Funnymen’s personalities are similar to those with mental health conditions.
Madcap antics may be part of a comedian’s on-stage persona.
But the madness may not be just an act, say researchers.
The ability to make people laugh comes from a personality of the kind displayed by those with bipolar disorder & schizophrenia.
Historically, the creativity of painters and playwrights has been linked to madness, but now British experts have found a link with comedians.
High levels of psychotic personality traits are behind the ‘sad clown’ facade of comedians like Robin Williams & Spike Milligan, who suffered manic-depressive episodes all his life.
Researchers from Oxford University and Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust say manic thinking helps join together ridiculous ideas that spark humor.
The stand-ups of a modern era are likely to have greater levels of extroversion – a form of impulsiveness – yet be more depressive & unsociable at the same time.
In fact, say the researchers, making people laugh may be a form of self-medication to alleviate a low mood.
Analysts say Robin Williams suffered from bipolar disorder though they cannot support it with enough evidence.
They argue that, manic depression was behind the performances in many of his movies. Williams would throw away the script & act out his heart. He was almost always the comedian in the movies, making fun of serious life issues.
One writer suggested that Robin suffered depression when he broke up with one of his former girlfriends & that it affected his stage performances. Another suggested Williams was depressed when he was dropped from Julliard.
A number of American comedians are able to harness whatever their mental state maybe be in order to create comedy gold.
Doug Stanhope is open about his alcoholism & often performs shows drunk. Whether or not this can bring out the best work in someone is delectable, but fans see it as part of their persona.
Daniel Tosh has an offbeat sense of humor & has openly stated that he suffers from social anxiety.
Professor Gordon Claridge, of the University of Oxford, who led the study, said: ‘Although schizophrenic psychosis itself can be detrimental to humour, in its lesser form it can increase people’s ability to associate odd or unusual things or to think ‘outside the box’.
‘Equally, manic thinking, which is common in people with bipolar disorder, may help people combine ideas to form new, original & humorous connections.’
Professor Claridge, with colleagues Victoria Ando & Ken Clark, persuaded 523 comedians – 404 men & 119 women – to take part in their study.
They were asked to complete a questionnaire designed to measure certain traits, such as: belief in telepathy & paranormal events; how easily distracted they are; their ability to feel social & physical pleasure, & their tendency towards impulsive behavior.
The questionnaire was also completed by 364 actors – another profession used to performing – & to a general group of 831 people who had non-creative occupations.
Comedians scored significantly higher on all four types of psychotic personality traits compared with the general group.
Most striking was their high scores for both extroverted, manic-like responses & socially introverted moodiness, says a report in the British Journal of Psychiatry.
Laugh & the world laughs with you, weep & you weep alone. – English proverb