The Sadness of the Comic


If one ever wanted to make a movie about a superstar with a flair for characters and for physical comedy who ends up dying of depression while making the world laugh, there would be no better man to play him than Robbin Williams. And so it came to be, art became life or was it the other way round, and the sad irony of the whole thing would definitely have made Robin Williams himself laugh.

It’s difficult to make laugh, difficult even more to make people laugh so much that they cry, and difficult most to make people cry while they laugh. In that Robin Williams was a master, like Charlie Chaplin, for their best performances,  always had a melancholic poignancy to them, lingering long after the laughter had died down.

Think “City Lights” and the last scene where the girl who can see again sees the Tramp finally for who he is. Think “Circus” and the Tramp standing lonely and forlorn, the circus caravan having left and with it everything he has ever loved. Think “Limelight”.

And then think of “Dead Poet’s Society” and “Good Morning Vietnam” and “Jakob the Liar” and the Genie finally becoming free of the lamp in Aladdin. Even his greatest commercial success, Mrs. Doubtfire, which is about as crowd-pleasing a physical comedy as you are likely to get, has a bitter-sweet resolution that elevates it above the mere run-of-the-mill. Be it as a brilliant doctor trying to cure an incurable disease (“Awakenings”) or as a photo-processing clerk for whom pictures are the only windows into happiness that he will ever have (“One Hour Photo”) or a deeply-damaged psychiatrist coping with the loss of his wife and child-abuse (“Goodwill Hunting”) , Williams would bring this deep sadness and empathy to his characters, like few of his contemporaries could.

As a matter of fact, once you go down the list of his films, you are amazed to see how many characters he played that were morbidly lonely. Maybe his skill at playing loners came from something deep inside him, something that was him. Maybe funny people, are by nature, melancholic, their funniness a defense mechanism against the world outside.

For the line between happy and sad is as blurred as that between life and death.

Goodbye Robin Williams.



11 thoughts on “The Sadness of the Comic

  1. Felt the same, dada. So sad to lose him.

  2. It was so shocking and sad to read about his demise. Good memories of his movie performances came flooding back in. Your post pays good homage to him. May his soul rest in peace.

  3. “Maybe funny people, are by nature, melancholic, their funniness a defense mechanism against the world outside.”

    This line is essentially the gist of the article. Same theme is expressed by one of my other favorite writer – David Wong from

  4. Celebrity deaths don’t usually bother me except for its news value. But it was not the same with Robin Williams’ death. I have seen most of his TV, movie and onstage work over the years. I am in the same age group as he. Not an avid fan or anything. News of his death made me sad even before I noticed the cause of death.

    Your comment, “Robin Williams was a master, like Charlie Chaplin, for their best performances, always had a melancholic poignancy to them, lingering long after the laughter had died down.” is apt. First time here I saw him being compared to Chaplin. Very appropriate. “The poignancy that lingers after the laughter died down.” I felt this in my life whenever I noticed Robin Williams name over the years.

    News just came in that he hanged himself with a belt in a room while his wife is sleeping in another room. The wife left house in the moring not wishing to disturb him, as it happens in many households in America.

    Internet is full of comments on mental health, depression, addiction, drugs, alcohol etc. My two cents worth of comments follow on this subject. Many successful performers work till their death.They do not retire. Why? Either they do not have savings to sustain their lifestyle, so they need the money. Or it is the worship of success. I wish Mr. Williams retired early and took care of himself. My hunch, just being away from showbij pressure would have cured him. I understand there was a sitcom last year with him as a main character. I think if ones health (mental or physical) is not normal one should not take up such responsiblities, especially after you have seen and done everything you can in your life. He had a large body of creative work that he can rest on. RIP.

  5. Something about Robin Williams’ death left me helpless. “Helpless” is the word. Maybe I will write. Maybe I will not be able to form words.

  6. he used comedy to deal with his pain. This is one reason, mom’s shouldn’t work when child is infant or chose not to have kids instead of having kids and leaving them alone to fend for themselves. If RW had taken therapy or gone to a guru (like Mike Myers had gone to Deepak Chopra–wrote a book on it “why gods are laughing” or some such title; made a funny movie on it too)

  7. GB…Those are brilliant observations put across in the most crisp and thought provoking manner. This is why I’m a regular reader.

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