The horrible truth is, life would not be very funny and filled with laughter if no one ever cried. And I am not just saying that because saying something is its own opposite is a cheap way of sounding wise. You honestly can’t be happy if you have never been sad. Nothing makes you appreciate what you have more than the experience of pain and loss. I call everything I write “humor” because I defend myself against the darkness with a wacky wit and an ability to laugh when I am in pain. Some of the funniest men who ever lived were creatures of great sadness. Robin Williams may have died of it.
And isn’t it true that the funniest movies are the ones that have at least one part of the story that makes you tear up? I have been avoiding Downton Abbey even though my wife loves it, because I knew it was good enough to make me cry… a lot. My wife makes fun of me when movies make me cry… or TV shows… or television commercials during the Superbowl. She grins at me while tears are gushing. And therein lies a connection between laughing and crying. At least somebody gets a laugh out of the pain from a sensitive heart.
So, you may have noticed that I confessed to avoiding Downton Abbey. But I must also confess that I gave in. She is watching every episode from the beginning in preparation for the final season coming up. She made me watch it with her. That goofy British soap opera set a hundred years ago is most definitely a comedy. It is a comedy of manners. Servants versus the upper class. Scheming footmen like Thomas Barrows are almost cartoon villains as they plot their nearly infinite schemes of advantage and subterfuge. You laugh when karma catches up to them, and they take a beating or lose their job. And yet, like soap opera villains of the past, they never stay defeated. Thomas found a coward’s way out of World War One and made his way back into the good graces of the Crawley family, achieving a higher rank in the staff than he had before. And Dame Maggie Smith as Dowager Lady Grantham is the scathing-est of wits, surprising us with her shallow upper-class prejudices one moment, and showing a depth of humanity and compassion the next. It is a comedy in that it plays off the soap opera form with exquisite self awareness. But it drops the bottom out from under your feet constantly. You fall directly into the tiger-traps of tragedy. I cried when favorite characters died, like when Lady Sybil unexpectedly dies in childbirth, and when Matthew Crawley is killed in a car accident immediately after the birth of his long-awaited son. When Valet John Bates goes to prison for murder though his first wife actually committed suicide, I became a fountain of gushing tears. I cried again when he got out of prison. I cried when his wife Anna was raped by a visiting lord’s valet. And as that part of the plot works itself out in the next few episodes, I’m sure I’ll cry again. My wife has been having a barrel full of belly laughs at my expense. But because I have struggled through the depths of personal pain with these characters, and love them like they were real people, I laugh all the harder at their wit and ready comebacks and ultimate victories. The only difference between a comedy and a tragedy is the comedy’s happy ending.
So I will continue to laugh and cry and call everything I write humor. Forgive me when I’m not so funny. And laugh with me sometimes, too. Even laugh at me… because that’s laughter too.