On mediocrity

“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…

5 thoughts on “On mediocrity

  1. I’ve thought about this a lot – I was a literature major in college and it seems like every writer for the last 50 years has thought that writing needs to be dark or it isn’t art. I look at the classics and they aren’t like that. The classics are classics because they explore all parts of human nature – both the bad parts AND the good, redemptive parts. I think it’s a modern phenomenon to think that art has to come from a place of pain and dwell on the sick and twisted. I almost feel like it’s cheating, like too many people are substituting shock value for content.
    Jenny @ Unremarkable Files recently posted…7 Quick Takes about Breakfast Pie, Not Taking Pictures of Your Swordfish, and Good Names for Internet VilliansMy Profile

  2. Mmmmm. Very interesting and yes, I have often had similar thoughts that the most successful people often have troubled backgrounds. I don’t, however, think you necessarily have to have a tortured soul. Successful business people, for instance, are usually just deeply insecure and have to go on proving themselves (until they become President of the US apparently). Yes, definitely some truth in this I feel.

  3. I always found it strange that many successful comedians actually struggle with depression when their job is to make people laugh. I love John’s comment by the way!
    It’s strange as I often write better when I’m writing about an emotional topic as I guess it comes straight from the heart? However I’d like to think that being a positive, upbeat person can also get you places in this world. Let’s hope so! xx

  4. I agree with John, having a troubled past or tortured soul is simply a correlation, not causation of success. Although there have been many traits shared between sociopaths and success as well, particularly in business. The secret lies in motivation to succeed. What motivates each of us is very different, and many of us go our whole lives having never found it. Once you find the motivation, everything else becomes secondary and the desire to achieve the goal becomes an almost obsessive drive, which in itself can be quite lonely.

  5. Really interesting Sam. I sometimes wish I was the best at something, that there was something that I was really good at or better than others… but at the same time I am quite lazy and have never felt the motivaation to sacrifice all else for that game. I gave p working in TV because I knew in reality that it didn’t mean enough to me to put up the long hours and instability that I would need to cope with to really ‘make it.’ Ill never be an uber successful blogger because I don’t want the blog to be more important than my life and my kids. So for now I have to accept mediocrity and focus on enjoying my mundane but pretty content little life! great post xxx

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