The news of Robin Williams’s death caught everyone by surprise, and at this point, there’s little I can say about his life and career that hasn’t already been said. His comedy appealed to all ages, and there were entire movies that had to be rewritten because his adlibbing on set was better than the scripted material (case in point: Disney’s Aladdin). Stories are now surfacing all over the internet about the times he reached people in their darkest moments and lifted them up. He was one of our most brilliant and loving comedians, and we’ve lost him.
In the wake of his suicide, the one comment that I’ve been hearing over and over again is: “But he was so funny.” This comment troubles me because it implies that funny people are automatically happy, and from what I’ve seen in youth ministry, it’s much safer to assume the opposite. With a few exceptions, funny kids are usually lonely, misunderstood, insecure, and unhappy with themselves. Funniness is often a defense mechanism that they employ as a means of getting attention without actually admitting what’s going on in their personal lives.
Author David Wong summarizes it beautifully in an article titled “Robin Williams and Why Funny People Kill Themselves”. Unfortunately, the article has some explicit content, so I’m not going to post the link on a church blog, but here’s what he says about class clowns:
In your formative years, you wind up creating a second, false you — a clown that can go out and represent you, outside the barrier. The clown is always joking, always “on,” always drawing all of the attention in order to prevent anyone from poking away at the barrier and finding the real person behind it. The clown is the life of the party, the classroom joker, the guy up on stage — as different from the “real” you as possible. Again, the goal is to create distance. You do it because if people hate the clown, who cares? That’s not the real you. So you’re protected.
And every group of kids has a few of these. My school did. Your school did. Our church youth group does. And this will always be the case. The difference occurs when friends and adult leaders make a point of really getting to know the class clowns– spending time with them so that we can break down the wall together and find out what’s really going on behind the jokes. So the next time a kid cuts up in class or youth group or wherever, don’t just give stern eyes or tell them to quiet down; sit down and talk to them about it. Build a relationship with them. You could be saving a life.
Grace and Peace,