Tears of the Clown—the Art of British Humour


Comments dripping in sarcasm, a mountain of witty or cutting one-liners, satire based upon the absurdity of everyday life, the cruel yet good-natured abuse of one’s friends, and the inappropriate antics designed to shock one into laughter. Oh, and let’s not forget the plethora of double entendres. And there you have a distillation of British humour.

Much misunderstood the world over, yet still, we Brits wouldn’t dream of changing it. It’s a part of the national psyche. As British as the Union Jack, or Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day, whiskey for Hogmanay, and hooliganism at a football match.

Comedians and comic writers have a knack for making it look easy. They have that ability to keep the jokes just rolling off the tongue, or on the page. Funnier and funnier, until we’re rolling in the aisles, or falling off the sofa, our sides aching from laughing. They slave for hours, days even to get each gag just right. To find the perfect word to encapsulate the essence of what they are trying to convey.

But there’s a side to humour that also seems to go hand in hand, just like the Union Jack, Guinness, and hooliganism. And it’s that blurry line between comedy and tragedy.


The comedy and tragedy of a clown’s tears

In recent years so many of the so called, funniest people in the world, have come forward to talk about the problems they’ve had with depression and mental health issues. And this isn’t an issue that effects Brits alone. Ben Elton, Ruby Wax, Steve Coogan, Woody Allen, Jim Carrey, Ellen DeGeneres, and of course, the late, great, Robin Williams, who tragically took his own life in 2014.

As someone who has suffered with depression for many years, I hid for a long time behind cutting one-liners, double entendres, sarcasm, cruel yet sort of good-natured abuse of loved ones, and the self-deprecating, humorous hatred I liked to get out of the way before anyone else could expose that vulnerable underside for me.


Coin flip — Finding humour in the darkness

Humour has become increasingly important to me as a way to fight through my own issues and is no longer a means to hide what I feel. But these defence mechanisms, and my reliance on humour in recovery, led me to wonder if the two things—tragedy and humour—are really just opposite sides of the same coin.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m no comedienne. More a bitch-with-the-need-to-cut-you-off-at-the-knees. But it made me think that to see the funny side of life, maybe we need to touch—at least a little—the darkness of it too.

To be able to find the humour in the mundane, must one explore the depths of depravity of the human condition? Or is it the other way around? Do we look for the laughter to draw us away from the gloom? Is that why we find the humour in the everyday so compelling? That spark we can all relate to that helps us hide from our own worries, if just for a few minutes?

Or perhaps, just like the types of humour we find amusing, it’s just a matter of opinion too.

I don’t have the answer to the questions here, but maybe you do. I’d love to hear it.


When Andrea Bramhall isn’t busy running a campsite in the Lake District, she can be found hunched over her laptop scribbling down the stories that won’t let her sleep. She can also be found reading, walking the dogs up mountains while taking a few thousand photos, scuba diving while taking a few thousand photos more, swimming, kayaking, playing the saxophone, or cycling. Andrea published Just My Luck and Collide-O-Scope with Ylva.

(Copyright picture above: depositphotos.com/aarrttuurr)

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1 Comment

  1. Val April 28, 2017 at 14:11 - Reply

    Interesting words and so true x

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