New study finds the mental health of comedians is surprisingly okay

Despite the "troubled stand-up" stereotype, the study only found modest support for the idea that comedians have a unique profile of psychological dysfunction.

It’s a common belief that comedians are a troubled bunch, hiding their inner demons behind a facade of laughter.

But a recent study suggests that this stereotype may not tell the whole story.

The Great Comic Psych-Out

Researchers Lauren Lloveras and Wilson McDermut of St. John’s University in New York set out to examine the mental health, personality traits, and psychological dysfunction of comedians compared to the general population.

They surveyed 108 comedians and 99 non-comedian adults using a variety of self-report questionnaires.

The comedians were primarily recruited through social media (Facebook), word of mouth, and in-person appeals at New York comedy clubs between 2014 and 2015.

Most of the comedians (66%) were based in New York, though the sample included comedians from a total of 17 different states.

On average, the comedians were 38 years old, predominantly male (67%), and predominantly white (71%).

Funnier, More Open, and Ready to Talk

The results? While comedians did show some differences, the findings weren’t all doom and gloom.

The study found that comedians scored higher on openness to experience and extraversion compared to the general population.

This means they tend to be more creative, adventurous, and outgoing – traits that likely serve them well in their craft.

Interestingly, comedians were also more likely to have sought mental health treatment in the past.

This suggests that despite the stereotype, comedians may be more willing to address their psychological well-being head-on.

Anxiety and Substance Use: A Mixed Bag

The study did find that comedians reported more symptoms of generalized anxiety and somatization disorders.

However, after controlling for regional differences (many comedians were based in NYC), the anxiety differences became less significant.

Comedians also reported higher rates of lifetime substance use, which could be influenced by the entertainment industry’s culture and stressors.

The study didn’t find significant differences in neuroticism between comedians and the general population.

This is surprising given the common belief that comedians are more neurotic or prone to negative emotions.

It challenges the notion that comedians use humor as a coping mechanism for their own emotional struggles.

The researchers also looked at “malignant self-regard,” a trait involving narcissistic and depressive tendencies.

Comedians did score higher on this measure, but again, the effect was reduced when accounting for regional differences.

Challenging the “Troubled Stand-Up” Stereotype

Overall, the study provides a more nuanced picture of comedians’ mental health and personality.

While some differences exist, many could be attributed to the unique stressors of the entertainment industry rather than being inherent to comedians themselves.

The authors note that more research is needed to replicate these findings and clarify the impact of factors like geographic region.

But one thing seems clear: comedians are a complex bunch, and the “troubled stand-up” stereotype may not capture the full story.

So the next time you hear a comedian crack a self-deprecating joke, remember – they might just be more open, more willing to seek help, and funnier than the rest of us.

Study details:

Journal: Personality and Individual Differences
Title: Personality and psychopathology in stand-up comedians
Authors: Lauren B. Lloveras and Wilson McDermut
Affiliation: St. John’s University, Queens, New York
Publication date: March 17, 2024