Television’s Saturday Night Live is comedy’s premier prestigious launching pad into stratospheric show business success. The legendary list of movie superstars the show has produced is too luminously long to list here. To be included in SNL’s clever cast is to have your comedic resume branded with the gold standard, a future surely set with inestimable fame and fortune.
Unless you’re Brooks Wheelan. The 27 year-old comedian announced via Twitterthat he’s been fired from the show after only one uneventful season.
What’s the next step for a relative newcomer whose show biz dreams have been unexpectedly, unceremoniously shattered?
Initially, the Iowa native has displayed a sense of humor about the crushing disappointment, tweeting “Fired from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”. For many of us, using humor in the face of disappointment can be a valuable stress reliever. For others, it can be a defense mechanism, masking our shattering sadness.
We don’t know Brooks Wheelan, so we’re not privy to what array of adaptive coping skills he’s able to access after receiving traumatic news. He must have some; he’s bright and well-educated, having reportedly received a degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Iowa. We can speculate on how he might react based on his gender, male, and our culture’s corresponding gender role behaviors.
Typical males in our culture have a number of unwritten rules they follow which collectively define what is considered masculinity. These include suggested attitudes, behaviors, and methods of self-presentation. Boys and men are taught how to act— including being tough and in control; attitudes to hold–including the utmost importance of work.
Males are also taught how not to act, including the admonitions don’t cry, don’t be a wimp, “man up”, and don’t ask for help (self-sufficiency).
These rules of manhood aren’t found in any bedside bible; rather young males acquire them through observing role models, watching television and movies, from peers.
When these proscriptions are stringently followed, they can be harmful to relationships, families, and the boy or man himself.
In extreme cases, men with serious illnesses refuse to see a physician. I had an aging male client with prominent physical signs of a life-threatening condition; he reported he hadn’t seen a physician in 60 years, a genial family doctor had come to his house to treat him. When he was finally convinced to visit a doctor, the aging patient reported he saw seven specialists in a single day.
For many men, the denial of painful emotions can also be damaging. Some clinicians refer to this as alexithymia. Men are often resistant to sharing their problems with loved ones, preferring maladaptive coping strategies such as drugs and alcohol. Depression can be inevitable at times. And in some cases, when a man is feeling powerless, he may decide he needs to buy a gun.
How will Brooks Wheelan cope with this potentially devastating news? A semi-recurring role he had on SNL was to provide commentary on Weekend Update about irresponsible behavior. One such faux public service announcement warned on the dangers of alcohol; he spoke of a time he drank so heavily he blacked out and friends put butter down his pants. Hopefully, Brooks’ behaviors were embellished for the sake of comedy.
Brooks Wheelan isn’t the first cast member of SNL to be dumped without warning. And others with similar fates have gone on to greater heights, including Robert Downey, Jr., and Sarah Silverman.
Here’s hoping the promising young comedian has trusted people in his life with whom he can express his emotional pain. In so doing, he could become a valuable role model himself for younger males. Perhaps he might see a therapist. The latter hasn’t seemed to harm the career of another one-time stand-up, Woody Allen (his latter issues notwithstanding). Maybe there’s a better male role model for Brooks to emulate.