Comedian Psychotic
January 16, 2014

Some Comedians Have Psychotic Traits

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Next time you watch a stand-up comedy special on television or, better yet, go down to your local comedy club – you may literally be watching someone with psychotic personality traits, according to a new study from the British Journal of Psychiatry.

The study team found that comedians they analyzed from the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States scored higher on measures for psychotic characteristics, such as anti-social behavior, than a group of control subjects from non-creative professions.

"The creative elements needed to produce humor are strikingly similar to those characterizing the cognitive style of people with psychosis - both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder," study author Gordon Claridge of the University of Oxford's department of experimental psychology told Reuters.

Claridge noted that even though comedians scored high for 'psychotic' traits, mild versions of these attributes can allow a person to think differently than ‘normal’ people.

"Although schizophrenic psychosis itself can be detrimental to humor, in its lesser form it can increase people's ability to associate odd or unusual things or to think 'outside the box'," he said. "Equally, manic thinking - which is common in people with bipolar disorder - may help people combine ideas to form new, original and humorous connections."

In the study, researchers recruited over 520 comedians – including more than 400 men and nearly 120 women. Participants were asked to fill out an online mental health survey typically used to gauge psychotic traits in healthy people.

The survey included questions about "unusual experiences,” such as a belief in the paranormal; "cognitive disorganization," or difficulty concentrating; "introvertive anhedonia,” reduced capacity for experiencing social and physical pleasure; and "impulsive non-conformity,” or a proclivity towards impetuous, anti-social actions.

The same survey was also filled out by nearly 370 actors, which the study team used as a control group because they are also public performers. While the public performers’ results were contrasted to each other, the study team also surveyed more than 830 people who had jobs not considered to be in the creative fields.

The study team found that comedians scored considerably higher on all four kinds of “psychotic” personality traits compared to the non-creative group. The comedians had particularly high scores for impetuous non-conformity and withdrawn personality traits, the researchers said. While the actors scored higher than the non-creative group on three types of psychotic traits, they did not score comparatively high for introverted personality traits.

James MacCabe, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, told BBC News that the study shouldn’t be interpreted as a sign that comedians are mentally ill.

“This study tells us some interesting things about the differences between comedians and actors but not about the link with psychosis,” he said.

"Psychosis is not a problem with personality, it's a more severe disorder than that,” MacCabe added. "People with psychosis and schizophrenia have a very impaired ability to appreciate humorous material.”

Paul Jenkins, chief executive for the UK charity Rethink Mental Illness, warned against fostering the "mad creative genius stereotype.”

"Mental illnesses like schizophrenia can affect anyone, whether they are creative or not,” he added. “Our knowledge and understanding of mental illness still lags far behind our understanding of physical illnesses, and what we really need is much more research in this area."