Robin Williams' depression has put a spotlight on mental illness in comedians, but that isn't good.
The comedy world was shaken when Robin Williams, a standup, film and television legend, committed suicide last week. Though his reputation within the standup comedy community was rather mixed—he was, prior to his death, often regarded as a joke thief—when he passed, there was a dampening of spirits throughout.
There was also a microscope placed on the lives and mental health of a lot of comedians, both from the media and from ourselves. Thinkpieces were abound about how most of the funniest people are often the most unhappy behind closed doors and backstage, Pagliacci comparisons flew all around the Internet. And some of those were valid: Lots of comedians are, in fact, struggling with depression or other issues. But it also did a disservice.
Because lots of people struggle with depression and other mental health disorders and mental illnesses.
For every Robin Williams, there's a Louis C.K. For every Chris Farley, there's a Chris Rock. For every Freddie Prinze, there's a Sarah Silverman. That's not to say that these stars don't face their own demons, of course, but there's a seemingly false and overestimated impression of the rate of depression and mental illness in standup performers, even among their peers.
The truth is, depression and mental illness are huge problems throughout all walks of life. There are likely just as many depressed accountants as there are sad clowns, we just don't hear about them as often, because the media doesn't care about accountants (unless they're testifying for Goldman Sachs or something, in which case they care a lot). There are bi-polar baristas, dissociative dentists, schizophrenic school teachers and other alliterative and non-alliterative combinations thereof.
The difference here is that often comedians are more open about their issues because their job is to find something light from things that can be incredibly dark. Or their job is to make d*ck jokes, depending on who you're going to see and how bad your taste is.
It's dangerous to assume an entire profession is rampant with mental illness and depression when the truth is, it extends far beyond performers: Performers just get the most attention for it. For every person who makes you giggle as a coping mechanism to deal with his or her own internal issues, there's one who makes you giggle because, well, they like to make you giggle.
If you suspect someone is suffering, by all means, help them help themselves. Be good to one another, love your neighbors and treat people with kindness, because you never know what anyone else is struggling with behind the scenes. But please don't make sweeping generalizations and assume someone is mentally ill solely because they tell jokes to strangers in dark basements.
Seriously, mom, stop it. I'm fine.