Friday, April 6, 2007

Oh, and about the bipolar thingie

Don't really know what to say about this one, so I'll just present the facts, ma'am (and sir).

Bert Thung and others have noted the stellar character of the characters in in 1981 Cambridge Footlights revue, "The Cellar Tapes." Three of the members of that cast who went on to huge success included Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, and Tony Slattery.

All Cambridge University graduates.

All television stars.

All depression sufferers.

I guess that Richard Jeni's death reminds us that comedy can be tragic, but what are the odds that three people from a six-person comedy revue would all suffer from depression?

Stephen Fry:

In The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive the comedian, actor and author talks of his struggle with bipolar disorder and interviews others who have the condition.

"Eleven years ago in the early hours of the morning I came down from my flat in central London," he says, recalling the period immediately after he walked out on the play Cell Mates. I went into my garage, sealed the door with a duvet I'd brought and got into my car. I sat there for at least, I think, two hours in the car, my hands on the ignition key. It was, you know, a suicide attempt, not a cry for help.

Instead he fled to Europe, saying he "really believed" he would never return to England.

"I drove to the south coast and took a ferry to Europe. I just knew I couldn't be at home. I really believed I would never come back to England. I couldn't meet the gaze of anyone I knew."

After later returning secretly to evade the press furore about his whereabouts, he was diagnosed as bipolar.

"I'd never heard the word before, but for the first time, at the age of 37, I had a diagnosis that explains the massive highs and miserable lows I've lived with all my life," he says.

"There's no doubt that I do have extremes of mood that are greater than just about anybody else I know. The psychiatrist in the hospital recommended I take a long break. I came here to America and for months I saw a therapist and walked up and down this beach. My mind was full of questions. Am I now mad? How have I got this illness, could it have been prevented, can I be cured of it? Since then, I have discovered just how serious it is to have bipolarity, or manic depression as it's also called. Four million others in the UK have it and many of them end up killing themselves."

Hugh Laurie:

Has struggled with severe clinical depression off and on over the course of his life, and continues to receive regular treatment from a psychotherapist. He stated in an interview that he first concluded he had a problem while on a movie set in 1996, when he realized that the car chase he was filming neither excited nor frightened him (he said that he felt, in fact, bored)...."Boredom," he commented in an interview on Inside the Actors Studio, "is not an appropriate response to exploding cars."

Tony Slattery:

After playing the role of Gordon in the stage production of Neville's Island, Slattery was nominated for a Olivier Award. Just as his career was at a peak, his life took a turn for the worst.

"Before I retreated, I was doing ten grams of cocaine a day and partying at Stringfellows. I'd worked non-stop for 13 years and had all this money to blow so i was. 'Let's parteee... there's a girl... there's a boy'. I was in toxic delirium entering various stages of exotic psychosis."

During his rockiest spells he survived on cocaine and amphetamines, starting his day with two bottles of vodka. Bankruptcy followed which resulted in Slattery locking himself away in his converted warehouse appartment overlooking the River Thames, not opening the door to friends and bailiffs alike. On one occassion he even threw his furniture out into the river. This depression continued for two years accompanied by physical and emotional exhaustion as he had been working almost continuously since his graduation from Cambridge University....

He also contemplated suicide, but decided against it. In a statement after his depression he said,

"It's not courageous to take your own life, it's cowardly. I didn't want to leave those I love - who had shown me so much kindness - grieving. So, that morning about a year ago, I made the decision to live. I wanted to go on, to achieve something. Also I was broke. I wondered what I'd been doing, there had been so much waste. It is so easy to hate yourself. Now I'm learning to love. It's tricky, but I'm getting there."

One of the books that I haven't donated to BookCrossing is Steve Allen's More Funny People, part of a series of essays that Allen wrote about American comedians (well, if you count Bob Hope as American). Here is part of Allen's conclusion from this book:

What has emerged so far - and what, oddly, I did not anticipate at the outset - is a portrait of the typical American comedian as personally a tortured soul, thus authenticating the stereotype of the Pagliacci who makes others laugh though his own heart is breaking....[T]he moments of greatest contentment, happiness, and elation for many comedians comes while they are on stage, even at times in their lives when they are most unhappy....[I]f he can just manage to get on stage in front of a thousand people who find him amusing, his back will stiffen, his eyes shine, and his blood race....

The misery returns only when the crowds have gone home. When the theater is darkened and the parking lot is empty, the performer must then face the painful reality of his offstage life. It is then that the clown may weep or rage.


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