Put on your costume, powder your face. The people pay to be here, and they want to laugh. And if Harlequin shall steal your Columbina, laugh, clown, so the crowd will cheer! Turn your distress and tears into jest, your pain and sobbing into a funny face – Ah!
Above is the English translation of the chorus to operatic aria ‘Vesti la Giubba’, cited by some opera commentators as perhaps the most moving aria of it’s time. Bearing in mind it’s competition in the grief stricken world of opera, it’s an accolade that deserves kudos.
It tells of the sadness of the clown Canio, for whom the ‘show must go on’ regardless of his despair at learning of his wife’s infidelity. Despite inner feelings to the contrary, he must continue to jest and amuse his discerning audience.
The oxymoron of ‘sad clown’ is a much visited destination by writers both of fiction and the real world. A place that I only visit if I want fish and chips or to watch a Sopranos box set. Otherwise, I prefer to indulge myself in the world of fiction (or part-fiction) with the penning of my daily random musings.
The world of fiction is a nice enough place; although the parking charges are ridiculously high and the obligatory wearing of lederhosen deeply disconcerting.
Singer/songwriter Smokey Robinson also told of the tears of a clown. He proffered that “Now there’s some sad things known to man, but ain’t too much sadder than the tears of a clown. When there’s no one around.”
Smokey’s revelation came as a shock to me. I always thought he was the life of the party because he told a joke or two. It just shows you not to judge a book by its cover, or a jester by his/her façade.
Parallels of the mentally tormented joker were often made to the late comedian/actor Robin Williams. A man whose manic act and persona hiding a bedevilling fight with his mental demons. A battle that was allegedly a contributory factor towards his suspected self-induced death.
There has been many studies conducted around the link between comedians and depression. Amongst its higher profile sufferers, Stephen Fry has been diagnosed with bipolar disease. The man with a brain the size of a small planet the victim of several mental health issues prior to and after his diagnosis at the age of 37.
Spike Milligan suffered profound depression and published a book titled Depression And How To Survive It. Peter Cook, John Cleese, Ruby Wax, Jack Dee, Caroline Aherne and David Walliams are among the others who have spoken about their inner turmoil.
There are those though who label mental illness is all in the head (pardon the pun). Fergal Ciabatta the Irish/Italian editor of Darwinian magazine ‘Snap Out Of It, You Weak Plebs’ claims that there is no such thing as mental illness only weakness and people who drink sherry.
My friend who has suffered from mental health problems for a while now confided in me at the bar of our local pub that “Fergal Ciabatta is talking out of his arse! …. And saying as you’re asking, I’ll have a sherry please mate!”
To close I wanted to share a comment made by former Monty Python star Terry Gilliam. In it he offered his perception of the seemingly unavoidable consequences to Robin Williams of his genius.
“When the gods gift you with the kind of talent Robin had, there’s a price to pay.”