Folks, this may surprise you, but I can feel your pain. I may play the angry cartoonist on TV, so to speak, but sometimes a hurt is so great that I feel it’s a better thing to reach out to you now.
First let me say that it’s wonderful that you’re taking the suicide of Robin Williams as an inspiration to learn more about depression, or as an opportunity to reach out to people. What could be more tragic than a man who almost literally spent every waking moment trying to make people laugh, taking his own life? The mind won’t accept it. It’s too harsh. It’s the story of Pagliacci, writ large before our eyes.
I’m telling you it’s going to be okay. It will.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the past mourning, and I’ve wasted a lot of time bellyaching to you people about my problems. And the reality of it is that my suffering does not matter. Don’t email me in a panic telling me it does. My suffering absolutely, positively, 100% does not matter one iota.
Your suffering does.
I chose the path of the humorist so early that I don’t even have a clear memory of it. What I do remember vividly, though it must have been when I was a toddler, was a cut-out do-it-yourself booklet, featured in the pages of Bananas, or Dynamite, or some such. I cut it out, did it myself, and carried it for ages until it fell apart and I was forced to re-transcribe it on Xerox paper, in my own clunky writing.
“Orkan Dictionary”, it was titled.
Here was a tossed-off little piece of television propaganda, probably written in a day by some office drone. Its mere existence enraptured me. From this I gleaned the meaning of “shazbot”. From this I first caught the language-crafting bug. Inevitably, on the playground in first grade, I came to be known as “Mork”.
I reveled in the idea of being an alien on Earth. It made total sense. Everything fell into place. My weirdest excesses were not only accepted, but celebrated. For a time I sat in chairs upside-down. I saw Mork on TV and knew that I was normal. He even seemed to talk like me. I stopped short of the rainbow suspenders; another kid on the playground was rocking them, and I knew enough at that age to back off.
But I discovered, in acting like Mork, I made other people laugh. And somehow I understood that this was more important than anything else in the world.
Laughter is my drug. I hate to go a day without a good belly laugh. If I haven’t made someone else laugh, either in person or with a cartoon, I slowly spiral into depression. I am greedy for laughter. Laughter defeats anything. Disease, war, suffering, loneliness; it doesn’t matter. Laughter kills it. It is as crucial to human life as water. Sure, a handful of folks have died from it, but I’d lay odds it’s the greatest way to go.
So it is that, even though I’ve never met him, I’ve understood Robin Williams my entire life.
I can’t speak for him, but I can say that it’s more important to laugh at what he gave us, than to be sad at his passing. I can’t imagine, with the Herculean hurt he must have been nursing at the root of his being, that he would ever want the laughter to stop.
And I say this while this loss tears away at the very root of my being, almost like the loss of my father or mother, both of whom had to turn to humor after crippling tragedy, when I was very young. We have to keep laughing. We have to, otherwise the truth will emerge about why Pagliacci cries. And that’s something you good folks were never meant to know. It’s not funny. You’ve got enough things in your life that aren’t funny.
Now we all have one less marvelously funny thing in our lives. I know you want to understand why, because you are compassionate. Some things in life don’t come with easy answers. I tease about darkness and suicide because I want you to feel more powerful than they are, like I do. I try to walk the edge of the Abyss so you don’t have to, and hopefully it will frighten you a little less. This is my job, and a large part of it is acknowledging the Teachers who’ve come before and fallen. Nine years ago, when Hunter S. Thompson shot himself, I began to accept this as a part of dealing with the loss of a gargantuan influence. The influence of Robin Williams cannot be measured. He was comedy DNA.
So let’s all laugh, hard, for Robin Williams. I am. I am choosing to think of him and not be sad. The wealth of laughter that the man left behind eclipses any flaws he might have had, plain and simple. If you must have a reason why he departed, maybe he’d given the world all he had. If you give away that much joy, you forget to leave a little in the tank for yourself. Robin Williams gave that much and then some. Then some more. And then extra. He loved us all that much.
I will miss that man. When I miss him, I’ll laugh, and I’ll laugh when I miss him. I think he’d have liked that.
He knew, as I do, that laughter is life, and vice versa.