Yesterday the results of a study were published in the ‘British Journal of Psychiatry’ found that found comedians tended to have a “high levels of psychotic personality traits”. Over 500 comedians, 404 men and 119 women from the UK, US and Australia completed a specially devised questionnaire to gather statistical data to provide these results for researchers from the University of Oxford and Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation.
Measuring four personality aspects, unusual experiences – for instance belief in telephathy, difficulty in focusing thoughts, avoidance of intimacy and impulsive and antisocial behaviour the findings showed that the comedians scored highly on traits such as unsociability and depression. These traits seemed to feature alongside extrovert or manic traits.
The report’s co-author Professor Gordon Claridge commented that: “Obviously not all comedians are like this, but the trend does show these personality traits are more common. It is that idea of the sad clown.”
Our writer Jessica Brown, who previously wrote for us about the Amazon and Tesco mental health patient Halloween costume debacle covered the story for us. We asked Funny Women Awards 2013 Semi-finalist, actor, writer and stand up Jane Postlethwaite and Funny Women Awards 2006 winner Suzy Bennett their thoughts on the results.
Neither of them found the findings revelatory, Jane told us that “When I read the BBC article it just made me shrug my shoulders and say, ‘Yes and?’ It was no surprise that this research has shown such a conclusion. I thought everyone would already know this since from the beginning of time creative people have had connections with mental health conditions.
“My own experience is of having lived through 14 years, if not more, of mood disorders. I am on the Bipolar 2 spectrum with rapid cycling symptoms. I can go in cycles from extreme anxiety, depressed, obsessive and suicidal thoughts to the complete opposite of the highs of racing creative ideas and enthusiasm. I have many strategies to cope with the condition. Over the years I have harnessed the times when I feel great, have had an abundance of energy and come up with my creative ideas. The downsides are serious, take me to the blackest depths and are paralysing. However, getting myself out of these dark holes several times has only lead me to be able to look at life in a different way.
“My condition has helped me to be creative in many ways and to ‘think outside the box’ as was quoted in the BBC article. I know that this experience explains why my humour and comedy is often described as dry and dark. Most of the comedians/actors I look up to and respect have or have had some kind of mental health condition such as Sarah Silverman, Julia Davis and Stephen Fry. My condition doesn’t define me it is only a part of the person I am today. If I met someone in this business who didn’t have a mental health condition at one time or another I would be shocked! I just hope people will be sensitive with this latest research and not start using words like ‘psycho, mad, insane’ which only encourage more stigma.”
Suzy has similar thoughts on the study: “Another startling revelation that comedians are indeed a bit 'mad', whatever next? Female comics having daddy issues? *shuffles in seat uncomfortably*. There is, of course, some truth in it. I go on stage and show off and talk about some very personal stuff; but if complimented or approached later I come over all shy and am a far-cry from the Miss Confident portrayed on stage.
“As for the bipolar comparison I, like many who earn a living from getting laughs, often have a bad day and don’t want to leave my flat under the black cloud of self-pity then have to put on that 'showbiz' smile (I often call it my Butlin’s Redcoat face) and entertain fun seeking audiences as if I don’t have a care in the world. So yes, I agree with the suggestion of multiple personalities made by the study. I have had a lot of therapy in the last couple of years so I am possibly a textbook case of seeking approval through performing.
“But one of the main things I’ve discovered is we all “go a bit mad sometimes” ( quote from Norman Bates there, classic mummy issues!?) it’s just that some of us choose to channel it through a microphone. Laughter and applause is better than Prozac and should be available on prescription!”
Pictured: Suzy Bennett, Jane Postlethwaite