“Is there such a thing as a successful comedian who isn’t also a tortured soul?”
I am reminded of Robin Williams and Spike Milligan but…well it’s not just comedians is it? Anyone with any kind of creative drive is probably in the same boat – the life experiences which mould us, which input directly into our mental health – these affect us as creative, motivated, driven individuals, don’t they?
I remember a time when I was 16 and first got a glimpse of this phenomenon. I was attending a residential holiday camp in Cheltenham run by the British Theatre Association along with my friend Ali who was keen on a career on the stage at that time. To be honest, I wasn’t bothered but I did enjoy stagecraft, theatre, the drama of it all (literally) and if I had understood that nugget of truth about myself in the moment, I probably wouldn’t have been so affected by what I witnessed.
I vividly recall one particular session which involved donning grotesque masks and simply improvising reactions to one another. In my memory the session became quite anarchic and surreal and seemed to trigger some kind of mass hysteria whereby these kids were breaking down left right and centre speaking out about child abuse and dysfunctional backgrounds to the point where my friend and I began to feel like the weird bystanders who would never be accepted within this world of tortured, yet highly dramatized pain.
Now, maybe some of this is mis-remembered. Maybe some of it was a work of dramatic fiction on the part of some high maintenance attention seekers but the question remains – is a happy, balanced, stable background a hindrance to success in a creative medium?
I read a blog post by the inimitable Cash Carraway earlier today in which she touched upon her own awakening happiness and how it seems to be the ‘grown up’, ‘normal’, unexceptional, everyday things, such as her own bathroom renovation, which make her smile. This is the woman who was nominated for a prestigious blogging award for a post entitled “How I Lost My Vagina” and it’s no secret that she struggles with this dichotomy in her life between wanting to ‘fit in’ and wanting to stand out (the two being mutually exclusive?).
Perhaps it is the breakdowns and heightened challenges and the crashing emotional waves which break over people at various times in their lives that the viewing/reading/listening public respond to in their droves – even the funny takes on the bad bits – in the blogging world the likes of Hurrah for Gin and The Unmumsy Mum – these are the bloggers who have captured the imagination and respect of their generation (cue: book deals and minor blogging celeb status).
Or maybe success is a combination of ambition, talent, luck, drive and if you’ve got a dark, lacerated soul too then that’s all fuel for the creative furnace…
On the other hand perhaps mediocrity is worth it’s weight in gold because what some of us lack in creative accomplishment we more than make up for by getting to live our lives without the burden of that ‘black dog’ stealing all the light from an otherwise dazzling brilliance.
What a trade off…