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Comedians Have Conflicting Introvert and Extrovert Personality Traits, Study Finds

"Comedy may be in part a form of self-medication," says one researcher


Comedians used to tell a joke like this:

“A comedian walks into a psychologist's office. The psychologist says: 'lie down and tell me everything you know'”.

The joke: “Since then I haven't been able to get a date. He's doing my number in Philadelphia."

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The material that comes from a counselor's couch is often excellent material for a comic act. It's the sad paradox of the clown: the men and women who make people laugh often struggle with off-stage mental health issues that aren't a laughing matter.

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It's unclear how many comedians struggle with mental challenges like depression, but many of the biggest names have spoken and joked about it: Robin Williams, Sarah Silverman, Stephen Fry, Spike Jones, Woody Allen, Richard Pryor, Ellen DeGeneres. It's no coincidence that the Laugh Factory in Hollywood has an in-house psychologist.

Em"Spark of Madness",one hour of CNN's eight-part documentary series"History of Comedy"the comedians openly talk about their mental struggle and how it fuels their work.

“I've despised myself since I was close to coming out of the womb,” comedian Richard Lewis said in the documentary. “I've always been wrong. Let's start with that. When you're always wrong, you look for an audience to refute that theory."

It is not clear from the scientific literature whether this is true for all comedians. Does it take a mental struggle to be fun? Or do some comedians understand these challenges better and can talk to them without experiencing the struggle?

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What we do know is that analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog, as the old joke goes: no one laughs and the frog dies. Increasingly, however, scientists are trying to understand what motivates professional pranksters to want to make us laugh, even if they don't always manage to do it themselves.

The research is ridiculously contradictory.

Legendary psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud theorized that comedians often tell jokes as a kind of anxiety relief system.

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More recently, an often citedStudy from 1975 (PDF)he theorized that humor can leave the comedian with a sense of control over a situation in which he would be powerless.

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"One can notice here the abundance of jokes about doctors, psychiatrists, morticians, sex and mothers-in-law," wrote study author Samuel James. If a comedian has struggled with his own mental health, jokes can work like salve for a physical wound.

That 1975 study focused on 55 very successful full-time comedians. They had national news coverage and made over six figures. Despite the huge success, James found, 80% of them sought some form of therapy.

Most of these comedians had a few personality traits in common. They had above average or well above average intelligence; other studies have linked high intelligence with depression.

Study participants felt that they understood each other reasonably well and had good relationships, but often felt "misunderstood, harassed, or intimidated." They were also more likely to be "angry, suspicious and depressed" compared to those without this profession.

Humor it can also decrease the social distance between people.

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Los comics most often reported being close with their mothers, but had more distant and disapproving fathers. Other studies havefound the oppositeParental relationship in comedians.

Mental illness is often linked to suicide, but scientists agree that despite high-profile cases like Williams's, there is not a disproportionate number of suicides in the profession. However, comedians don't live as long as their less funny counterparts, according to a 2014 study. study entitled"Does comedy kill?" It just adds numbers but doesn't get to the reasons behind them.

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gordon claridge, a retired Oxford University psychologist, continues to collect data on comedians to better understand their personalities.

He found that comedians seem to have two competing personality traits: introverted anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure) and extraverted impulsiveness. While similar to actors, who remain outgoing, open, and interested in understanding the world around them, comedians have introverted traits that make them antisocial and somewhat emotionally bland. Some also suffer from clinical depression.

This split personality with his impulsive and extroverted tendencies may be behind his playful view of the world.

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"We found a rather curious set of conditions," said Claridge. "Comedy can be in part a form of self-medication, something we don't see in other performers."

In the CNN documentary, comedian Patton Oswalt agrees: “A lot of comedians are very introverted people, very shy, very sensitive to humiliation. The only way to fight it is to go to the one place where they leave you naked.

claridge's studio it has limitations because it only focused on male comedians.Other studiescontradicts his research, finding that there is no more depression among comedians than non-comedians.

Claridge collected data on female comedians and will investigate whether they will have similar personality traits.

When he presented his work to comedians, they said his findings were obvious to people they knew on the circuit.

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"My father's humor came from life, and I don't think he had a choice," Pryor's daughter Rain Pryor said in the documentary. "Either you laugh with it, or you die with it."

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If comedians really do have competitive personality traits, humor might just be the way to force their introverted selves to interact.

A studyof 2014 Observing comedians and circus clowns, it was found that comedians tend to make more negative comments about themselves compared to other performers.

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    And despite the perception given by comedians like Woody Allen, they are rarely neurotic, studies show. They score high on creativity and openness, although they tend to exhibit less conscientious and agreeable behavior.than other artists (PDF)and writers, and tend to be more critical and suspicious. This can give them the necessary distance to observe human behavior with a good-natured eye.

    a pollof comedians for a 2014 study found that some stand-up performers did so largely for what one comedian in the study said was "audience validation." We're trying to fill a void." This research concluded that comics have a kind of "identification paradox".

    Claridge believes that whether they have a personal struggle or are just good at observing others, all comedians have an interesting story beyond the laughs.

    “Everyone seems to have a hidden depth to their personalities,” he said. "Comedy seems like a way to deal with that, and we all benefit."


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