Splitsider — a website by and for stand-up comics — called it “one of the most obvious findings ever”:
…a study in the British Journal of Psychiatry has confirmed that comedians possess more psychotic characteristics compared to their non-comedian peers. The researchers asked 523 comedians from Australia, Britain, and the U.S. to complete an online questionnaire designed to measure levels of four psychotic traits — “unusual experiences,” “cognitive disorganization,” “introvertive anhedonia,” and “impulsive non-conformity.” Unsurprisingly, the comedians ranked high in their levels of all four psychotic behavior indicators.
“The creative elements needed to produce humor are strikingly similar to those characterizing the cognitive style of people with psychosis – both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder,” said Gordon Claridge of the University of Oxford’s department of experimental psychology, who led the study.
Although the traits in question are known as “psychotic”, Claridge said, they can also represent healthy equivalents of features such as moodiness, social introversion and the tendency to lateral thinking.
“Although schizophrenic psychosis itself can be detrimental to humor, in its lesser form it can increase people’s ability to associate odd or unusual things or to think ‘outside the box’,” he said.
“Equally, manic thinking – which is common in people with bipolar disorder – may help people combine ideas to form new, original and humorous connections.”
Say, did you know the working title for Woody Allen’s Annie Hall was Anhedonia?
So there’s that.
And there’s an entire — highly recommended — podcast devoted solely to mental illness and stand-up comedians.
(And I’m not talking about Marc Maron’s WTF. Although I could be, because man, oh man, have you ever listened to that thing?)
Another site by and for comics, called SHECKY, was the only one that didn’t find this British study a bundle of laughs.
I’m not surprised. SHECKY distinguishes itself from similar sites because it unapologetically rejects political correctness in all its forms, along with the “apology industrial complex” that’s grown up around it and helped destroy (or at least crippled) the careers of too many performers.
SHECKY’s Brian McKim & Traci Skene have also tried to debunk the stereotype of their fellow stand-up comics as “dark,” drug-addled suicides-waiting-to-happen.
Perversely, those who criticize them for taking these positions are… other comedians. So (again) there’s that.
Anyhow, SHECKY poked plenty of well-deserved holes in this “study” — which was actually just a self-reporting online survey. That surely isn’t comparable to administering the Hare Psychopathy Checklist to hundreds of comedians in a clinical setting.
We’ve spent the last nearly fifteen years fighting [this stereotype] and we’re about ready to throw in the towel.
Throwing in the towel not just because we seem to be incapable of battling the idea but because comics themselves seem to enjoy (even revel in) the idea of being mentally ill. (…)
We suspect that the respondents, having for so long been told that they are unstable, have internalized the message and their responses to the survey don’t so much reflect reality as much as conditioning. Or, as comics might be prone to do, messing with the Authority Figure, in this case, the British PhD?
We think we have finally figured out why comics do this: In an effort to explain not just their disparateness but their career choice– successful or otherwise– it is far better to be thought of mentally ill than merely irresponsible.
People are critical and/or cruelly dismissive of anybody who walks away from a stable, normal life to embrace something that’s unconventional. Family members whisper that the comic at the table “failed to use his college degree,” or “isn’t living up to his or her potential or responsibilities.” It’s an timeless classic. Instead of trying to convince the naysayers that pursuit of something as interesting and often fulfilling as standup is worthwhile, they can instead point to a study that says, in effect, “I can’t help myself! I’m craaaaazy!”
Furthermore, you know who the “control group” was for this “study”?
A bunch of actors.
Yeah, they’re models of sanity, all right.