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The Funny Side of Mental Health

Comedians are a funny breed, aren’t they? And I don’t just mean in the humorous sense. Many comedians effortlessly depict the sort of person that breezes through life finding everything funny. Take Michael McIntyre, for example, who joked about having to be driven to hospital by a dentist, covered in blood, to have a tooth operated on. And Lee Evans joked about having a colonoscopy. Not in my wildest dreams would I find these things funny if they happened to me.

Can you imagine a comedian getting stressed or upset? Whatever happens in their lives, I just imagine them laughing it off. They tell these harrowing stories of misfortune and make it sound like their ability to see the funny side got them through the ordeal. And for this reason I have always been envious of comedians.

But aside from a presumed jovial manner, what else do we know about comedians? You never see a photo of Peter Kay squeezed into a bikini on the front cover of Heat magazine. Or maybe you do, but I’m sure my peripheral vision would have noticed that.

Comedians pour their lives out on stage, but off-stage, well – do we ever see them off-stage and out of character? I couldn’t imagine Sean Lock sat on the Loose Women panel talking candidly about marital problems or annoying neighbours. New research, however, suggests something else we can learn about our favourite, albeit elusive comedians.

A new study has found that comedians may be prone to higher levels of psychotic personality traits. Researchers from the University of Oxford and Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust tested a group of comedians against two control groups. They were tested for four personality traits such as their belief in paranormal events, difficulty in focusing thoughts, and a reduced ability to feel social and physical pleasure.

The comedians scored comparatively high on each of the types of psychotic personality traits. Experts say that the creative elements required in comedy are similar to those that characterise the cognitive style of those with psychosis. These traits help comedians to ‘think outside the box’, combine ideas to form funny connections, and figure out what elements make a joke funny.

There has long been the myth of the ‘mad creative’, and now it looks like research has successfully connected comedians to the stereotype, too. There have been claims disputing the study’s findings, however, and accusations of giving misleading information about psychosis.

Of course, one study can’t really produce ground-breaking results, but the results are interesting nevertheless. What we can take away from the study, though, is that whatever career path you choose may reflect your personality – or appear to, at the very least.

For example, we know that salesmen and bankers are more likely to be psychopaths, and writers like myself are more likely to be introverts. I would do some more research on this and interview some comedians, but I’d much rather stay indoors and not talk to anyone.

Jessica Brown You can follow Jessica @Jessica_E_Brown and read more at cantshutitup