Buster Keaton, Andy Kaufman, Robin Williams – since comedy was silent, the funniest actors have sprung from the saddest men.
When cloaks fall, there is alcoholism, cancer and depression.
It shocks us because we’re used to see them smile and making us laugh.
For Carrey, it was a tragic incident, the suicide of his girlfriend, which seems to have catapulted him from The Cable Guy to one of the most interesting artists in Hollywood.
Two years ago, Cathriona White was found dead in her apartment. She had been dating the actor for three years.
Photos taken at her funeral show a shattered Carrey carrying her coffin on his shoulders.
But from that point on, he was nowhere to be seen; no films, no guest show appearances.
The actor who once made four films in a year became a recluse.
Then, nearly two years later, a short film was spotted online, showing the 55-year-old star painting weird, fluorescent canvases showing Jesus faces and bleeding hearts.
“I needed colour,” he says to the camera. So he went and got it.
At first, I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. Is it a sketch? A mockumentary? Is he teasing us – the media, the audience?
With comedians, you never know.
But then, somewhere throughout the film, Carrey’s paintings became interesting to me – they felt true. So did his words.
“You can choose not to do it,” he says, his voice a distant echo. “You can choose to try to do something safer.”
“Your vocation chooses you,” he said. He might have a point, I thought.
Whether or not you think his art is any good, here’s a public figure taking an enormous risk being someone people don’t want him to be. Serious, sad, troubled – is there anything less funny?
After that, a series of headline-friendly interviews followed. Public outbursts, philosophical rants.
The latest one happened at a fashion show in New York, when the actor was spotted walking the red carpet by a reporter.
“There’s no meaning to any of this,” he started by saying. “I wanted to find the most meaningless thing I could come to and join and here I am.”
The fashion reporter, in her obliviousness, reminded the actor the gala was celebrating “icons”.
“Don’t you believe in icons?,” she asks. He laughed.
“Boy, that is just the absolute lowest-aiming possibility that we could come up with,” Carrey added, and then proceeded to explain why he does not, in fact, believe in icons – but rather personalities.
“I don’t believe that you exist, but there’s a lovely fragrance in the air,” he tells the reporter.
The media had a field day. “Bonkers interview,” said Esquire
I get it. Stars annoy us. Particularly those who, at a certain point, refuse to play ball.
And although I tend to sympathise with any good star-bashing member of the public, with Carrey, I don’t want to.
Because he is right. Fashion shows are meaningless, “icons” are ridiculous, peace does “lie beyond invention in disguise”.
“I believe it’s deeper than that,” he tells the camera.
In Venice earlier this month, he premiered a documentary titled Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond. In it, he shows behind the scenes footage of his most brilliant and most misunderstood role, in Milos Forman’s Man On The Moon.
In the film, he is the comedian Andy Kaufman and his own alter-ego, Tony Clifton.
In the end, Andy dies but Tony lives on. In the documentary, Carrey claims he was not himself playing the film, but Kaufman.
“Jim Carrey didn’t exist at that time,” he said.
He wasn’t talking about method acting, I don’t think.
I believe that he believes that, at a certain point, Jim, Andy and Tony were one.
One comedian, performing on stage – pretending to be someone he’s not.
Jim Carrey has stopped making us laugh. Like with Kaufman, Keaton or Williams before him, we are left faced with a deeper persona than what we paid for.
Now, he is defying us. Making us think about the absurdity of our world.
I welcome that, and firmly believe he will be funny once again – great comedians always are.