– Do you hear the helicopter?
– No, it’s an angel…
– What? An angel? Then why does it make such a horrible noise?
– Gone crazy because of life on the Earth.
(Viktor Koklyushkin, Russian satirist)
After reading my new, straight-from-the-oven story, called ‘Upside Down,’ one of my followers told me it was sad. It took me by surprise because I never perceived the events in the story to be a tragic situation. Rather funny, but never depressing or gloomy. I have to agree, though, that story has a deeply melancholic vibe. The main hero is a lonely middle-aged man pretending he is ‘married with kids’; he builds and describes his fictional family life relying only on his hobby – ornithology and breeding caged birds.
The remark about ‘sadness’ made me look at my latest writing from another angle. I read other short stories I wrote this summer, again and again… and I started to wonder: what if they are also ‘blue’? Am I a sad, depressed, melancholic humorist? And can humor be depressing or sad? And if yes, is it possible to see the pattern?
Someone said there’s a pain in laughter. When we look at what makes us laugh, this connection between humor and psychological distress makes some sense. Because, even if humor can vary from culture to culture, our laughter is often connected to our sense (or fear) of humiliation. As we know, the repetitive giggle in the schoolyard can create monsters of different kinds… By the way, a study of depressed teens observed a definite connection between comedic ability and depression. It seems humor is an essential skill for dealing with emotional difficulties during adolescence.
We aren’t aware, but even more sophisticated comedy has the same element. For example, the protagonist is constantly frustrated in their efforts to succeed with the desired romantic partner. When the connection happens, the story is over. Normal or happy relationships aren’t funny… As we see, frustration, sadness, unhappiness, disaster, bad luck, or depression are crucial comedic elements. How strange!
On the other hand, it is well-known that laughter (or a joke) can often come from a place of darkness, and comedy is the result or, sometimes, the wall between the author/performer and their audience/reader. If someone’s always cracking jokes and making people laugh, it doesn’t mean they are living a carefree, constantly smiling life, but this is how we often perceive them – the rays of endless joy and fun. Don’t forget Robin Williams, who said: “I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless, and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.” As I see it personally – there’s a never-ending love-hate affair between sadness and humor. Those two can’t live without each other!
Being funny also gives us a sense of control over a situation that we otherwise feel is overwhelming or out of our hands. We are saying to ourselves, “You’ve got to laugh!’, when something unfortunate happens because by choosing the hilarious route that covers up the sad one, we have a grip over the situation; we can moderate it, adjust it the way it works best for us. Well, we don’t need to look far. We experience that ‘gotta laugh’ state more often than we imagine, especially during working hours (because this is what we do most of the daytime), balancing on edge, while thinking, “Am I cool enough for this company, office, group, team?”
And if there’s any doubt – the most accessible road to the company’s heart is to tell a joke. Or let me remind you about the opposite situation when you have to become a clown to smooth out or change the atmosphere in the room, the position, or the boss’s focus.
You either laugh your way through it, or you die through it. Rain Pryor
I agree, there’s some sort of a juxtaposition in humor. On the one side, laughter, ridicule, and fun. On the other side, sadness and sensitivity that many people still find fascinating. Unfortunately, what a lot of people don’t seem to realize is that the sad clown is far more common than they think. It’s a paradox. The satirists/humorists who spend their time making people laugh and bring happiness are often the ones who go home and feel sadness. The most interesting thing about it is the fact that people who laughed at the jokes will never guess.
I’d like to mention Emmett Leo Kelly here – the first sad clown who was best-known for his character ‘Weary Willie.’ He was a circus performer and one of the greatest American circus clowns of the 20th century.
In the end, I’d like to say that humorous fiction doesn’t mean the same thing as a happy tale (some clowns have always been sad), and it can often be a huge barrier against something a lot darker. Humor is NOT only a laughing matter. Sometimes, it is sad, depressing, pessimistic, or ‘blue’ matter… It is a comical terrain full of amusing obstacles.
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