by James Dobson, Ph.D.
Pattern 3: I'll Be a Clown
Another common way to deal with inferiority is to laugh it off. By making an enormous joke out of everything, the clown conceals the self-doubt that churns inside. A great many well-known comedians have turned this pattern into a life career.
Rodney Dangerfield epitomizes self-deprecating humor. Interviewed in the mid-1990s about his long career, he was candid about the lifelong fears of failure and depression behind the words, "I get no respect." The humor in a long-running television comedy, "Roseanne," was built in part around the weight problems of the female lead. Joan Rivers has joked incessantly about her ugliness as a girl. Phyllis Diller, the frazzle-haired comedienne, was, by her own account, a shy, inadequate, withdrawing youth. Constantly aware of her unattractiveness, she discovered a less painful — and more lucrative — way of coping: through self-effacing laughter. Interestingly, Diller remained very conscious of her appearance throughout her career, having cosmetic surgery when she had "begun to look pretty horrible. Not funny-horrible — just bad," as she has explained.
Being a clown is a particularly useful approach for the individual with a very obvious facial flaw. Barbra Streisand has frequently made fun of her nose. But the king of nose humorists was Jimmy Durante. How would you deal with a Durante nose if it were stuck on the edge of your face? Everywhere you went, people would look at it and laugh. All through childhood you would be hounded about that "pound of flesh" out front. What could you do? Stay furious at the whole world? Beat up anyone who snickered? Your best bet would be to learn to laugh.
Jonathan Winters' parents were divorced when he was 7, and he used to cry when alone because other children said he had no father. Winters now recognizes the wisdom of Thackeray's observation that "humor is the mistress of tears."
Teachers are well acquainted with the clowns in the classroom. These skilled disrupters are usually (but not necessarily) boys. They often have reading or other academic problems, may be small in stature, and may do anything for a laugh (eat worms, risk expulsion from school, hang by one toe from a tree). Their parents are usually unappreciative of the humor and may never recognize that the clown, the fighter and the surrenderer have one important thing in common — feelings of inferiority.
The Six Patterns
This material is excerpted from Dr. Dobson's book The New Hide or Seek (copyright © 1974, 1979, 1999 by James Dobson), published by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, and is used by permission.