Humor Sapiens and Mental Health

"I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it's like to feel absolutely worthless and they don't want anyone else to feel like that."- Robin Williams

It feels like every time I am sitting at an open mic or a comedy show, there is at least one comedian talking about depression and therapy. Without seeking out any data or online literature, therefore, one might conclude that most comedians are either sad, depressed or both. It is ubiquitous in the profession – contemporary performers like Gary Gulman openly talks about going to therapy to deal with depression. In the documentary series “The History of Comedy”, many comics publicly discuss their depression and how they cope with it.

Very few studies on comedians and mental health are readily available online. A study in 1975 which was conducted only on 55 comics, found that around 80 percent of the participants had been in therapy. The study also informs that majority of the comedians were close to their mother, while the fathers were absent in large periods of their life. Many comedians are known to use comedy as validation from strangers to fill a void.

To better understand comedians and the relationship to depression, I used a questionnaire which entail only 3 questions. It asks you to describe your mental state, the reason for pursuing comedy, and if you have sought out therapy. The survey was filled mostly by comedians in the Northeast and had 133 participants.

Results

Around 41 percent of the participants described their mental state as being content, while approximately 31 percent assessed their mental condition as clinically depressed.

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Additionally, 53 percent of the participants are pursuing comedy because they enjoy it as an art form, while only 17 percent get on stage to seek some form of approval. Surprisingly, even though most comedians are aware of the absurdity of the human condition, only 5 percent of the participants are pursuing comedy due to life’s transience nature.

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The data suggests only 30 percent of the comedians are in therapy. This is an interesting finding, because earlier data indicates that 31 percent of the participants subscribe their condition as clinically depressed.

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Analyzing the data further, it shows that 26 percent of the subset of comedians who assess their mental condition as happy are in therapy, while only 34 percent of the clinically depressed are in therapy.

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Some reasons for not seeking out therapy might be financial, fear of anxiety due to oversharing, or some are just using comedy as therapy.

Based on these data, it is apparent that more than 50% of the comics are either content or happy. It is also worth noticing that more than 30% of the participants in the study are clinically depressed. You can assume that out of the 10 people that are performing in your show or open mic, at least 3 are clinically depressed.

A lot of people, like myself, are not schooled in clinical depression. The following resources helped me learn and understand the issue better and I highly recommend them to people who are interested in learning more about the subject matter. The TED talk “Depression, the secret we share” by Andrew Solomon talks about his journey with depression and is a must watch for people who are not well versed on the subject. Another article “Here’s how you can connect to friends who are depressed” by Bill Bernat is an excellent read on the topic.

Thank you to all the 133 participants who took part in the survey.

 

This study was done using the survey sent out to Albany Comedians, Boston Comedians, and various other Northeast comedians groups. Written and conducted by Shafi Hossain.

References:

Janus, S. (2018). Cite a Website - Cite This For Me. [online] Emilkirkegaard.dk. Available at: http://emilkirkegaard.dk/en/wp-content/uploads/The-great-comedians-Personality-and-other-factors.pdf [Accessed 21 Jan. 2018].

https://www.ted.com/talks/andrew_solomon_depression_the_secret_we_share. (2018). 

Bernat, B. (2018). How you can connect to friends who are depressed. [online] ideas.ted.com. Available at: https://ideas.ted.com/heres-how-you-can-connect-to-friends-who-are-depressed/ [Accessed 25 Jan. 2018].