See the funny little clown
See him laughing as you walk by
Everybody thinks he’s happy
‘Cause you never see a tear in his eye
No one knows he’s crying
No one knows he’s dying on the inside
‘Cause he’s laughing on the outside, mm
No one knows, no one knows…
—lyrics from the song See the Funny Little Clown by Bobby
Some of us are born to act, others born to watch, and perhaps as Shakespeare once suggested, “All the world is a stage.”
Regardless, sometimes an individual of seeming brilliance enters our world and has a profound impact on millions. Robin Williams was all of that. Ironically, of all the masterful performances he gave in his career as an actor (and as himself offstage), his exit scene may serve a greater impact than any.
His departure gives the world another ‘wakeup’ to the mental illness of depression.
I was not surprised by his suicide this week. Shocked and deeply saddened, but not surprised.
It’s no secret those who battle depression often do it through humour or other dynamic ways such as music, sports to overcome it.
Whatever it takes to make the hurt go away, the voice to shut-up, the emptiness to fill. Whatever it takes to fit in, feel accepted, to matter.
Sadly, another option that seems to go hand in hand with depression is addiction. Alcohol, drugs, prescription pills help fill the void, briefly. That’s when the spiral gets really messy.
Humour, however, helps hide the sorrow best for many. It has for me.
As a scared little kid in elementary school with a big forehead and small stature, I soon learned that laughter could be the great equalizer.
I trundled terrified into the role of class clown. I quickly learned that humour got me out of my penalty box of self-persecution and insecurity.
It made me feel like I fit in somewhere. After a while, the act becomes the person. For some that works out fine and for others, perhaps like Williams, it does not.
One never knows when that horrible ugly monster will just show up.
I struggle with depression every day and so far in my life I have been very fortunate. I try and remind myself that it is simply something I must overcome with positive energy and the hope that at any moment it will pass.
In my counter-balance struggle with depression, I have become the eternal optimist. That’s what I figure is a win-win. I’m lucky but many are not.
I am luckier than Williams today, once again proving that having everything is no guarantee of happiness.
The third domino that often falls in the depression game, after addictions, is suicide. Many are in disbelief that Williams would take his own life. I am not sure why.
In many interviews, Williams joked his way through conversations about his alcohol and drug use. Humour, like writing, is often best if based on what you know.
It is often suggested that suicide is a selfish and gutless act. Selfish perhaps but suicide is not a gutless act. Believe me.
I know. I tried it. But I did not have the guts.
A lack of intestinal fortitude, or simply a desire to continue on despite the darkness? I am not sure why I never went through with the task—and clearly happy I did not. Perhaps the pain was simply not that bad. Thankfully I had not tossed in copious quantities of alcohol into the mix that night.
Everything has a tipping point. I jokingly said to a friend recently, “Suicide is not ‘gutless,’ it takes a lot of guts. It’s not an easy thing to do. If you don’t believe me, try it.”
That’s the sort of dark humour Robin Williams would have used.
Like millions around the world, I will long marvel at the film magic and creative brilliance Williams gave us. He was my favourite actor as his sensitivity and passion will never be replaced. He gave so many so much and we are a much happier place because of him.
As his encore we have a better understanding or awareness of his quiet disease.
Bobby Goldsboro is another creative sort who has battled depression in his own ways. In 1964, his breakthrough song See the Funny Little Clown, hit number 9 on the charts and his career was launched.
His song popped in my mind the minute I heard the news about Williams. Goldsboro wrote about depression and added the girlfriend broken heart angle to fit the market. Here is the rest of the tune:
See the funny little clown
He’s hiding behind a smile
They all think he’s laughing
But I know he’s really crying all the while
How his heart is aching
How his heart is breaking on the inside
But he keeps laughing on the outside,
No one knows, no one knows
This funny little clown
You never used to see him around
Without his girl beside him
To love and guide him
Until one day his girl just walked away
And to this very day he says
He never loved her anyway
and no one knows except for me
Because you see I’m that funny little clown