I am a big fan of comedy. Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, and Eddie Murphy are a few of my favorite comedians whose humor represents a slice of America that is rarely discussed publicly. It is a form of “black comedy” literally and figuratively. Their blunt, “in your face” progressive style is not for the faint of heart. If you find and take amusement, your peers will either relate or shun you because your comedic proclivities are antiestablishment. Their humor and colloquialisms can be crass, yet entail a hefty dose of realism. But isn’t that what comedy is all about?
Comedy uses everyday scenarios and makes light of them, churning your brain and emotions to either review or revile. It’s that simple. On an intimate level, humor is an icebreaker in tenuous situations or with a broader audience it can gain trust and provide a level of comfort.
Sometimes comedy is self-deprecating. This form of humor is more unstructured, spontaneous, and used frequently in general conversations and interactions. Self-deprecating, humorous situations begin with our life. We poke fun at our own expense and share with our friends and family and by doing so we can bridge the gap of perceived differences.
Proverbs 17:22 says, “A joyful heart is good medicine, But a broken spirit dries up the bones.”
The comedians I noted are very good at making people laugh and have used their personal experiences to add to their skits. They are seasoned, adept professionals whose fans welcome them with open arms whenever and wherever they perform, in person or on film. They have also been very vocal about their admiration and respect for the late Richard Pryor as someone who inspired them. Chris Rock considered him the “Rosa Parks of Comedy.”
Pryor grew up in a brothel with his grandmother and his prostitute mother. He was sexually abused at the age of seven, and after his mother abandoned him at the age of 10, his grandmother became his caretaker. He was a precocious child and his grandmother was a strict disciplinarian. The emotional trauma and neglect he lived through were the lessons of his lifetime: being true to himself was dangerous.
Pryor was a trailblazer, a multi-talented, innovator whose routine was anything but. His comedic genius afforded him the opportunity to promote his talent via audio recordings, film, and television while hiding the deep pain of his past. His storied career was only a microcosm of a very complex, and troubled man. Pryor masterfully concocted a character named “Mudbone,” who debuted on the 1975 album “…Is It Something I Said?” and was his most famous and requested character. “Mudbone’ was a wino whose frank depiction of society cut through and threatened the facade of opulence and perfection. He had his finger on the pulse of life despite living as an outlier. He held court, and people listened. Was Mudbone Pryor’s alter ego?
Pryor exhibited and finessed characters who lived inside his head and soul. While we endured our sidesplitting laughter, he struggled to keep his demons intact through multiple marriages, drug and alcohol abuse, and an attempted suicide by pouring 151-proof rum all over his body and set himself on fire. Humor was Pryor’s way of shielding a life that began with abandonment and emotional neglect. Humor gave him a voice—wounds and all.
From a young age, men learn to endure pain and unhappiness and become master manipulators of their own mask—donning smiles and humorous quips—because admitting to feeling mentally exhausted is considered a sign of weakness. They continue despite the fact that they’re bleeding profusely and hurting. It’s not far fetched to consider that the role of fixer or problem solver begins in childhood and grounding them throughout their lives. Society’s gender norms still tell us that boys and men don’t cry and there is no room for insecurities.
Men must find solutions to problems, rather than relate, work through their emotions, and rationalize how to solve their difficulties with the assistance of a licensed professional. Men feel the weight of expectations and gender dynamics, and any diversion from that is a sign of passivity” “Fear, sadness, and vulnerability are not masculine and if a man expresses any form of uncertainty, he is unreliable and unstable,” says society. He may be unstable, but his speaking out and not being shamed for his feelings is what will heal him, the best thing he can do for himself. Nor should he ever admit that he is having a hard time with life’s challenges.” Society’s rules have told men that they have to hide their feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty or face ridicule, and the easiest way to hide those feelings is in the guise of humor.
However, it is not funny to see the one you love on a path of self-destruction.
Humor is a defense mechanism and a false sense of protection from the realities of a man’s emotions and his life. The pressure to be “on” at all times, command attention, and have all the answers is extremely difficult, especially since life is ever-changing. The stigma of mental illness is not the burden any man wishes to carry. It is easier to pretend to have their life in order, than to admit that he needs professional guidance. It is easier to embrace the mask of humor than to admit that he is confused and discouraged.
Humor is a salve and a respite for bad days, happy days, and connectivity. Humor can make anyone feel better. Laughter is an inexpensive form of medicine and is ingenious. But sometimes it’s exactly what The Miracles and Smokey Robinson meant in Tears of a Clown:
“But don’t let my glad expression
Give you the wrong impression
Really I’m sad, oh I’m sadder than sad”
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