Tonight, the world grieves.
It grieves the loss of one of one of the great Funny Men, a man who faced more demons than he ever showed. The world is a little bit duller, and the stars a little less twinkly.
Someday, I may write about the sorrow and the unfairness, about the way we stigmatize mental health issues, about the shockwaves his death has sent into our lives as a cultural body. But for now, because mental illness hits too close to home for me to speak of it coherently, and out of respect to those who grieve his loss the most, I will not. Instead, let’s celebrate his great gift to the world: laughter.
I will never understand those who say that comedy is a lesser art than “high drama.” Let us never underestimate the undertaking that is comedy. Humor is hard. Humor is complex. Humor must be crafted carefully, tested meticulously, and refined constantly before it’s released into the wild. Oftentimes, we don’t know why something is or isn’t funny; tastes vary, of course, but there’s no recipe to suit. Good humor is like true love or a flawless bacon cheeseburger: you can’t build it on your own, but you know it when you see it.
Humor is one of the most powerful ways of connecting with other human beings that we have. Would you marry a person who couldn’t make you laugh? No, of course you wouldn’t. You’d say, “We just didn’t connect.” If you’re me, that’s the deal-breaker that keeps you from a second date. No laughter, no connection, no relationship.
At its very core, comedy is the relationship between a speaker and a listener. When someone makes a joke, the underlying question is, “Do you see the world the way I do?” When you laugh, your underlying response is, “Yes.” In that instant, you two are bound to one another in a shared understanding. That’s what it means when we say that Robin Williams touched millions of lives. He looked at the universe and shared what he saw. When we realized we saw the same, our laughter bound us to him and to each other.
And that skein of laughter, that bond, it is a beautiful thing. Laughter is a complicated response. It bubbles up when we’re uncomfortable, when we’re joyous, when we’re hurt, when we’re angry, when we lash out or put up a facade or let down our guard. We trot laughter out when life goes beyond words. Laughter crosses language and cultural barriers; in that sense, humor is the sole uniting force in our fragmented world. Maybe we laugh at different things in different lands, but we all know what it’s like to breathe in oxygen and breathe out joy. We all know what it’s like to feel our bellies ripe-full with rippling chuckles, or to find ourselves doubled-over, heaving and crying with silent giggles. We are never alone so long as we can laugh together.
Thank you, Mr. Williams.