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The fear of being found unfunny

The fear of being found unfunny

By Bikram Vohra

Published: Fri 11 Oct 2019, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 11 Oct 2019, 2:00 AM

When Robin Williams  killed himself, I wrote and said, I guess he gave so many people so many laughs, he ran out of laughs for himself. People who make people laugh are usually isolated and the goblins in their mind come from a whole other tribe. The Robin Williamses of the world keep their goblins at bay by becoming lightning rods. Humourists do that; they allow themselves to be controversial and pull in the slack.
That's why clowns are sad. They see beyond the pale, and what they see disturbs them because they cannot share it and it gnaws at them from within. Humour is a stringently distilled activity and those who opt to chase it live in constant fear of being found out. What if someone does not laugh with joy, seeing as how taking offence, being insulted, finding it unfunny or mocking the action are just a thin line away and often cross the border?
When comedian Manjunath Naidu collapsed on stage in Dubai earlier this year, he was performing his stand-up comic act and the subject was anxiety. Ironic, seeing as how anxiety played a key role in his death. There can be nothing more stressful than placing yourself in a crowd and hoping they will laugh. It is a cruel self-infliction and the only problem with humourists is they have to do it. It is such a scary compulsion and they are held captive by the commitment.
Only a handful of people who deal in comedy and the tragedy that follows it constantly will understand that it is not easy to  handle the funny mirrors that don't distort life but actually clarify the vision. What most of the world sees as straight is the distortion you take and turn into a pretzel of the truth and hope like hell that someone finds laughter in it. Happy laughter, the sort that crystallises a thought unique, a moment rare and underscores the identity factor. Those with a sense of humour see the distortion, and recognise the foibles and flaws and fakery of mankind, of themselves and those around them and that is where the laughs come from. For the person producing the laughs, the depth of the insight is often too heavy to bear.
It is scary. Whenever I write a funny piece, I get moody and sulky and wait in trepidation for it to appear in public, sure I will be cast away in a canoe on a stormy sea of criticism. It is a fear whose texture is impossible to explain, except that it is visceral and intimidating, for what if no one laughs?
You can never explain it to anyone. That scary sensation of being all alone with your haha take on a facet of life. Only other humourists condemned and blessed by this gift will have a sliver of understanding why funny people live lives of quiet despair.
The flaw lies in the fact the human race still equates laughter with trivia, it is a sideshow, something pleasant but not really a full-blown competitor to the seriousness ?of life.
And so far as they use big words and come off solemn, no one ever calls their bluff. If you want to be funny, you cannot say 'insofarmuchas' or 'weighing the pros and cons' or 'putting things in the balance' or even 'it is time to get down to the nitty-gritty.' Not much laugh there. It has to be quick and sharp as a razor, and in the timing and brevity lies the magic.
The stand-up comic scene is doing very well, but it is still frowned upon as a career. Visualise a domestic scene where father says to adult offspring, so have you decided what you want to be?
Yes.
Ah, like grandpa said, a doctor.
No.
Oh, engineering or finance.
No, stand-up comic.
Father laughs, says, I misheard you, thought you said you wanted to be a stand-up comic.
I did.
Go wash your mouth.
Then there is a benediction that comes with making folks laugh. Every now and then, there is the sound of laughter, a wondrous ripple; you make someone's day, get a letter from a total stranger and he or she says you added a slice of sunshine, that they fell over with mirth or so totally identified with you because that is exactly what happens to them and you get this warm gush of good feeling, an emotion you just cannot explain, except that you know it makes everything worthwhile.
wknd@khaleejtimes.com




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