Bookmark and Share

Thursday 16th January 2014


According to a new report published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, comedians tend to have personalities linked with psychosis. I couldn't believe what I was reading. And neither could Me1, Me2, Me3, Referee 1, Referee 2, Commentator 1 or any of the people on the board of Self-Playing Snooker Federation. Commentator 2 believed it though. It's more worrying for me because (I think) I actually filled in this survey (though only once). It might be my own weirdness that has brought the rest of the comedians down into the bog of introverted extrovertism with me. Because all the rest of them seem quite normal. Ha!

Clearly there is something different about the way a comedian's brain works and they wouldn't be much good at their job if there wasn't. It's making surprising links between words, ideas or events that is perhaps the essence of making a joke. If the link occurred to everyone then it wouldn't be a surprise. Also most people's worst nightmare is having to go on stage and talk in front of 100s or 1000s of people, but comedians actively seek that situation out. I don't find that nerve-wracking or strange any more, but I think I once did. Obviously I still wanted to do it on some level, but the ability to cope with the oddness of that situation comes from doing the job for a long time. I suspect the first time a pilot flies a real plane he is shitting himself and certainly if you put a non-pilot in the cockpit the prospect of keeping the thing in the air would be somewhat intimidating. Are pilots psychotic for wanting to fly planes or brain surgeons for wanting to fiddle around in people's brains? Perhaps they are.

And is the introversion in real life just heightened because the job of the comedian seems so extroverted. I certainly am quite shy when I am not working and sometimes find it difficult to socialise, but a lot of people are that way. Does it just seem more remarkable when someone who looks like such a live wire on stage is more reserved in real life? I don't know.

I have always loved the way that comedy skirts around madness, it's a make-believe insanity in some ways, but one with a genuine risk of turning us into what we pretend to be. Comedians have a life-line that can pull them back into the real world, but what if the line snaps. And of course there is an odd neediness to the whole enterprise - we want to amuse and be loved by strangers and sometimes that need can overtake our personal happiness. In my twenties and thirties comedy was more important than pretty much anything to me, even though many times it made me very unhappy. And comedy still comes high up on my agenda now, but feel happy in my personal life (and much more so professionally), but that hasn't stopped me wanting to be funny (or to try to be funny, depending on your viewpoint). Coincidentally I listened to the  Comedian's Comedian podcast on my run today and the guest Susan Calman talks very openly about her own depression and self-destructive negativity. I recognise a lot of these feelings, though I don't think I mine are as extreme as Susan's. She sees her own depression as incurable, but also covets it, precisely because she believes that the way her brain is wired is what allows her to come up with her comedy. She's successful and loved by her fans, but still she feels like a failure. It's a really good interview and Susan is a very funny comedian. Do track down her stuff if you haven't seen/heard it.

Are comedians extra-weird or are we all this weird and it's just comedians who talk about it? It's impossible for an individual to know if they are mad and it's hard to define madness when you step back and look at some of the things that are considered normal behaviour. Madness scares and intrigues me and losing my mind is one of my biggest fears. But the friction that is created in that hinterland of "normality" and "madness" is certainly where some great comedy comes from.

Do we start psychotic or does the job make us psychotic though?

There are certainly many eccentric comedians, plus a lot of even more eccentric people who are trying to be comedians (and how does the survey distinguish an actual "comedian" from someone who wants to be a comedian). Generally speaking the acts who are truly unhinged or delusional about their abilities don't get anywhere (though unlike nearly any other job that doesn't stop them still giving it a go). But you need to be focused and hard-working (increasingly) to make it. There's certainly many comedians who are level-headed and as "normal" as anyone else. And the madness and the psychosis is controlled and channelled. And I think that stuff mainly works because when someone admits they've done or thought something insane, pretty much everyone in the audience thinks "Oh thank God, it's not just me then." We're a little release valve for the psychosis and madness of being human. Maybe that ultimately takes an effect.

I know that I am certainly one of the most down to earth and level-headed people who has grown a Hitler Moustache, has completed CNPS and who plays snooker against himself in a basement that you will ever meet.

Bookmark and Share

My new stand up show, Oh Frig I'm 50 is at on tour from February til June 2018. There's also a new series of RHLSTP with recordings every Monday from February 5th to April 2nd All details of shows here.
Help us make more podcasts by giving us about a pound a podcast subscribing to Drip You get loads of extras if you do.