Why Are Comedians Depressed?

In this blog post, we will answer the question, “Why are comedians depressed?” Before answering that, we will see if comedians are depressed. We will gain more insight into what the “Sad Clown Paradox” is, how comedians fare in psychological tests, and how to cope with depression or other mental conditions while catering to your creativity. 

Are Comedians Depressed?

It is common to believe that comedians are depressed. We have witnessed high-profile comics like Robin Williams, Ellen DeGeneres, Stephen Fry, W. Allen, Ruby Wax, Peter Cook, and David Williams and Sarah Silverman deal with psychological challenges as they have spoken about it.

The truth is that depression is a common mental disorder, and comedians also get depressed. There is no strong scientific correlation between comedy and depression as yet.  

Why Are Comedians Depressed?

There is not enough scientific literature to answer this question with certainty. However, there are several speculations regarding why comedians may be depressed. Let us see what these reasons could be.

  • Humor is a coping mechanism
  • To regain control
  • High intelligence
  • Personality traits
  • Self-deprecating thoughts
  • Childhood  

Humor is a coping mechanism

According to Sigmund Freud and his work on defense mechanisms, comedians use humor to relieve their anxiety and depression. Everybody copes with stress and psychological problems differently, and comedians may use satire and comedy to cope with theirs. 

To make people laugh and gain applause and validation could make them feel better. The challenge is that it could be temporary, as once they get off stage and go back home, they could start feeling overwhelmed again.

To regain control

It is hypothesized that comedians can feel a sense of control over situations that typically make them feel powerless. By joking about something that causes them suffering makes them come to terms with the situation and regain lost power to some extent. Some comedians joke about their therapy, sex life, doctors, and family, among other topics, that could cause them stress.

High intelligence

A study conducted in 1975 reported that despite the success and financial wealth accumulated by many high-profile comics, most of them had sought therapy at some point in time. These comedians also tended to have higher than above-average intelligence, and there have been previous literature on the link between intelligence and depression.

Personality traits

One study published in 2014 found that comedians tend to have unusual conflicting traits with higher levels of psychotic features commonly found in people with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. 

They were found to have introverted anhedonia (unable to experience pleasure), making them socially withdrawn and extroverted impulsivity, which fostered their creativity and curiosity to understand their surroundings. Their extroverted side could allow them to cope with their depressive feelings.

However, it has also been reported that they are not as neurotic as believed to be. Comics score high in creativity and openness while having a lower score in agreeableness.    

Self-deprecating thoughts

It has also been found that, when compared to circus jokers, comedians are more likely to indulge in self-deprecating thoughts and remarks. They are also expected to be critical of themselves and others.

Childhood 

There is a possibility of abuse, bullying, or other forms of traumatic exposure in their childhood. 

They may have experienced an event in their childhood that got laughs or a positive response. Although comedians are known to have high intelligence, they commonly report detesting their school days. 

It has also been reported that the majority of comedians led lives characterized by isolation, suffering, and a sense of deprivation in their childhood. Comedy and humor allowed them to experience some relief from an otherwise inevitable feeling of panic and anxiety.

What Is Sad Clown Paradox?

Sad Clown Paradox is a conflicting association between comedy and mental illnesses, namely, depression, bipolar disorder, psychosis, anxiety, and the like. It is hypothesized that they cope with early experience of trauma through means of comedy and performance. This platform acts as an outlet, allowing them to release frustration and suppressed emotions.

Apart from enabling them to express themselves, it is believed that comedy provides them with an opportunity to gain acceptance and applause. 

There is a possibility that familial atmosphere and relations contribute to the formation of humor. For instance, if the child is neglected or made to seek acceptance and approval continually, they may develop self-worth and self-acceptance issues. 

This behavior is carried on into adulthood and can manifest as various psychological conditions, including depression. If left unchecked, it may lead to grave consequences, such as suicide, as seen in Robin Williams, Tony Hancock, and Charles Rocket, to name a few.

As mentioned earlier, humor also provides a sense of control over situations that otherwise leave an individual feeling powerless. 

Psychological Tests

Let us look at the summaries of performances by comedians on two types of tests, namely:

  • Rorschach or Inkblot Test
  • Aptitude or Personality Tests

Rorschach or Inkblot Test

The Rorschach test is a commonly used projective test used in determining the personality of the individual taking the test. It requires the test-taker to describe what they think each inkblot looks like upon looking at several ambiguous ones.   

Fisher reported that the findings suggested that comedians tend to have negative beliefs about themselves. Such a lack of self-worth is typically protected by their idea of spreading joy and laughter among other people, which is only temporarily fulfilled while on stage. 

On the other hand, actors were found to feel validated in associating with notions bigger than themselves.

Aptitude or Personality Tests

Comedians work to the point of saturation so that they stay significant and humorous. Most of them seek therapy at some point in time. They are self-critical and suspicious of others and their intentions and are always scared of their career duration. 

Many of them suffer from depression or anxiety, which is temporarily relieved by comedy. Comics also have a constant need for approval and admiration.

Moreover, they are seen to possess specific psychotic traits, such as introverted anhedonia and extroverted impulsivity. They are characterized by cyclothymic tendencies, which entail periods of depressive symptoms alternating with periods of mild manic (hypomanic) symptoms. Their defense mechanism comprises conflicting emotions, such as making jokes while being internally depressed. 

How to Cope

Now that we have understood if and why comedians are depressed, let us look at ways to cope with psychological difficulties while catering to your creative side:

  • Set achievable goals
  • Get support
  • Engage in self-care
  • Socialize 
  • Read books

Set achievable goals

Remember that there are things you can control and things you cannot. Establish goals that are realistic and achievable, such as scheduling a certain number of gigs a week. Do not be preoccupied with things that are beyond your control, such as expecting a callback. 

Get support

Firstly, consult a mental health professional. Some professionals offer low-cost therapy. Attend workshops or support groups provided by various clinics and institutes.

Engage in self-care

Exercise regularly, eat well and inculcate healthy habits that cater to your physical wellness. Take time off to tend to your emotional needs as well. Engage in activities that bring you joy and make you feel empowered.

Socialize

Try to surround yourself with people who make a difference in your life. Have a social support system in place, filled with individuals who are considerate, respectful, and make you feel good about yourself. Friends, mentors, coaches, and family members can be useful for your social and emotional needs.

Read books

There are several books that are empowering and stimulate your creativity. The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm is a great place to start for understanding self-love. To boost your creative interests and make it a habit, The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp is a go-to book.  

Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.

Conclusion

In this blog post, we answered the question, “Why are comedians depressed?” Before answering that, we saw if comedians are depressed. We gained more insight into what the “Sad Clown Paradox” is, how comedians fare in psychological tests, and how to cope with depression or other mental conditions while catering to your creativity. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Why Are Comedians Depressed?

Who is most likely to be depressed? 

Individuals of the following nature are most likely to be depressed:

People with a negative style of thinking tend to have low self-esteem and are most likely to be depressed;
Women are more likely to be depressed than men;
People with inadequate or excessive levels of specific neurotransmitters;
Those with an existing diagnosis of other illnesses including Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, or diabetes; 
Individuals with a family history of depression; and
People who are undergoing specific situational problems like divorce, loss of a job, or the death of a loved one.  

Among all the races, who is most likely to be depressed?

Among all the races, Hispanics are the most likely to be depressed. At a close second are African Americans, followed by Whites. 

Can you diagnose yourself with depression?

No, you cannot diagnose yourself with depression or any other condition. You can be on the lookout for signs that may indicate depression. If you suspect that you may be depressed, consult a mental health professional. Following is a list of symptoms indicative of depression:

Fatigue and a lack of energy to engage in necessary activities;
Profound sadness or depressed mood for extended periods;
Inability to derive pleasure from activities that used to be pleasurable;
Sleeping disturbances; and
Changes in appetite and weight 

What are the causes of depression?

There are various causes of depression that may act together for the condition to develop, namely:

Situational stressors that are too severe to manage;
Genetic predispositions or susceptibility;
Medical conditions;
A chemical imbalance in the brain;
Substance use;
The side-effect of specific medications

Among all age and gender groups, which one is most likely to be depressed?

Women are most likely to be depressed among all age groups when compared to men. Among the age groups, women who are 40 to 59 years old are most depressed. 

Who is most likely to have any mental health condition?

Based on gender, women are more likely than men to have any mental health condition. Based on age, young adults or 18- to 25-year-olds are most likely to have any mental illness.

Why is it harmful to Google my symptoms?

It is harmful to Google your symptoms as you may make a wrong diagnosis. Doing so could either conceal a much more severe diagnosis or make your problem seem worse than what it is, evoking unnecessary worry and anxiety. Moreover, several websites are not accurate with diagnoses. 

How does fame affect emotional wellness?

Famous people are subjected to various occupational and personal pressures that stem from being on the spotlight. All these stressors make them highly susceptible to developing psychological conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse to the point of killing themselves intentionally or accidentally. 

What we recommend for depression

Professional counselling

If you are suffering from depression then ongoing professional counselling may be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you live a more fulfilling life.

References

https://edition.cnn.com/2017/03/01/health/sad-clown-standup-comedy-mental-health/index.html

https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-28753326

https://goldcomedy.com/resources/6-things-everyone-know-comedy-depression/

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