chris Gethard, a comedian who once performed alongside Robin Williams, once said, “Do comedians have to be depressed to be funny? No. All kinds of people get depressed.” (Huffman, International Business Times, 2014)
Athletes get depressed. Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe checked himself into rehab for depression earlier this year. According to the Black Dog Institute, up to 15 percent of elite athletes suffer from depression. (shanebrien, The Roar, 2013)
Why the link between creativity and depression? Comedians just happen to be people that professionally deal with the manipulation of happiness, laughter, and other positive emotions. It stands out more. Because they are in the business of making people laugh, one naturally assumes, ‘they must be happy all the time.’ Comedy is not tragedy. It can’t be. How could a comedian be depressed?
The general belief is it’s alright to feel negative feelings and depression as long as you let it out in a positive, constructive way. Research (Huffington Post, 2014) shows people often desire to take on negative thoughts and feelings; they find meaning in reflection. An example of a comedian who does this is Louis CK, who is admired for his honesty.
I’d like to play one of his bits.
Did you enjoy that?
Louis CK provides the best of both worlds – he makes people laugh by talking about his problems or issues, meanwhile providing a social commentary. Through the safety of his comedy, he allows people to consider intense and unusual ideas. In doing so, he gives the audience something special and meaningful to take away.
My conclusion? As long as comedians let out whatever they are going through on stage, it’s fine. It’s when the depression translates into drug addiction and suicide that we should be concerned. Otherwise, don’t worry and enjoy the comedy.
Us happy people gotta stick together.
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