I relate too much to Andrew Koenig. I'm not saying I knew the man, I didn't. But when his body was found yesterday, no news report had to tell me that he had taken his own life. I had known that since the missing persons report had come out.
I'm not psychic, I didn't know something no one else did. But Andrew Koenig left his friends, family, and home on February 14th and set out to do what I almost did 2 years ago to the day. But this story isn't about me, and it transcends Andrew. He was beloved by scores of people, who will no doubt remember him in words more eloquent than I could write. This is about a type of person who is the embodiment of the comedy/tragedy masks. The symbol of drama, of acting, and the mask we who wail on the inside and laugh on the outside wear every day. The mask that grows so heavy, so, so heavy, that some of us can no longer go on wearing it. People like Andrew Koenig.
When I first heard confirmation of his suicide, the first person who came to my mind was Richard Jeni. Richard Jeni was the first stand-up comedian I ever saw, on pilfered HBO during a babysitting gig when I was probably all of 12 years old. I remember laughing so hard I quite literally tipped off the couch, with tears streaming down my cheeks. Jeni was so funny, so brilliant in his observational wit, that as I grew older and started to write humor pieces, he often came to mind. I quoted his act shamelessly, and devoured every cable special I could find featuring him. I can still hear his voice in my memory.
Richard Jeni took his own life in 2007. And while I was horrified and devastated that one of my heroes of comedy was gone, I only had to look at some of his material to see the pain behind the laughter. Andrew Koenig didn't have the comedy fame that Jeni had, but he was prolific in the LA improv scene, and that was no small feat. He, and Richard, were Shakespearian in their tragedy: The sad clown.
In my lifelong battle with depression, the tool, nay, the weapon I use most is humor. The more self-deprecating, the better. If I couldn't be happy on the inside, I could make OTHERS happy, and man, making someone else laugh is one of the best feelings in the world. It's a drug for me. I absolutely get high off of the sound of laughter, and the knowledge that I caused that laughter? Is a power trip like no other. "I did that," I think, and pride, a rare emotion for me, swells. I imagine it did for Andrew, and Richard, and all the other sad clowns. I have friends who are sad clowns, dear friends, and I SEE IT, the pain behind the laughing eyes. And it terrifies me. Because I know what they are feeling inside.
There's only so much acting one can do before the facade slips. And for some, the ones who take their own lives, or try to, there must be an incredible sense of relief as that laughing mask, which on the inside is full of needles set in concrete, falls and shatters on the ground.
I'm not here to validate or excuse suicide. I'm here to say that when a person whose craft it is to make others happy kills him or herself, whether it be from a gunshot or an OD, accidentally or purposefully, it is in some way connected with the laughter. The laughter didn't go away, it simply wasn't strong enough to keep the mask in place. And when you live your life with a mask on, losing that mask, that shield from one's own emotions, can be too much to bear.
So may you find peace, Andrew. And may your family and friends heal enough, someday, to remember you with laughter instead of tears. I can think now of my stand-up hero Richard Jeni and smirk, his memorable one liners and hilarious tangents still locked in my mind, word for word. I'd like to think he's somewhere now, appreciating that I can do that. And I know I'm not the only one.
If you, or someone you know is in trouble, 1-800-SUICIDE is there to help, 24/7.