Tears of a Clown

Robin Ince looks at the enduring cliche of the sad clown. What is the relationship between stand-up comedy and mental health? From November 2014.

Robin Ince looks at the enduring cliché of the Sad Clown. What is the relationship between stand-up comedy and mental health?

"A room filled with comedians standing in silence is rarity, especially after midnight during the Edinburgh Fringe, but this was a scene across the bars and venues when the news of Robin Williams' suicide broke. The death of a comedian resurrects the numerous images of the comedian surrounded by laughter they have created, yet miserable themselves.

"But how true is this image of the melancholy comedian? While the lives of Kenneth Williams, Tony Hancock and Spike Milligan are raked over with new books and documentaries appearing on a yearly basis, hundreds of comedians seemingly live and perform without facing anxiety that reaches clinical levels.

"Is the image of the sad comedian a comfort for an audience: "they made us all laugh and brought so much joy, but don't worry, they were wracked with existential agony for the rest of their lives"?

"Is pain required to create comedy, or would Spike Milligan have created as much, if not more, absurd and delightful comedy had he not been so frequently institutionalised?

"Do plays and documentaries on comedians focus so much on the bleak side of their existence that they create a false vision of perpetual despair?

"Is the act of being a comedian more of a cure than a burden? While others may have no valve to release their festering thoughts, the stand up can transform their ludicrousness or burdensome thoughts into jokes. They are able to laugh at, and with, themselves and even make money out of it too.

"Is comedy just like every other profession, or is there a need for some loss or pain in childhood to create the outsider who wishes to spend each night making themselves face one of the top three fears of human beings, public speaking?

"Romantic vision, bitter truth, debatable myth - can we really work out the formula that makes a comedian?

"Give me the child until they are seven, and I will show you the entertainer?"

-Robin Ince, Aged 45 and 3/4.

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