The Unexpected Link Between Comedy And Mental Health

by : Emily Murray on : 12 May 2017 16:54

Laughter may be the best medicine but did you know that comedians are more likely to suffer from mental illness?

A study conducted by Oxford University, which used data gathered from more than 500 comedians who completed a survey, found that comedians may be more disposed to ‘high levels of psychotic personality traits’.


These traits often lead to mental health problems, in particular anxiety and depression.


But are comedians drawn to stand-up as therapy or is it the job itself that causes these problems?

Dr. Mark Widdowson, a psychotherapist and counsellor, suggests that comedy is actually a well suited career for those who suffer with anxiety.


He said:

Comedy is absolutely perfect for them because they are not going to be in a situation where they don’t know what to say. They have their sets completely planned out.

It gives them a real strong sense of control but get them off the stage, where it is all unpredictable, then they will probably struggle.

Dr. Widdowson also claims that those suffering with anxiety and depression are adept at covering it up meaning it is often a surprise when their issues come to light.


This is particularly the case for comedians who seem so joyous and chirpy on the stage.

Will Hutchby, a 24-year-old stand-up comedian from Manchester, can relate.

Manchester Fringe/YouTube

Will told UNILAD:


I have always been that guy who is happy and looks after everyone else.

My mum suffered from depression and so I understood how it worked and I just could not believe that I would have depression myself.

I kept thinking why am I so sad, what is going on, my life is amazing?

Last year Will went to the doctors where he was diagnosed with depression and Generalised Anxiety Disorder, a long-term condition that causes you to feel anxious about a wide range of situations rather than one specific event.


He said that comedy helped him accept his mental health problems and that he finds his relief on the stage.


Will added:

I think I can come out of myself more on stage because comedy is an exaggerated version of yourself.

That is really important when it comes to mental health as I can get all of my weird stuff out of the way on stage and then try and live my life. It’s basically therapy.

If your gig goes badly then you just wait for the next one but if it goes well you feel euphoric.

However, fellow stand-up comedian Ben Target couldn’t have had more of a different experience.

He finds that it is the job itself that actually exasperates his anxiety.

I don’t think that the lifestyle is particularly healthy. You spend a lot of time on the road, alone, in your thoughts and I can see that that affects people quite considerably.

All of those things feed anxiety and depression. I find it quite nerve-wracking having to perform to people and yet if the show goes well then the pay-off is incredible.

Ben adds that while it feels amazing to make a room full of people laugh, when gigs do not go to plan it can be quite emotionally affecting.

He said:

It’s a form of gambling in a way, but it is gambling with my own emotions. It is a difficult high to chase and that high is addictive. You are dependent on something that is completely not in your control.


It is never easy talking about mental health but some comedians choose to share their experiences through stand-up.

In 2012, only four years after his breakdown, stand-up comedian Kevin Dewsbury decided to discuss his experience with depression in his show Kevin Dewsbury In… Sane.

He said:

In retrospect I can look back on the things I was doing and say wasn’t this bonkers because it was. At the time it was harrowing but you have to have a laugh about it now because laughter is the best medicine. You just approach it like any other normal conversation. Approaching it in that light hearted way or through comedy does make it easy to talk about.

Kevin, along with many other comedians, believes that talking about mental health through stand-up comedy can help to reduce the stigma that surrounds it.

Dr. Mark Widdowson agrees suggesting that it will make the conversation about mental health less heavy and therefore easier to discuss.

He said:

If a comedian is making jokes about it then we can have a laugh and it makes the conversation more comfortable. Also, if comedians are getting up on stage and saying look I have problems too, I think it will give others the courage to talk about their own mental health problems.

It’s clear that laughter is the best medicine for those in the audience and for those on stage as well.

If you or someone know you is affected by any mental health issue then you can contact the charity Mind on 0300 123 3393 or visit their website.

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    'Psychotic personality' could be key to making people laugh