By: Leah Hovey
When Robin William committed suicide August 11th, 2014, the world reacted in a very similar way. Aside from the intense grief fans shared, a similar question everyone had was “why?" Why would a successful, happy-go-lucky celebrity feel so down that he chose to end his life early? However, due to a diagnosis of "Lewy body dementia" as well as a diagnosis of severe depression, the comedian battled his own demons his entire life (Williams, 2016). He may have been a comedian, but sadly (from the perspective of someone who has suffered from depression), it was not shocking that the talented actor was suffering behind the scenes.
You may be thinking that the previous statement is somewhat absurd. Those who entertain others and who tell the most jokes can’t be depressed, right? In reality, however, this can prove to be the exact opposite. Many comedians suffer internally from mental illness or grief while externally blessing the world with their comedy.
There are various examples of this that have been disclosed by various comedians via interviews, autobiographies or other sources. Drew Carey, one of the most popular comedians who hosted “Whose Line is it Anyway?” extensively told his story through his autobiography. Within it, he stated that he suffered from grief from his father’s death at a young age, trauma stemming from a molestation, as well as depression, which led to two suicide attempts (Carey, 1997). Sarah Silverman is another comic who has spoken about her battles with depression and her experiences with therapy throughout her younger years (Grigoriadis, 2008).
These comedians, as well as many more, have opened up about the struggles they have faced when it came to depression and various mental illnesses. It can seem shocking and disheartening to realize these funny, happy individuals are really suffering, but I would argue that this is an important topic for comedians to be open about. While it may give some fans a sad realization, I believe that having these comedians express their hardships can benefit their fans. These comedians are human beings and suffer the same tribulations we do. This is extremely important to be open about because humour can be used as a coping mechanism, a means of therapy, or a pursuit of happiness. These people have been able to make others laugh while creating art that expresses themselves. Using comedy as a method of coping within hard times is one of the best ways one can come out of a terrible situation stronger and with a sense of humour. Even though times can be tough, these wonderful people show us that you can truly make the best out of situations as well as use your tragedies to create something funny and to create something people will enjoy.
Just take a look at Jim Jeffries, an Australian comedian who has been very open about his struggles with depression not only within press discourse but within his comedic act. In various stand-up routines such as his Netflix special, “Alcoholocaust” (Jeffries, 2010), he opens up about his various experiences with depression, suicide, and how he is using anti-depressives. He then speaks about his depression with hilarity and as a teaching tool for others who may be experiencing depression themselves. While his comedy routine is filled with profanity, silly analogies, and pessimistic perspectives, he gives individuals watching his stand-up a way to laugh at themselves as well as maybe a way to learn something about their mental illness without being too preachy about the subject. Many take his realistic approach to mental illness as a truthful, refreshing way to share the discourse on mental illness. You can watch the full clip here.
Comedians such as those above have helped us realize that even though we are struggling with intense sadness and hopelessness, we can turn these feelings into something to laugh at and use this as a way to feel better while expressing yourself through the beauty of comedy.
Carey, D. (1997). Dirty jokes and beer: Stories of the unrefined. New York: Hyperion.
Kirkby, T. (Director). (2010, November 8). Jim Jefferies: Alcoholocaust [Video file]. Retrieved September 22, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4aO-4Dgb-2I
Grigoriadis, V. (2008, November 3). “Dirty Rotten Princess”. Rolling Stone. Retrieved September 22, 2018.
Williams, S. S. (2016,). The Terrorist Inside My Husband's Brain. Retrieved September 22, 2018.