On Being a Funny, Sad Person

Throughout the years, I’ve allowed my humor and my depression to work together in different ways.
Publish date:
August 15, 2014
depression, suicide, humor, Robin Williams

For as long as I can remember, people have told me that I’m funny.

I’m not sure where my sense of humor came from, but like so many other aspects of my personality, it probably has something to do with the fact that I was bullied as a child. Part defense mechanism, part desire to please, and part realization that if I was going to have to stand there with my potbelly sticking out, my gym shorts wedged up my butt, and my glasses crookedly clinging to my face as the boys circled me like hellsharks and told me I smelled like cabbage, well, I’d better at least find some humor in it.

Certain types of preteen outcasts retreat into themselves until they can escape the middle school minefields. I reacted differently. I quickly got the sense that existing in my own awkward body meant living in a vessel made entirely of Kryptonite, and humor was my only antidote.

Over the years, I cultivated my sense of humor, finally arriving at the self-deprecating, bitterly-sarcastic-but-not-above-pure-unadulterated-silliness brand of humor that I deliver today. In fact, it’s my love for the absurd that made me such a fan of Robin Williams’ work. I grew up watching his movies, and I was always so incredibly inspired and impressed at the way he fluidly moved in and out of characters, using spot-on voices and challenging physicality that I never quite got the hang of. He could be silly, he could be sarcastic, and, he could be profoundly, gut-bustingly funny.

But he had another quality as well, one that I most vividly remember seeing during a scene in “Mrs. Doubtfire.” It’s near the end of the film, when his true identity is discovered. His family is angry and hurt by his ruse, and when the camera cuts back to him, makeup half-on, half-off, barely holding together the broken pieces of a man who has done everything he could to keep his family but failed, all I remember were his eyes. They were the saddest eyes I had ever seen.

Sure, Robin Williams is an actor. There’s no way of knowing if the sadness in his eyes during that scene was just a product of his talent, or something he called upon from his own despair. Still though, given the details of his death and the fact that he struggled with depression for such a long time, it’s not hard to imagine that something I saw in those eyes was real.

And the thing is, I know that feeling. I’m not half the comic talent he is, nor am I any kind of actor (although once I was forced to play Tituba in a high school production of “The Crucible,” and as a six-foot bespectacled white girl from Cleveland, I feel that I excelled given my limitations within the role).

Still though, I relate to him because of the fact that we’re both, in our ways, cursed with being the funny, sad person. I’ve struggled with my depression for almost my entire adult life. Throughout the years, I’ve allowed my humor and my depression to work together in different ways. Sometimes, I use my ability to create humor as an excuse to not address my sadness. Other times, I use humor as a weapon, creating some of the most self-deprecating, viciously awful insults that have ever left human lips, insults that wouldn’t be so hilarious if everyone knew I actually felt that way about myself.

Often, I resent my humor in the wake of my depression: Why exactly do all these people expect me to be funny and upbeat when all I want to do is lie in this bed and stare at the ceiling? And sometimes, I feel like my humor and depression create some kind of crudely assembled Franken-ality, a human being that is both incredibly warm and incredibly frigid; An angry, sad Teddy Ruxpin that wants to make you smile AND wants you to leave her the fuck alone.

People who experience depression never know where it’s going to take them, or if their approach in dealing with it will actually help. Sometimes, all I need is some time alone and a better gym routine. Other times, it’s either medication or the next six weeks spent in bed, unshowered and unbothered by the fact that I am completely crippled by overwhelming sadness.

I’ve never experienced suicidal thoughts, but the fact is, just like millions of other people, just like Robin Williams, I could. I could end up at my lowest point and never even fully understand how I got there. And the worst part is, I could maybe even do it all with a smile on my face. Or while putting a smile onto yours.

That’s the thing about being a funny, sad person: Humor can convince everyone, even yourself, that you’re not sad. Humor can make you think your sadness is just temporary, that someday soon you’ll be laughing again and really, truly mean it. Humor and the ability to see the comedy in life can make other people miscalculate just how much of life you actually despise. It’s a strange, confusing position to be in, and Robin Williams’ suicide makes the outcome of those feelings feel much more dangerous and real.

So, for all the funny, sad people out there, I’ll say this: Sometimes, it sucks being funny. Sometimes, it sucks, sucking so hard. Sometimes, it’s funny to suck. And sometimes, it’s wonderfully funny, being so wonderfully funny, and you are the greatest person in the world.

Just try and hold on to that last one as long as you can.