Much has been said about the "tears of a clown"--the notion that every comic face masks a depressed or troubled soul. The truth is, the research is contradictory at worst and inconclusive at best.
“People think comedians have these really dark personalities, but a lot of people have dark personalities and most of them don’t become comedians. You actually have to be pretty well-adjusted to be successful in the world of entertainment because it’s so competitive,” says Peter McGraw, a psychology and marketing professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and author of The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny.
On the other hand, research from Oxford University published earlier this year surveyed 523 comedians and compared them to a control group:
Their finding? “The creative elements needed to produce humor are strikingly similar to those characterizing the cognitive style of people with psychosis—both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder,” study author Gordon Claridge, of the University of Oxford’s Department of Experimental Psychology, told the BBC. He said comedians may use their act as a form of self-medication.
Suffice it to say that relentless jesting may not necessarily mask a deeper struggle within, but it is certainly possible that it might.
Case in point: Jamie Masada, a US comedy club pioneer, observed of his relationship with Robin Williams: "He was always in character - you never saw the real Robin. I knew him 35 years, and I never knew him."
As comedian and philosopher Ben Stein has so aptly observed, "We all wear masks, metaphorically speaking."
If Robin Williams' tragic death teaches us anything at all, it teaches that we must take the time--invest the energy--to look beyond the masks to the heart and soul of the person behind them. We mustn't assume a laughing face is indicative of a light heart. In fact, Scripture gives us this insightful warning: "Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains" (Proverbs 14:13, NLT).