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Comedians and Depression: The Downside of Comedy

Updated on May 22, 2017
social thoughts profile image

I have a B.A. in English with a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies. I've been a Goth since age fourteen, and a Pagan since age fifteen.

American comedian Robin Williams at "Stand Up for Heroes," a comedy and music benefit organized by the Bob Woodruff Family Fund to raise money for injured U.S. servicemen. 9 November 2007
American comedian Robin Williams at "Stand Up for Heroes," a comedy and music benefit organized by the Bob Woodruff Family Fund to raise money for injured U.S. servicemen. 9 November 2007 | Source

After Robin Williams' death in August, many are wondering why someone who made us laugh so much could have been suffering so deeply from depression. Well, that's just it. When you have a successful career and seem to have everything, people will judge you for being human; especially, when people only see you as an entertainer rather than as a person. Many depressed people are capable of playing the part of being content while feeling the depth of their pain, internally.

"Your job as a comedian is basically to notice everything, and the better the comedian the more aware he or she is about the world around them. It can be not a happy place...I'm never shocked that a comedian is dealing with depression." Chris Rock on Robin Williams, ABC

Chris Rock has not only spoken about how common depression is among his colleagues, but poked fun at it in a skit for his show The Chris Rock Show. In the skit, alcohol becomes the solution for depression. Pun intended. The joke suggests how depression has no easy and/or universal antidote. Perhaps, even in some circumstances, there do not seem to be cures. Sometimes, depression can only be relieved temporarily. Maybe, that is part of Chris Rock's joke.

Do you think humor helps depression?

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 This is the grave of American actor and comedian Chris Farley  30 January 2010
This is the grave of American actor and comedian Chris Farley 30 January 2010 | Source

Chris Farley was a successful comedian, yet a troubled person. He died of a drug overdose of cocaine and morphine, in 1997. Multiple celebrity friends of his have been quoted, saying Farley went out of his way to get laughs. He willingly made fun of himself to gain the acceptance of others; therefore, his work was not merely for entertainment as much as it was for the purpose of being liked. Many comedians make fun of themselves, at least from time to time, as part of their routines, but if it is at the cost of their own mental health it isn't worth it. It is a tragedy that someone so talented could have been hurting themselves as deeply as Farley.

Are you surprised Chris Farley was desperately trying to be liked?

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"The joke of it is, basically, 'We can't hire you because you're fat.' There's no comic twist to it. It's just (bleep)ing mean...Chris wanted so much to be liked. As funny as that sketch was … it's one of the things that killed him." Chris Rock on Chris Farley, Natalie Pompilio

Jim Carrey, Yesman premiere
Jim Carrey, Yesman premiere | Source

Jim Carrey has spoken about having depression. He has said he was in a constant "low level of despair." Some believed causes for his depression are linked to his financially difficult upbringing. His parents both had employment problems. Even though he has been on Prozac on and off for years, the thing which has helped him the most has been his spirituality. For some, medication is the only answer while others find that spirituality is. Thankfully, as with any common issue, it has been a positive thing for Carrey to speak openly about his struggle because it sheds light on a widespread mental illness.

Looking over the deceased comedians and the reality that the ones still living are experiencing difficulty should make society wonder how long each comedian will live. Will Jim Carrey stay with us or will his depression end his life? I hope he lives a full life, and never takes it into his own hands with suicide or drugs. I hope to see these talented people survive their pain. I want to see them capable of seeing how much good they have done. Comedy can be so helpful during times too low to handle otherwise. I hope they continue to use humor to deal with their heavy burdens of reality.

Do you think people such as Jim Carrey help encourage society to spread awareness about mental illness?

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© 2014 social thoughts


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  • social thoughts profile image

    social thoughts 2 years ago from New Jersey

    Michael, that is so true! Thank you for taking the time to read and comment!

  • Michael J Gordon profile image

    Michael 2 years ago from U.S.

    Comics make fun of themselves in their routines because you pretty much have to. No victim no comedy. And you can't just rip on the audience the whole time. You'll lose them. Un less you're Don Rickles. People do seem to love abuse. As long as it's funny. Otherwise you're just mean spirited and they won't tolerate it for long. Comics get attacked all the time.

  • social thoughts profile image

    social thoughts 3 years ago from New Jersey


    Thank you for your comment. :) Yes, I recall that, too. I would imagine every great and famous person would eventually go that direction. It's sad and absurd that fans don't acknowledge their idols are still people. I'm sure it's terrifying having crowds chase anyone. :(

  • Ann1Az2 profile image

    Ann1Az2 3 years ago from Orange, Texas

    This is interesting and informative. I believe that fame and fortune definitely have their downside. Look at poor Elvis who couldn't even walk down the street without being mauled. I think he suffered from depression as well. For some reason I always associate clowns with depression. It may stem from a movie or show I saw years ago (don't remember the name of it) about a clown who was depressed.

    It's definitely an oxymoron, isn't it, that the people who make us laugh the most and struggling with the very thing they often lift us out of.

  • social thoughts profile image

    social thoughts 3 years ago from New Jersey

    Thank you, as always. Yes, I have heard of that as well. I am planning to write an article on Sylvia Plath which will talk about the connection between being creative and being depressed as she suffered greatly and took her own life. Thank you for your support and encouragement!

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

    I have no data to support this, but I believe a high percentage of creative people in general suffer from depression. Artists, musicians, yes, writers, actors, comedians, there seems to be a connection between that creativity and emotional and mental turmoil....and yes, speaking out about it can only help. Raising awareness about any issue is a must....society has spent far too long hiding in a closet. We need to talk about issues like depression and mental illness, rape and abuse, and on and on.

    Anyway, on this rainy Thursday I thought I'd stop by and thank you for tackling issues that are important.