Don’t mind us, we’re crazy

by Brian McKim & Traci Skene on January 16th, 2014 linked to it, so it’s been injected directly into the veins of social media. There’s no stopping a meme like this. (It’s just another in a long line of such memes– “Comics are crazy… that’s why we’re comics.”)

We’ve spent the last nearly fifteen years fighting it and we’re about ready to throw in the towel.

Throwing in the towel not just because we seem to be incapable of battling the idea but because comics themselves seem to enjoy (even revel in) the idea of being mentally ill. Apparently, just being a standup comic isn’t enough… they have to be schizophrenic, bipolar, psychotic.

(Mind you, we’re not quitting the blogging racket. We’re just going to give up trying to disabuse anyone– in the press, among our peers, in the business, among our family members– that we’re not nutty.)

Drudge linked to the Reuters article that was carried by Canadian Yahoo. Here’s the second graf:

In a study in the British Journal of Psychiatry, researchers analyzed comedians from Australia, Britain and the United States and found they scored significantly higher on four types of psychotic characteristics compared to a control group of people who had non-creative jobs.

In all honesty, researchers didn’t analyze comedians… they analyzed comedians’ responses from an online survey. (And online surveys of any kind are pretty rickety from a scientific standpoint. But folks seem to love taking online surveys and burble on about them with the enthusiasm of a 12-year-old schoolgirl regarding a Ouija board. Regardless, it’s a good enough tool for Gordon Claridge, PhD, and good enough, apparently, for the British Journal of Psychiatry. We suspect that the respondents, having for so long been told that they are unstable, have internalized the message and their responses to the survey don’t so much reflect reality as much as conditioning. Or, as comics might be prone to do, messing with the Authority Figure, in this case, the British PhD?)


Of course, we disagree with the conclusions and we disagree with the impressions that people are gleaning from the study and subsequently spewing back out to the world. Comedians, if they are nothing, are consistent and predictable. People who are mentally ill, last time we checked, are not models of consistency or predictability. It has been our experience that the best comedians are calculating, deliberate almost to the point of being boring. We may, as the eggheads claim, exhibit signs of “introverted anhedonia and extraverted impulsiveness,” but we’re hardly borderline psychotic or schizophrenic.

But, from what we’ve seen on Facebook and other media, comedians not only don’t seem to mind the characterization, they seem to be embracing it. Now, we understand that some of them are “embracing” it– in a thoroughly ironic way– but a disturbing number of them seem to be resigned to the stereotype, even attracted to the notion. (And when we wrote about this in the past, we got grief from our fellow comedians.)

To which we must ask: Isn’t it enough to be a comedian? Isn’t it enough to be different from your peers by virtue of the fact that you are adept at making a roomful of strangers laugh? Have you become so inured to your otherness that you feel that you have to heap on a dangerous and/or stigmatized characteristic like bipolarity or schizotypy or out-and-out schizophrenia onto your social resume?

We think we have finally figured out why comics do this: In an effort to explain not just their disparateness but their career choice– successful or otherwise– it is far better to be thought of mentally ill than merely irresponsible.

People are critical and/or cruelly dismissive of anybody who walks away from a stable, normal life to embrace something that’s unconventional. Family members whisper that the comic at the table “failed to use his college degree,” or “isn’t living up to his or her potential or responsibilities.” It’s an timeless classic. Instead of trying to convince the naysayers that pursuit of something as interesting and often fulfilling as standup is worthwhile, they can instead point to a study that says, in effect, “I can’t help myself! I’m craaaaazy!”

Plus, being perceived as anhedonic or impulsive has that extra added sexiness and danger. Better to be thought of as impulsive than as stable. Impulsive is exciting; stable is boring. We get it. (We long ago stopped feeling this way ourselves, but we understand the tendency.)

For our part, we will keep in mind our “inability to experience pleasure in normally pleasurable acts” the next time we find ourselves grinning uncontrollably while enjoying cocktails and conversation with our colleagues in a foreign port or setting the alarm for a much-needed afternoon nap or disturbing the patrons around us at a diner because we’re guffawing too loudly at our fellow comics’ hell-gig stories.