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'Jim and Andy' and learning to live with your worst inner critic

Jim Carrey
Jim Carrey

I've always struggled to articulate my feelings about Jim Carrey. While I've enjoyed most of his movies -- "Dumb and Dumber," "The Truman Show," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," etc. -- something about him, as an actor, has always rubbed me the wrong way. The zany, over-the-top antics, the obnoxious lilt in his voice as he bellows yet another "Alllrighty then," his borderline insufferable disregard for human decency or restraint -- call me cynical, but it all seems a bit much.

At the same time, however, I've never been able to comfortably conclude that I dislike Carrey. Believe me, I have no issue hating certain actors (wipe that smug smirk off your stupid face, Miles Teller), but for some reason, Carrey's never made the cut. It could just be that the films that surround him are good enough to earn him some contact credit, but it feels deeper than that.

On some level, I think I have a sort of profound, artistic respect for him. His comedy might not be my cup of tea, but in Carrey I see someone who has successfully tuned out the noise, who has managed to distance himself from worry and cultivate a wholly personal, unfiltered creative persona.

As a fellow creative, I can't help but respect that. I also can't help but be terrified by it -- his is a level of expression I worry I'll never reach.

In Netflix's new documentary, "Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond," we're awarded a glimpse into the genesis of Carrey's unrestrained abilities. Using previously unreleased footage from the set of 1999's "Man on the Moon," the film documents Carrey's experience method acting (put simply, never leaving character) as the late performance artist Andy Kaufman.

As Kaufman, Carrey amazed and often terrified his colleagues on set, as they began to wonder if the famous comedian had actually come down and planted himself within Carrey's body. It's fun and surreal, but at times it's uncomfortable. His peculiar, erratic behavior often threatens the efficiency of the production and the safety of those on set.

Watching the trailer, one question plagued me: Is this a genius, a master of his craft, or is it simply another Hollywood egomaniac who's just a bit too into himself?

Within the first few minutes of the film, I began to worry it was the latter. A modern-day Carrey, with his face covered in a hairy behemoth of a lumberjack beard, stares unsettling into the camera, uttering nauseatingly philosophical musings regarding what happened back in 1999.

He recalls one moment, shortly after getting cast, when he looked out over the ocean and saw 30 dolphins among the waves. "That's the moment that Andy Kaufman showed up, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, 'Sit down. I'll be doing my movie.'"

It was a new level of cringe-inducing pretentiousness. I think I audibly responded, "Fuck you."

But as the film progressed, I started to recognize something deeper at play. Carrey idolized Kaufman. As a comedian, Kaufman crafted a style that had never been seen before. He was unflinchingly committed to his character, able to strip himself down to a pure Id and do whatever was required in order to entertain his audience.

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In order to embody him, and in order to reach that height within his own performance, Carrey had to similarly erase all worry about what others thought of him and, most importantly, what he thought about himself.

"Where did this character come from?" he asks. "What is the dirt that the pearl is built around? And the pearl is the personality that you build around yourself as a protection against that thought: 'If they ever find out that I'm worthless, if they ever find out that I'm not enough, I'll be destroyed.'"

It would have been easy to be turned away by his indulgent metaphors and whimsical voice, but persisting through all that, I recognized my own greatest fear.

As someone with anxiety and depression, managing and fending off toxic thoughts comprises an agonizing portion of my day. Even on good days, I'm frequently having to remind myself that I have worth, that I'm talented and loved, and that I'm going to be okay. On bad days, it often requires all of my own energy just to stay afloat. And even then, sometimes I fail.

But more specifically, as a writer, filling a blank page can often become an exercise in self-beratement. A common aphorism, that I think many writers would agree with, explains, "I hate writing. I love having written."

Good writers understand that there is an infinite amount of ways to relay their message to their audience, so they're constantly terrorized by the thought that they're not quite getting it, that someone is going to dislike their style and criticize their ability, that by the time they're printing out what they've spent all this time on, they're going to be ashamed by what they wrote.

The key, I've found, is not silencing those thoughts. They're going to come -- that's just part of the gig.

No, the key is recognizing that you are not your thoughts. That voice telling you that this is garbage, that there are endless ways you could be better communicating this, that nobody likes you or your work -- that's not you.

You are deeper. You are the pure, beautiful pearl those thoughts are trying to restrain. You have something to say.

Even as I'm writing this, I have an inner antagonist telling me to just throw in the towel, insisting that I've already strayed too far off course with this column and nobody is going to know what I'm talking about. If I recognize the thought and allow it to pass, then I can finish writing. If I let it consume me, this will never be published (P.S. If you hate this column, I'll be happy to pass the message on to my inner critic; she'll be happy to know she was right. P.P.S. I don't know why my inner critic is a woman... I probably need to talk to my therapist about that).

We're approaching that dreaded week when the hell of cumulative exams and 10-page papers loom menacingly and force us to stay up into the late hours studying or typing. Unless you've somehow already reached the sort of artistic nirvana achieved by the likes of Carrey and Kaufman, chances are you're going to have plenty of your own inner critics to deal with.

So when those thoughts start to creep in, when they start to tell you that you're dumb or worthless, that you're bound to fail that exam and flunk out of school, just pause. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Exhale.

And remember that everything is going to be okay.

Good luck on finals, and have a happy holiday!