Laughter heals. When people laugh, it decreases the stress hormone cortisol in the body and increases the body’s ability to fight illness. Laughter reverses the negative effects of aging, increases the survivorship of cancer patients and even decreases tumor sizes. Even fake laughter has positive health benefits. Yet, what does laughter do for the comedians creating laughter?
Stand-up comedians have higher IQ’s, higher emotional intelligence, higher verbal reasoning, and tend to be more honest than the general population. Comics say things that most people suppress or try to hide. Does that mean that there is a correlation between being honest and being smart?
Interestingly, if you look at some of the most well-known comedians, you may be surprised to learn that many graduated ivy league universities: Conan O’Brien and B.J. Novak attended Harvard. Sacha Baron Cohen, John Oliver, and John Cleese, Cambridge. Ellie Kemper graduated from Princeton. Rowan Atkinson went to Oxford. Lewis Black went to Yale, and Weird Al Yankovich graduated high school (as valedictorian) at age 16, and then went on to get his degree in architecture from Cal-Polytech.
Unfortunately, great intelligence sometimes correlates with depression and inordinate trauma. At 10, Steven Colbert’s father and two brothers died in a plane crash. As a child, Chevy Chase was locked in closets for hours and beat up repeatedly. Richard Pryor was raised in an Illinois brothel where his mother worked as a prostitute. He was raped at age 6 and molested by a priest at age 14.
The questions are abundant. What is it about comedians that allows them to dissect social discourse, read audiences, and perhaps heal themselves?
Is it possible to suffer from intelligence?
Great artists sometimes demonstrate psychosis. People like Kurt Cobain, John Belushi, Prince, Robin Williams, Michael Jackson, and Whitney Houston (to name a few) have long shocked the world with their inner demons. The relationship between art and psychosis has baffled researchers, doctors, and philosophers for centuries.
Comedians have better memories, higher IQ’s, better problem-solving skills, higher comprehension of abstract thinking, and a general higher “mental fitness”.
To put it simply, studies indicate that they are smarter than the general population.
My research focuses on learning about the personality traits and life experiences of comedians; specifically, I am interested in the ways in which they use courage, vulnerability, and self-reflection to tread the thin line that separates genius and madness.