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It's official: Comedians are mad

Posting in Science
So you want to make it as a comedian, do you? Egads - it's not the easiest way to earn a living, you know. Are you mad? 

Oh, you are? Well then, you might just have what it takes!

A purportedly first-of-its-kind study by the University of Oxford in England showed that comics have personality types linked with psychosis, the BBC reports.

"The comedians scored very highly on two rather opposite features - the kind of rather impulsive extroversion, and a kind of schizoid, depressive introversion," said chief researcher Prof. Gordon Claridge in a live interview on BBC Radio 4 this morning (the audio is embedded in the website story).

While scientists have linked madness and creativity before, Claridge said his study is the first to examine the characteristic among comedians. He also looked at mental health in another creative type - actors - and found that while "they scored high in some of the psychotic traits" they didn't show the "very peculiar combination" of extroversion and introversion.

He pointed out that while many comedians are prone to psychotic characteristics, they could still fall within a spectrum that is "perfectly healthy." 

His findings may not surprise people.

"I hate to take away from the professor's years and years of studying, but it doesn't take a genius to work out that comedians are a little bit nuts," observed comedian Susan Murray, one of 500 jokers who participated in Claridge's survey.

Indeed, when pioneering British/Irish comic and bipolar sufferer Spike Milligan died at the age of 83 in 2002, well-known comics and celebrities paid tribute to him as "crazy", "mad" and "surreal".

Milligan was a precursor to the Monty Python brand of humor.  (In the 1950's radio sketch series The Goon Show, Milligan's character T. F. Eccles once quipped "I wondered why I kept getting shorter" after another character pointed out to him he had crossed the Amazon River not on a log, as Eccles had explained, but on an alligator). He himself asked that his gravestone read "I told you I was ill."  

His family had to inscribe those words in Gaelic rather than in English in order to obtain approval by the local diocese overseeing the church cemetery where Milligan is buried.  But that's the crazy last laugh in any language.

Cover photo of Spike Milligan is from Wikipedia

— By on January 16, 2014, 5:04 AM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure