About five years ago I saw a professional comedian perform live for the first time. I can’t remember his name but he was Dennis Milleresque and quite good. What struck me was that at least half of his performance was a fairly strong critique of our western culture. He has a captive audience with a medium that would stick in people’s minds. I had never realized how powerful a platform a stand-up comedian could have.
I have a co-worker who was obsessed with finding the type of joke that would make me laugh. He told me some of crudest jokes I have heard in long time. I was never quite sure how to respond. He knew I was planning on becoming a pastor and that played a role in the types of jokes he would tell me. Was I supposed to be offended? Was he looking for some sort of victory in making ‘the christian’ laugh at something naughty? Was he just trying to tell a good joke?
Michael Richards reacts to some hecklers using some derogatory language . . . people laugh. He drops numerous ‘n-bombs’ on them . . . fewer people laugh. He tries to incorporate his tirade into some type of social commentary . . . people get up to leave.
Michael Richards begins to apologize on David Letterman . . . people laugh. Jerry Seinfeld tells them, “It’s not funny” . . . still some chuckles.
Elaine thinks that Jerry’s voice is permanently funny. Jerry shouts at her, “It’s not funny!” Elaine and audience laughs.
Kramer makes Indian war cries out of a taxi-cab with the ‘cigar-shop Indian’. Jerry makes the Indian dance and chant . . . everyone laughs.
Gabriel-Maximilien Leuvielle – Star of early silent film comedies; depression and suicide
Tony Hancock – British comedian; suicide
Richard Pryor – 1980 suicide attempt
Charles Rocket – suicide
Freddie Prince – suicide
Parker Posey – “I can do comedy, so people want me to do that, but the other side of comedy is depression. Deep, deep depression is the flip side of comedy. Casting agents don't realize it but in order to be funny you have to have that other side.”
Whoopi Goldberg – ““I am [a relatively happy person]. I only say that because other people have said that of me. I’m drawn to depression. It’s what inspires me.”
. . . The sad clown is no joke . . .
I find humour bizarre. Perhaps it is no different than the artist’s relationship to death and depression, but the contrast is certainly more striking. Humour can expose and insulate. It is a tool of control and manipulation. It can heal and calm . . . or enrage. What is it that humour is dancing with?
. . . But I suppose the laughs will just keep on coming . . .