Friday, April 15, 2011

Make 'Em Laugh (Revised)

Then I read this, by Adam Roberts in "The Dinner Party," on page 83 of Dan Savage and Terry's Miller's It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living:  

"...As a teenager, I was really repressed.  Whereas some repressed teenagers become angst-ridden and sullen, I was the opposite: I was a manic sack of nervous energy [-] fidgety, jokey, always hiding behind my humor...."


'By then, I'd found an incredible group of friends in Rathskellar, Emory's improvisational comedy troupe. It was in Rathskellar that I first learned I didn't have to be "on" all the time....'

(Italics are mine for emphasis.)

Gay humor is a wonderful, and wicked, thing.  In the company of my gay friends in the past, particularly Dale, whom I met shortly after moving to Vancouver in the late 1980s (he passed away in 2000), I laughed so hard and so long, I hurt all over.  My face, my sides, my stomach--everything hurt. Laughing takes a lot of energy.  It requires you to be up over an extended period.  Sometimes, after I'd spent an afternoon with Dale, I felt as though I'd been through a rigorous workout. I was wiped.  It was exhausting.       

Dale was in a lot of pain because he was gay, effeminate, homophobic, single, lonely, and average-looking.  I didn't see the pain he was in until we'd been best friends for several years.  Around the time I discovered I didn't want to be around him anymore, I realized what was going on.  He was addicted to making people laugh.  Humor was a drug to him.  He needed it to mask his insecurity.  He hid behind it so people wouldn't see all the things he hated about himself.  He used it to disarm others, to take the attention off his shortcomings.  I only wish I'd seen this then so I could have somehow helped him.     

There's nothing wrong with humor, or being funny, or making people laugh.  I'm not suggesting gay people should rid themselves of their funny, because, to some degree, they're defined by it.  But what I am saying is there's funny, and then there's FUNNY.  Any gay man who is incessantly FUNNY, who lives to entertain others, who surrounds himself with an audience all the time, who's constantly "on"--that man is hurting.  He's also hiding and covering up something.  Don't be fooled by the nonstop comedy routine that is his life.     

It's been said laughter is the best medicine.  Who among us doesn't know that to be true?  But when humor is used excessively and obsessively, as I know Dale did, then it can have the opposite effect:  it pushes people away rather than draws them closer.  It can also prevent one from dealing with the bigger issue, which is why one uses humor to escape in the first place.  As Roberts suggests in the remainder of his quote, "...I...learned I didn't have to be 'on" all the time, that it was important to be introspective, and...being gay really wasn't that big of a deal." 

Sometimes, taking the time and effort to be still and contemplate ourselves and our lives is necessary. True, until we come to terms with being gay and learn to love ourselves for who and what we are, introspection is tough.  We may not like what we see when we take that sober look in the mirror.  But, as Roberts writes, being gay isn't a big deal.  It's another facet of us, like everything else.    

Our biggest challenge, as I see it, is to get ourselves there, to believe in our minds and in our hearts we're all right just the way we are.  Only then will the funny we share with others, that doesn't originate in a place of pain, be truly humorous.    


"How did I survive?  I survived by making people laugh.  It was my personal defence mechanism. Making people laugh--and getting them to like me--saved my life.  Who is going to judge or pick on me, if they're laughing?  Comedy has the incredible power to disarm....  I'm still getting people not to judge me, by making them laugh first [p. 202]."

"I've turned all that hate into love by way of laughter [p. 203]."

(Both quotes from Murray Hill, "I Didn't Always Wear a Tuxedo," It Gets Better.)


  1. I knew someone like that in Honolulu. He was always super quick with puns and jokes, you could tell he was very smart. But after a while, I would start to wonder where the real person is behind the zingers. I ended up feeling kind of sorry for him, as he didn't seem to have any close friends. Humour should be a way of connecting with others, not a way of demanding attention or hiding your true self.

  2. Doug, you've said in so few words what took me far more. Thank you for hitting it on the head.

    One of the lines I wanted to include in this piece was about needing a friend sometimes, someone to be still and quiet with, someone to talk with seriously about something. But Dale could never do that. Everything had to be made funny, even when it wasn't. I got so frustrated with him.

    Several years after we had been close, I pulled away from him. I saw what he was doing, and I didn't want to be a part of it anymore. I sat Dale down, and we had a heart-to-heart. I told him exactly why he was so difficult to be around. In my own way, I loved this man, but I was done.

    I met Chris, I lost complete touch with Dale, and he died, alone and presumably without changing. What a shame. He was a great human being, so much going for him. I loved is quick wit, his vivacious personality, his generosity. I just couldn't stand that he never knew when to shut it off, when to settle into being himself and enjoy that.

    Thank you for confirming the world is filled with people like Dale. They truly deserve our pity and help, if we are able.