I think we all fall a little in love with the funny ones.
You know the ones; a smile blooms on your face just by thinking of them. Like your body has bookmarked their joy, and said, look, this is how they make you feel. Store this beauty, store this secret magic, let it line your eyes. You build it up inside with every laugh leaving behind an echo, a residue. This is why sometimes, even when they say something that isn’t particularly funny, you’ll find yourself braying at the moon like a drunk donkey, while others sit with a polite grin frozen on their faces. Didn’t you guys hear that one?
Robin Williams – the outstanding comic and brilliant actor, the man, the husband, the father, the genie – passed away today. This will not surprise you, I am sure; his death has hit the world with a seismic wave of grief. You cannot escape it, such is its impact. On every social network, on every news site, today humanity remembers one of the funny ones. I wanted to cry when I first found out, but I was on the way to work. I had to wall it up. Make sure it didn’t get out. Focus on every inane task, and not let it slip.
‘I’m not going on Facebook,’ a friend said. ‘It’s everywhere, and it’s too sad.’
Whereas I struggled to stay away from it. The outpouring of grief, in GIFS, in memes and statuses and videos and blog posts like this one, has very much been reassuring: I am not alone in feeling this. A whole generation of adults woke up today and found an integral part of their childhood was gone, found someone had turned off a light we didn’t even know was still on, still burning away inside us, still keeping the dark at bay. Never has the dark faced a fiercer foe than in that man. He stood on the edges of everything and threw jokes at it, and danced, and laughed, and for a time we danced with him. He burned so brightly for us, sparing nothing.
And because he did this for us, because he kept us safe and showed us the power of joy, we loved him. God, how we loved him. Love him still, and always. Some people like to rag on one of his films, Patch Adams, and the idea often associated with it, that ‘laughter is the best medicine.’ Well, I am the living embodiment of that truth. I have battled depression for years now; it is a bleak debilitating shadow that never leaves me, that I have to always fight. Some days it may only be a sliver of dark on the sidewalk. Other days, it is an all-encompassing blanket of night I can’t see through, and when you’re stuck inside it, you can’t hear anything but the bad voices, the loathing and fear and hate, and you can’t even think to ask for help, can’t bear the thought of looking anyone in the eye and letting them see just how low you’ve fallen.
So, how have I not fallen yet? How have I not given up? Laughter. Comedy is the lens through which I filter the world; to take it too seriously would crush me. This is why I begin to fracture whenever I even begin to consider the Gazan crisis. There’s no room for comedy there, and I can’t handle it. My friend and housemate once remarked that he’d see me come home from work with a ‘black look’ on my face, and that I’d go straight upstairs to my room, but he never worried, because moments later he’d hear the signature sound of The Daily Show start up, and my laugh roll through the house.
I cannot say this enough: Jon Stewart has saved my life. Without The Daily Show, I’m not sure I’d still be here. I watched every episode and whenever I did, I felt that black cloud lift just a bit. Here was a man looking fearlessly into the awfulness the world was throwing at humanity, and saying, hey now, isn’t this ridiculous? And it really, truly is. Without comedy, I most definitely wouldn’t be here; I seek it out wherever I can. I watch old reruns of The Simpsons and Seinfeld religiously because they are gifts that just keep giving. Like Robin Williams. Like Jerry Seinfeld. Jon Stewart. George Carlin. Richard Pryor. Louis C.K. Patton Oswalt. You name them, whoever it was that made you crack up.
Hell, last night I was watching Bridesmaids, and just staring at Melissa McCarthy’s face during that scene, just before anything actually happens, had tears streaming down my face. I had to force my friends to watch it because they don’t like “awkward comedy” – I know, I need new friends – but I sold it by saying, ‘When I watched it the first time, I laughed so hard I died, and was resurrected by the echoes of laughter jolting back into my damn body.’ I may also have said it wasn’t awkward at all, because yes, I’m a bastard that way, and I’ll do anything for laughter. And I have a special place in my heart for Melissa McCarthy, who can wring laughs from stones, whose timing and physical comedy is just superb…
I’m rambling now. I just set out to investigate why it hurt so much this morning, what it is that connects us to these people so strongly, and already I’ve spoken about a half dozen other people because… I’m telling you, we fall in love with them. How can we not? They make us laugh. Give us joy. And laughter saves lives /resurrects the dead. Okay, maybe not the last bit, but definitely the former. Now, to every comedian out there, to everyone who struggles with their own crippling shadow, their own mountain of faults and loathing, to everyone who brings a smile to another’s face, who laughs loudly and freely, I leave you with this gem from that much maligned film, Patch Adams:
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you straightforwardly without complexities or pride. I love you because I know no other way than this. So close that your hand, on my chest, is my hand. So close, that when you close your eyes, I fall asleep.
Laugh long and prosper, friends.
(A tribute from artist Joe Petruccio.)