Why strive to fit in if your goal is to be crazy funny? A recent study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry suggests that the secret to making other people laugh is having an unusual personality. Originally reported on Reuters, the study and the surrounding discussion offers some insights into what makes people so funny.

lewis black

Basically, there’s a sweet spot between howling at the moon and avoiding intimacy that scientists have begun to identify as the best mental state for a career in comedy. To those in the business of making people laugh, it comes as no shock that you need to be a little bit nuts if you want to succeed.

After all, what kind of sane, rational human being thinks: “Career, family and financial stability are way overrated! I think I’ll gamble the majority of my life on a dream while bouncing between clubs and desperate industry gigs that barely keep the lights on.”

To gain valuable insights into what makes a comedian tick, a questionnaire was developed that would help scientists paint a mental picture of the respondents that took part in the study. I’m guessing the sales pitch for participation went something like: “Who wants a free slice of pizza? Cool, just fill out this questionnaire really quick and let me know what toppings you want.”

532 comedians, 364 actors and 831 non-creatives were given the same questionnaire. Based on the answers received, scientists analyzed the results and compared the psychiatric profiles of each aggregate group.

Comedians scored much higher than other respondents in four areas that specifically indicate psychotic personalities. These areas included:

  1. Unusual Experiences: Do you believe aliens have visited earth? Think you can communicate with your cousin on the other side of the globe without a cellphone or internet connection? Are you investing in stocks based on a crystal ball’s projections of future earnings? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you probably score higher than the average person in the “unusual experiences” category.
  2. Cognitive Disorganization: Have difficulty focusing on one thing at a time? Do you find yourself getting lost daydreaming? You may struggle with cognitive disorganization.
  3. Introvertive Anhedonia: Do you have a hard time just relaxing and enjoying yourself around friends at a party? Would you rather binge on Netflix than go to a bar and meet new people? You might score high on a test measuring introvertive anhedonia.
  4. Impulsive Non-Conformity: Hmm, when’s the last time you heard about a comedian swimming upstream against cultural currents? Yep, exactly. Can you imagine George Carlin or Lewis Black tempering their performance based on societal expectations?

Actors scored high on three of the four traits. Introvertive Anhedonia is something they don’t suffer with. Could it be that a comedian is just an actor that hates being around other people?

Are crazy and psychotic the same thing? The findings of this study point to psychotic behavior. Is it intellectually honest to use psychotic and crazy interchangeably, especially within the confines of this discussion around the things that make comedians tick?

Crazy is more or less a socially acceptable term for describing a potentially psychotic individual. The study points specifically to comedians exhibiting psychotic traits. All of these psychotic traits can add up to a perception by the people around you that you’re a bit crazy.

This isn’t to say that psychotic personality traits are the same thing as being psycho (or a psychopath). If you’re truly bat-shit crazy and suffer from delusions that couple with a lack of empathy and morality, you’re a psychopath that will likely be spending some time in a straight-jacket before too long.

If, on the other hand, you simply see the world from a unique perspective and can’t help indulging your wild side while up on stage, you’re likely a comedian. Or you have the potential to be a pretty awesome standup comedian.

For audiences attending a comedy club, they didn’t pay money for a ticket and a few drinks so that they could listen to someone impersonate their buddies at the office watercooler. Comedy fans are looking for entertainment. There’s nothing more entertaining than the truly unique and exciting. It’s like that one crazy friend in every squad.

Everybody has that one friend that you think twice about hanging out with in public, within earshot of innocent bystanders. Comedy and a potential career in comedy can give that one person a lot of hope. The wonderful career choice where irreverent observations are celebrated and encouraged!

By James Lang