BY PABLO KIMULI,
Comedians are able to make people laugh because they often display characteristics usually found in people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, a research published in the British Journal of Psychiatry claims.
Their talent to amuse people lies in having unusual personalities and displaying what researchers say are high levels of psychotic characteristics, which are a link between madness and creativity.
“The creative elements needed to produce humour are strikingly similar to those characterising the cognitive style of people with psychosis – both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder,” said Professor Gordon Claridge from Oxford University’s department of experimental psychology. He is also one of the three co-authors of the findings.
The results are based on a study of how 523 comedians from the UK, USA and Australia described their own personalities and beliefs when they filled in a questionnaire measuring psychotic traits in people who are not troubled by mental illness. I’m almost sure that their findings would have been different if they had tested Africans.
They would conclusively confirm their fears. An average Ugandan has an understandable degree of humour and if they were to hand out the Oxford questionnaire to measure psychotic traits on us, they would authoritatively conclude that we are psychotic. Watch a standard news bulletin on any local TV and you will understand what I’m saying.
Better, walk on the streets and keenly observe what people are doing. You will notice some people shouting on top of their voices on phone, street preachers ministering to fast-moving cars; street children exchanging bitter words with drivers; taxi conductors calling passengers all sorts of good things to entice them into their vans; hawkers engaged in a marathon with city council authorities and boda boda cyclists undecided on which route to take. Such is the organised chaos that provides comic relief.
Comedians are just a mirror of society. They look at the serious side of what they are doing and tell it in a lighter way. The irony is that the audience laugh at themselves and attribute the madness to the comedian who took the trouble to observe what is happening in their lives.
Although the terms “psychosis” and “psychotic” often conjure ideas of frothy-mouthed killers and deranged lunatics, this report uses these terms to describe much less violent behaviours. The researchers said the belief that creativity is associated with madness has increasingly been researched by psychologists and psychiatrists, but “comedy and humour have been largely neglected”.
Claridge added: “Obviously not all comedians are like this, but the trend does seem these personality traits are more common. It is that idea of the sad clown.”
The research found stand-up comedians were different from other stage performers such as actors, because they were more introverted. I agree with this to some extent because most of the celebrated comedians I have interacted with are unbelievably introverts. Maybe that is why they are suspected to have high levels of psychotic personality traits.
To me, this research is just a manifestation that the funniest, most entertaining, people have different thought patterns from average people, and comedy is a form of medication. It handles depressing issues which, in a way, bring healing to the society.
Comedians have been granted the dramatic licence to lie. Of course, the cleverest comedians make sure their absurdly fictitious stories have the ring of truth. And indeed, many stories start as a true event, but just as a pearl starts as a grain of sand, a comedian will continually prod and polish an anecdote into something precious and far removed from the original fact. It may end up being hysterically funny, and even sounding true.
The illusion of truth is further fortified by interspersing fictitious stories with observations on events, which the audience know are true so they assume the stories in between are true as well. If this research is true, by any chance, then it is puzzling to know that comedians are successful because they have psychotic traits.