“There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt,” said columnist Erma Bombeck. On Monday, comedian and Golden Globe, Emmy, Grammy, and Oscar winner Robin Williams, finding himself lost on the wrong side of that line, hanged himself after a long bout with depression. It was an end that shocked and saddened many fans but that was also sadly stereotypical, giving weight to the claim that comedians ply their playful trade to cover up or deal with pain.
Whether this phenomenon is exaggerated or not, I knew an aspiring comedian who certainly fit that mold. He often was side-splittingly funny but never seemed happy; he could make you laugh but never laughed himself — I don’t remember a genuine smile ever crossing his face even once. And my erstwhile acquaintance and Williams have a lot of company. As Lenny Ann Low wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald:
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