I try to make people laugh as much as I can. For that, sometimes I have to be mean – making fun of a generally disliked person invokes the most laughter. Other times, I have to be stupid – make funny faces, put on an exaggerated accent, make a complete fool out of myself. But the one thing that I have to do all the time is to be fake.
There is a joke in Watchmen. If you have watched the movie or read the comic, you know it. A man goes to a doctor and tells him he is depressed. He tells him that life feels harsh and that ‘he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain’. The doctor replies with good news and tells him the treatment is simple. ‘Great clown Pagliacci is in town. You should go visit him, it will pick you up’. The man bursts into tears and says, ‘but doctor, I am Pagliacci!’
Most funny people you meet are Pagliacci. They put on a mask and proceed to act in a way that will make others laugh because in that moment of laughter, you have helped them experience some seconds of pure joy. And it hits home. It hits home so hard because you can know the value of joy only when you have not felt it in the longest time. You know how beautiful a feeling it is when a laugh just bursts out of your soul because it has not burst out of yours for months. You know how important something is when you don’t have it – or so the old, sage, bearded men said hundreds of years ago. Only tragedy is really timeless because happiness is in the now, while sadness, sorrow, that unmistakable feeling of emptiness, that unending chasm of loneliness that you attempt to jump every single day when you make others laugh, that thrives on the past, the present and future. It builds itself on the past; regrets collecting like unsent letters in your waste basket. It feeds on the present, eating away at your life, like crows feasting on a battlefield. And it thrives on the future, like doubt and reluctance tearing apart an angel’s wings.
Growing up, I have always felt a stab of loneliness. And here is where the distinction between being alone and being lonely is important to understand. I have never been left wanting for friends; I have always had them. But I have rarely had good friends, friends with whom I could be sad, silent, dark – friends with whom I could be myself. Around three weeks ago, during a particularly depressing phase, my father asked me if I had any friends. Not a single night has passed when I have not been ashamed that I could not answer a question that simple. I could have told him about the numerous people I hang out with daily, or about my class-mates. I could have rattled off dozens of names but in that instant, as his question hung in the air, my mind refused to come up with even one. All his question got in reply was silence.
Early on, I realized I would have to be different from who I really was. I could not be sad all the time because nobody liked a silent kid who found nothing funny and who ‘refused to be happy’. I put that phrase in quotation marks because it was used to describe me. It is not a choice. Nobody would, if given the choice, choose to isolate themselves from emotional bliss, from happiness or joy. Simple things like laughter or a smile were not very simple for me.
Today, they come easy. They come easy not because they are true, but because I have gotten so good at donning this Pagliacci clown mask that it has become who I am: a stupid, chattering idiot with a never-ending supply of funny up his sleeve. I come home and I still wear the mask. It only ever comes off at night. Carefully taken off and placed with extreme care, it rests in my mind as I stare at my reflection trying to recognize the downward sloping lips or the weary eyes. Past the mask, even I have become a stranger to myself. Everyday life is now a role in this play possessing levels of irony that Shakespeare would be proud of. The depressed making the happy laugh.
This is not to invoke feelings of pity for the class clown. This is because my family’s laughter can slip in under my locked door as I sit feeling empty. This is because the pills have worn off and my reflection can be seen in my mirror. The next time you meet a person who seems just a little desperate to get a laugh out of you, talk to him. Try to pick apart his wall, to take off his mask. Odds are, he is sadder than usual that day. Let him know he is not lonely, that if he needs someone to talk to, you will be there for him. Let him know that social interaction is not a duty, that life is not a stage. Listen to him talk, hold his hand as he cries and let him finish. And never, ever tell somebody you liked them more when they were funnier. Be kind, be inviting, and be patient. You might just make him smile.