Last week, Louis C.K. went on a funny-ish, stoner-ish Twitter rant about all of us being from Mars or something. When the internet finally managed to pry its slobbering, content-hungry maw off of Louis C.K.’s dick for the Twitter equivalent of wearing a tinfoil hat, I was left struck by one tweet in the string of 15. It read: “Also I feel like I know the origin of the basic despair that we all feel in the pit of our being, that one thing we all share.” I thought, “What despair? I just used a swirly straw to drink the milk from my bowl of Cocoa Puffs.” And lest you think Louis was just being writerly, I’ll point to his viral smartphone-criticizing appearance on “Conan” last year, in which he said, “Underneath everything in your life, there’s that thing, that forever empty…that knowledge that it’s all for nothing and you’re forever alone.” Conan O’Brien just nodded his understanding, and I sat on the couch wearing sweatpants, unbearably happy about my comfort level, thinking, “Am I missing something?”
Not that Louis C.K. is the only one. There is a cadre of comedians that peddles despair as routine, and when Robin Williams died, I found myself being constantly reminded by young white Americans with iPhones and Tinder that the world is a dark place. What bothers me isn’t just the tossed off nature of these comments (the more casual you say it, the more “real” it is) but rather the idea that emptiness is a special setting of humanity only talented people can access; that there’s a kid somewhere in Nevada or Ohio or Pennsylvania who’s a fan of Louis C.K. or Patton Oswalt or Maria Bamford who happens to feel sad sometimes and is now convinced that it’s okay to mope around for the rest of his or her life. And there, another asshole is born. These comedians believe unhappiness is their credibility, that they’re a different brand of pasta because they hurt more than the next person. I’m bothered by people who don’t see happiness–real, everyday happiness–as a goal, because, well, what the fuck else would your goal be?
I’m fond of saying that I may talk shit about someone because that’s the 5 percent of him or her that’s interesting: his insecurities, quirks, and toe shoes he wears to the gym are the fun things to touch on. The other 95 percent of this person is awesome and kind, and therefore boring. I like to say that not only because I believe it’s true, but because it helps remind myself and others of the full tableau at work. Otherwise, that small, shitty sliver of someone’s life I’m complaining about is perceived to be the complete picture when it really isn’t. I believe the same rules apply for unhappiness, despair, existential dread, and even joy. We’re obsessed with being interesting–no one posts a photo of his morning black coffee on Instagram. Rather, the person posts a photo of the jet ski he just crashed, because life’s so rad. Or the giraffe he just fed. Or the special blend coffee topped with low-fat whipped cream in the throwback cup he’s about to pretend isn’t bitter. It’s interesting and taken out of the context of a generally normal life and presented that way; it gives the impression of an extraordinary life. It’s the kickass trailer to a shitty movie.
It goes the other way, too. Folks complain on Twitter or Facebook or at the dinner table. They post about the tough day they just had or they write vague, question-begging sentences, such as, “How is this happening to me?” I’m not saying that level of connection is not okay–it is (kind of–I mean, it’s gauche as fuck, but whatever) so long as there’s balance. You can’t pick and choose the 5 percent of life that sucks to display to the world and leave the rest out because that’s the more “interesting” version. And let me say here that if more than 5 percent of your life is utter despair, then you should get some help, because homie, that’s way too much.
We’re surrounded by cynicism. That’s okay. It’s funny and great to acknowledge life’s absurdities and reflect them back in a way that makes us laugh. Louis C.K., for his part, is probably the best at it in the world (“Of Course…But Maybe” might be the most socially subversive standup bit I’ve ever seen). And I’m not pretending to say that Louis C.K. is not feeling despair. It’s probably true. I understand that it’s about truth. But in this sad-ass race to the bottom, we’re leaving out a pretty large chunk of truth: the reality of happiness and joy. Are you a less realized person to revel in that?
Perhaps it is as Louis C.K. said, and Conan agreed, “All for nothing and we’re forever alone.” That’s fine. I’m cool with it. It’s kind of freeing, even. Why not revel in the apocrypha of life, the small absurdities, the pointless fun. Do that because, well, it’s all pointless, right? We may as well enjoy it. Be good. Sleep with a lot of people. Dance some. Enjoy some whiskey. See a good movie. And then tell me about it–I’d love to hear how great it is to be alive for once. And if someone says he or she is unhappy, that’s on the other person, not you. Our lives are our own..