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September 02, 2014

A think piece that explores the complex relationship between depression and comedy

Why Depression is Surprisingly Common in the Smartest, Funniest, Most Gifted People, Such as the Author of the Think Piece You Are Currently Reading, For Instance
By David Fuller

We all know the class clown. Everyone has the ‘funny one’ in their group of friends: the guy who is always cracking everybody up; the guy who is always ‘on;’ the guy with the razor sharp wit. On the stage and on the screen, we look to comedians to bring us levity, laughter, and a release from our daily stresses. But it might shock you to learn that, more often than not, the funniest and smartest people, such as the author of the think piece you are currently reading, for instance, are surprisingly the most depressed.

The notion that the best and the brightest are sometimes the saddest has been around for quite some time. Ernest Hemingway captured this idea in its most concise and personally relatable form in The Garden of Eden when he remarked: “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.” Even before Hemingway, Aristotle wrote: “All men who have attained excellence in philosophy, in poetry, in art, and in politics - even Socrates and Plato - had a melancholic habitus.” But why is it that those of us who are the smartest are so frequently plagued with a world-weary despair that most other human beings just aren’t really deep enough to understand? And why does it always result in us being so funny and well-liked?

Many psychologists believe that the most introspective and creative individuals throughout history - like painters, novelists, and freelance web journalists, for example - come from broken home lives and cryptically turbulent family situations that are quite frankly more authentic and interesting than most people’s mundane upbringings. Other great thinkers in the western canon have reasoned that the smartest and wittiest people are the saddest simply because they are uniquely capable of fully seeing the inherent and objective absurdities of the universe. After all, it was Keats who said, “Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?” And, man, don’t I know that to be true from personal experience.

It’s no surprise then, that many of these deeply intelligent and troubled creatures turn to comedy as a method of dealing with the darkness. In fact, it’s not hard to see how sadness and laughter are really just two sides of the same coin. Thus, brooding, depressed, incredibly gifted people end up filling the darkest spaces of their souls with things like jokes, frivolity, satire, and hilarious Facebook statuses posted daily at www.facebook.com/david.fuller.comedyman2.

Because depression is so subjectively complex and ineffably personal, people who are depressed, intelligent, and funny - present company included - sometimes feel the need to talk about their pain and suffering (and would be available to do so on any podcast, radio show, etc., if the opportunity were to arise - info@davidfullersketchimprovstandup.com). This kind of bravery and brutal honesty is often met with ignorance, or even worse, dismissiveness. The stigma surrounding mental illness in America leads us to ignore the fact that we encounter people every single day who are quietly struggling with depression. These people are literally everywhere: delivering our mail; teaching our children; filling our prescriptions; fixing our cars; writing the essays that we are currently reading.

For brilliant, damaged, hilarious introverts - take, for instance, the author of the article you are reading right now - the ability to make others laugh is sometimes the only consolation we have. But it remains a mystery why the people who struggle with such demons are driven to grace the rest of the world with our brilliant music, poetry, art, and < a href=“www.davidfullersketchimprovstandup.com/screenplays/”>screenplays< /a>. Perhaps it is nothing more than a chemical imbalance. Maybe some people are just wired to be sad, hilarious, and enormously talented. Who knows? Regardless of what brings these tortured souls into our midst, it is important that we maintain awareness to get them the help and exposure they deserve. When one hurts, we all hurt. So next time you see that funny guy posting a totally absurd and amazing Twitter joke, one of which was once retweeted by Rob Delaney by the way, take a closer look. Beneath the brilliant life-of-the-party facade, there is often an entire universe of profound sadness. And for that, we all must suffer.