Lifestyles Center Blog

HUMP DAY: COMEDY AS A DEFENSE MECHANISM FOR MASKED PAIN

As long as there has been comedy, there have been emotional disorders, and vice versa. It seems incredibly ironic, but there’s a reason the great Robin Williams is no longer with us; it’s the same reason that the world suffered the losses of John Belushi and Chris Farley, two of the most well-known cast members of sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live.

It’s no secret that comedy is often used as a defense mechanism. Williams, Belushi, Farley, and thousands of other comedians, comedy writers, and generally funny people suffer from depression, anxiety, and other disorders. Usually, defense mechanisms are used as a way to get attention from people while hiding the disorder, and the disorder fuels the mechanism.

Sometimes, social anxiety comes from a lack of much-needed attention as a child, leaving an empty void. As the child grows, he finds ways to fill the void. The second he makes someone laugh, the void is filled, even for a second, and the need for that laugh grows. In Robin Williams’s case, the void could be filled with alcohol, drugs, and laughs, but maybe it was never enough.

Many people don’t quite understand where a person’s “funny” comes from. As an aspiring comedy writer, I can sum it up for you: “I have social anxiety, and I have a constant need to be liked or else that anxiety flares up. When I’m funny, people like me, which eases my anxiety.” The thought process of a comedian isn’t a complicated one. Without those laughs, the person feels disliked, boring, and worthless, forcing him to feel the need to be “on” all the time. Understanding this when judging a funny person’s sense of humor can help their anxiety, while walking up to a comedian and demanding a joke can put the pressure back on.

Of course, not all senses of humor root from mental disorders. Laughter is so important, and to be able to have that effect on people and make them laugh, especially when they don’t feel like laughing, is such a great gift. Appreciating that gift and how powerful it is, and not taking it for granted, can ease some of the stress that some people feel to be funny all the time.

Although it temporarily eases the anxiety, this constant pressure to be funny can have detrimental effects. Members of an audience see that the comedian is funny, and assume that’s the comedian’s personality, but there are so many other traits they may have that can benefit people in other ways. Robin Williams suffered from alcoholism, drug use, and had suicidal tendencies. But he was funny! He was quick and unique and intelligent and witty. How can anyone so funny have been so sad?

Written by Susie Fox, Peer Educator

Photo Cred: Eva Rinaldi image