Light and Laughter . . .


This past week the untimely death of comedian and actor Robin Williams shocked everyone. He was known for making people laugh in the roles he portrayed in movies and yet, was apparently plagued by addiction to drugs and depression which apparently led him to commit suicide.

Over the years I have learnt that people who put on a clown costume with a big red nose are usually people who are shy, introverted and terribly sad people. They hide behind the mask of making others laugh to hide their own sadness and insecurities. This is a generalisation but is apparently true of most clowns.

Clown hammering head

With the death of Robin Williams this week, I’ve also been thinking about a song written in the late 1960s by the Gibb brothers (known as the Bee Gees) called “I Started a Joke” which is supposedly about someone who has done or said something horribly wrong, which results in feelings of social alienation.

I Started A Joke
I started a joke which started the whole world crying
But I didn’t see that the joke was on me oh no
I started to cry which started the whole world laughing
Oh If I’d only seen that the joke was on me

I looked at the skies running my hands over my eyes
And I fell out of bed hurting my head from things that I said
‘Till I finally died which started the whole world living
Oh If I’d only seen that the joke was on me

I looked at the skies running my hands over my eyes
And I fell out of bed hurting my head from things that I said
‘Till I finally died which started the whole world living
Oh If I’d only seen that the joke was on me
Oh no that the joke was on me

This got me thinking about the possibility that maybe people who entertain us wearing a clown costume or as comedians on stage feel alienated from society for some or other reason and that wearing a clown costume or using comedy to entertain in movies and/or on stage, is a coping mechanism for them?

Let’s look at some of the characteristics of clowns and try to understand what is hidden behind the mask.

Clown_Flowers out of sleeve

Some insight into the personality of clowns by Dr Nicola Davies (

• Clowns use humour to connect with others, which is an effective tool for social survival because we all like people who make us laugh.
• Clowns like to make fun of themselves and others to provoke laughter. Making fun of themselves shows they don’t take themselves too seriously.
• Clowns sometimes use sarcasm or put-downs to hide their aggression. They have the ability to laugh at how ridiculous and absurd life and people can be, including themselves.
• Because they laugh at their own faults, clowns inspire us to laugh at ours. Their humour is contagious; they can put almost anyone in a good mood.

However, not all humour is positive or healthy. The clown can also use humour to mask feelings of insecurity and aggression.

• Clowns are emotionally sensitive and might feel offended when told they are not really that funny, or that their humour is unwelcome. On the other hand, the well-meaning clown will apologise instead of showing aggression.
• When someone is using humour to escape the reality of a painful situation or through lack of self-confidence, gently remind them that it’s okay and necessary to accept and allow hurtful feelings to be expressed.

Coming back to the death of actor and comedian Robin Williams – was he a “clown” when not working or was this just the role he portrayed in movies?

• What led to his depression? Did he feel socially excluded/alienated – if so, why?
• What was his greatest desire as a human being? What was he not getting from the world? Did he feel empty and think he was a failure? Why?
• Was he emotionally fragile and did he use humour as a way of connecting with the world or was this only the role he portrayed as an actor/comedian?

Creativity, depression and addiction:
Is there a connection between creativity, depression and addiction?

According to an article on (see
• Creativity and mental illness are intimately connected.
• Addiction and depression: that same little quiet voice that says “just one more” is the same one that could say “jump” so those who are prone to addiction can just as easily be prone to committing suicide.
• The extreme darkness that can lurk underneath the humour is another reality for comedians. According to the British Journal of Psychiatry research has found a strong connection between comedic skill and, if not psychosis, something close to it. Being creative – writing, composing, painting and being humorous might therefore be an outlet – an escape from the pain of depression.

Sometimes people make us laugh so we can’t see how much they hurt

People who are creative have an empathy for and sensitivity to the world that allows them to feel things deeply and among those who gravitate towards depression – both creativity and addiction are outlets – ways to feel and to feel if not more hopeful, at least less sad.

Severe depression can prevent a person from believing that treatment could help resulting in the person not seeking help. When the pain gets too much and seems as if it is without end, suicide seems to be the only viable alternative to suffering.

Wow, this is really scary stuff. I am creative (interested in craft work and play a musical instrument), have an addictive personality (I’m addicted to chocolates) and I come from a family prone to depression (and more than one successful suicide). Does this mean that I am a high risk for becoming depressed and possibly even committing suicide?

I went through a period of depression not too long ago. Not realising that I was depressed, I obviously did not seek help. By the time our family General Practitioner (GP) realised I was depressed, I was already coming out of the depression. He said “I could prescribe something, but you are already coming out of the depression so it’s not really going to help”.

As far as committing suicide is concerned, I think I’m too much of a coward to inflict harm on myself. I have a high pain threshold but will not willingly inflict pain on myself however, when going down that deep dark abyss of depression, anything is possible.

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