An article linked today on Arts and Letters Daily got me thinking about comedy and comedians again. It opens talking about Charlie Chaplin’s relationship with his wife before moving on to cover a few other famous comedians and the history of professional comedy:
Was this proof that the Chaplin projected on the screen was exactly that, an insubstantial phantom concealing the true identity of the man? “He has clowned, cavorted, and somersaulted in every city, town, and mining camp in the civilized and uncivilized world,” wrote De Casseres, “but there is no man I have ever met who, intellectually and emotionally, comes nearer to the Hamlet type of being than Charles Spencer Chaplin, planetary clown, whose stage personality is better known than any other human being who has thus far been born on this star and who has more completely hidden his real personality than any other world figure.” Chaplin, beloved of millions and known around the world, was walled off, Midas-like, from the very gift that others revered in him. De Casseres’ conclusion was emphatic: “I have never met an unhappier or a shyer human being than this Charles Spencer Chaplin.”
Immediately I thought back to two things I’ve written about. This first is Katt Williams’ description of what it takes to be a comic. He says it takes a very smart and cynical person who doesn’t believe or trust in things to notice and understand the world in the way that comedians do which allows them to find the humor in it. Obviously this isn’t a recipe for a person well-adjusted to regular, every-day life. The second was my article referencing the Hyperbole and a Half comic about how deconstruction leads to depression. The same insight which allows a comic to break the world down and repackage it in a funny way for his audience is the same insight which can lead to total alienation from the structures, routines, and joys of regular, every-day life.
Interesting to see the same idea presented in a more formal, biographical format pertaining to comedians of yore. The nature of the beast never changes.