Sometime ago, I shared a review by a famous cartoonist, Bill Watterson (Calvin & Hobbes), on a book about another even more famous cartoonist, the legendary Charles Schulz (Peanuts). Watterson’s frank feedback on Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis is an eye-opener for Peanuts fans who haven’t taken much time to know more about its creator.
From the article:
“Once he finally achieved his childhood dream of drawing a comic strip, however, he was able to expose and confront his inner torments through his creative work, making insecurity, failure and rejection the central themes of his humor. Knowing that his miseries fueled his work, he resisted help or change, apparently preferring professional success over personal happiness. Desperately lonely and sad throughout his life, he saw himself as “a nothing,” yet he was also convinced that his artistic ability made him special. An odd combination of prickly pride and utter self-abnegation characterizes many of his public comments.”
I remember reading an interview of Schulz published posthumously in Reader’s Digest years ago. I believe it was in 2000 and I’m quite sure the issue is still buried somewhere in one of my cabinets along with books I’m not interested in re-reading. He said that Peanuts was funny because it was always sad; Lucy strives yet never gets Schroeder’ affections, Schroeder never ceases his efforts to turn into a young tortured Beethoven, Linus couldn’t quite get rid of his security blanket, and Charlie Brown will never get to kick that football.
My teenage self couldn’t quite grasp the idea that Schulz presented. Although I enjoyed Peanuts for all of its wisdom and wit, how could grief possibly be funny?
Ten years later, after reading Watterson’s old book review, it struck me as simplicity itself: happiness is not funny because it’s difficult to find humor in perfection. But failures, mistakes, even anger can be strangely amusing – especially when viewed from outside the box. One couldn’t bubble up in laughter during a joyous occasion and shows a cheery smile at best, but finds it extremely easy to laugh oneself to tears after watching a failed marriage proposal on live TV. Human tragedy is funny. Why? Is it because we are relieved that we escaped? Or is schadenfreude simply a basic trait of human nature? One that we often try to deny with self-righteous indignation.
And before I go all wonky on this blog, it amuses me to admit to myself that my most recent posts are not even remotely funny. My “best” moments passed years ago, where my annoyed, sarcastic younger self snapped and critiqued the most trivial things. What can I say? Contentment just does not foster humor and, instead, comes off as kitschy.