This post is oversharing and too personal and I'm sorry, but I had to write it.
As a child, it was vitally important to me that I was perceived as smart. I measured my self-worth by how fast I do finish multiplication flashcards, how high I was on the reading rainbow, and the grades on my report card. These were concrete measurements that told me how good I was doing. Concrete measurements were easier than trying to figure out where I stood with people.
This obsession with presenting myself as the smartest person in the room extended through high school. I defined myself by being a bookworm, a nerd, a teacher's pet. My favorite feeling was being the first one done with the test, and knowing I didn't have to double check my answers. This cloud of pseudo intellectualism followed me until college. I moved to Nebraska, and suddenly everything was extremely, intensely different.
College was.......not like home. Aggressively not like home. I mean, my parents fast forward through the swearing in Back to the Future. I basically moved from a G rated movie into a college dorm where I was confronted with French kissing, Jagermeister, and professors who swore in class. It was a brave new world, and my survival skills had never been more necessary. I was eighteen, and no longer the smartest person in the room, let alone the building. I didn't know the slang, I didn't know the rules, and I didn't know my place. I needed a new label for myself, because what do humans love more than labels?
That was the year I learned that no one can laugh at you if you beat them to the punch. Laugh at yourself. Laugh at your classes. Laugh at the world. Most importantly, get other people to laugh with you. I started saying awkward, weird things, because then my impression of a fish out of water could be passed off as a punchline, a running joke. Say something weird. Gauge reaction. Did they laugh? Say things similar to that in the near future. Repeat.
Fast forward to the present day. I've recently (in the last six months) realized that, in my mind, being perceived as funny has become The Most Important Thing. I'm not sure when this happened; it wasn't the case a year ago. A year ago I liked being funny, I tried to be funny, but I didn't come home feeling like a failure if I got fewer laughs than the day before. But now it seems my obsession with being funny has surpassed my childhood obsession with being smart.
Articulating why this is a problem is difficult. I love making people laugh! It is the best feeling in the world! But I'm troubled by the fact that being "the funny one" has become crucial to how I identify and value myself. There's a scene in a Doctor Who episode where the Doctor admits that he can't always save everyone. Amy, one of his companions, lashes out, "Then what is the point of you?"
I secretly feel like if I stop being funny, my friends will ask, "Rebecca, if you're not making me laugh, what is the point of you?" This is not the fault of my friends. My friends are awesome and supportive and have never once implied, "You are worthless if you're not funny." But the fear is real. Making people laugh has become a compulsion. I say funny things when I'm happy, but I think I'm funnier when I feel like collapsing on the floor in tears. If you're making people laugh, they don't see how broken you are. Everyone knows that.
(Side paragraph: There's a film called Misery Loves Comedy that asks a whole slew of comedians, "Do you have to be miserable to be funny?" I highly recommend it.)
My friend Jan Hunsaker wrote an amazing blog post about humor and body image issues, which you can read here. The quote that resonated with me, that I have been trying to put into words for six months, is this:
"When you are trying to fit in, you also overcompensate by being funny all the time...... Eventually you get tired of trying to be the funny person. If you are quiet at all someone will instantly ask “Are you okay? On NO! Her funny stopped! She’s broken! Someone put another quarter in her quick! We don’t want to hang around her if she’s not going to fulfill her duties as the comic relief.” That was my fear: That I was only useful if I made people laugh, and on my "off" days...well, I tried hard not to have an off day."
In the last year I've been fighting The Return of Anxiety (This Time It's Personal), which goes hand in hand with plummeting self-esteem. (Just when you think it can't get lower....) It's been a tough semester following a tough year. I've watched my sense of humor become darker, and more self-deprecating, because I am my easiest target. ("Let's say mean things about myself so no one else says them. Oh, good, they're laughing, I knew it was true.") I've come to depend on humor as a survival mechanism. Am I trying too hard? Of course. But that's the new normal that I've set for myself. Humor is a deflection, a shield, a distraction.
To be clear: most of the time I am funny because I want to be. But sometimes the humor feels like an autopilot mode that I didn't mean to kick on but whoops here we go time to give massive overreactions to everything because that's what the people want! Suddenly I'm yelling about how Nicolas Cage can fight me, and how strawberries are THE WORST THING EVER, and oh, goodie, now I'm singing everything too. I'm sure I won't cry in the car later because I didn't talk about how I was actually feeling. Haha.
What am I trying to say? I'm think addicted to being funny. I NEED people to laugh at me. The rush you get when someone laughs at what you say is FANTASTIC. It's like performing a self-written script for a very specific audience and CRUSHING IT. Making people laugh is one of my favorite things in life, so I try to do it a lot.
Which is not to say I don't do serious conversations. If you come to me with your issues, I will not joke about them. I'll say this for me: I am a good and empathetic friend. On the other hand, if I try to talk about my problems, I will do everything in my power to play it off as ridiculous. It's who I am, it's what I do. "Ha! How am I? Oh, you know. I'm ruining my life! CLASSIC REBECCA." Cue the laugh track. I mean, I run a #DatingFailFriday facebook. (*Chandler voice*) Could I BE any more obsessed with passing my deeply rooted insecurities off as jokes?
I once told a guy I was dating that I didn't always feel like being funny. He told me, "No, you ARE funny!" He meant to reassure me that I was entertaining. Don't you think I know that? Like the man in black, "I've worked hard to be come so." I wasn't asking him to tell me that I was good at comedy. I was asking him to tell me that I didn't need to be all the time, that I had other talents, that my sense of humor wasn't the only valuable thing about me. Receiving that response-- "No, you ARE funny"-- put me off talking about this, because it's not positive, and it's not attractive, and it's not, well, funny. But it has been bothering me for so long that I feel I have to get it down on paper.
Sometimes I go to social events and the whole time I'm thinking "be funny be funny be funny Rebecca you have to be funny RIGHT NOW," and I put up the facade and I get laughs. That's something I can say for myself: I'm pretty hilarious to hang around. A walking quote book. If I'm not funny, what's the point of me?
One of my favorite songs is "The Wrong Direction" by Passenger. Some lyrics: "I love to feel love/ But I can't stand the rejection/ I hide behind my jokes as a form of protection/ I thought I was closer but under further inspection/ It seems I've been running in the wrong direction."
The fact that people think I'm hilarious is wonderful; I don't want that to stop. What I want to stop is the sickening panic when my soul says, "I don't feel like being The Funny One today" and my brain responds, "TOO BAD. YOU HAVE TO. YOU HAVE TO MAKE THEM LAUGH OR THEY'LL HATE YOU." This scares me to talk about, because it has become such a huge part of my identity. Being funny is one of my talents. What if that's the only reason I have friends?
I've created an image for myself, and I don't want the image to take over. My cruise control is to provide a stream of constant snark. It's harder when I'm quiet. ("be funny be funny be funny") At a party the other day someone said, "If there's a more awkward way for things to be done, Rebecca will find it." Everyone laughed, and I was taken off guard; my comeback wasn't ready. Honestly, I didn't think I was being awkward right then. I felt like they weren't seeing me, they were seeing Funny Rebecca, who always turns her awkwardness into a punchline.
I'm always going to consider myself a comedy person. But I'm hopefully going to get to the point where I'm funny because I want to be, and I don't feel like my friends have been tricked into liking me. I know that's the anxiety talking, and I don't like what it has to say. One of these days I'm going to figure out how to shut it up. For now, I'm going to work on being more emotionally honest, which probably means that some days talking to me won't be like listening to a comedic monologue. I hope that's okay.
ALL RIGHT. That's enough personal disclosure. I'm not even sure what the point of this post was. Please keep laughing at my jokes. But if I'm not funny that day, please don't leave. That can't be the only point of me.