Home » Blogs » No Family Madder » Laugh and the World Laughs With You

Laugh and the World Laughs With You

Comedy Club MikeBritish researchers have tested the hypothesis that comedians might resemble other creative individuals in showing signs of madness—and they do, as it turns out.

The research, published in The British Journal of Psychiatry, identifies a set of traits shared by creative types (comedians most sharply) and the insane. It doesn’t tell us much about clinical psychosis, but it helps explain the fine line between madness and comedy. The traits are:


Sad Clown Two

  • Unusual experiences (belief in telepathy and paranormal events)
  • Cognitive disorganization (distractibility and difficulty in focusing thoughts
  • Introvertive      anhedonia (reduced ability to feel social and physical pleasure, including      an avoidance of intimacy)
  • Impulsive      non-conformity (tendency towards impulsive, antisocial behavior).

“The creative elements needed to produce humor are strikingly similar to those characterizing the cognitive style of people with psychosis – both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder,” said Gordon Claridge, one of three co-authors of the study.

Claridge, of the University of Oxford’s Department of Experimental Psychology, stressed that no correlation was found between comic genius and mental illness, only an association between the thinking styles.

While schizophrenia can be very disabling, it gives rise to some very unusual thinking. Manic notions may help people make spectacularly original connections as well.

“Although schizophrenic psychosis itself can be detrimental to humor, in its lesser form it can increase people’s ability to associate odd or unusual things or to think ‘outside the box’,” Claridge explains.

“Equally, ‘manic thinking,’ which is common in people with bipolar disorder, may help people combine ideas to form original and humorous connection.”

If  mental illness is a price we pay for creativity, the authors underscore that creative genius is found only among multitudes otherwise disabled by severe mental illness.

Among them are the likes of such towering figures as Charles Buddy Bolen. The New Orleans clarinetist with a diagnosis of schizophrenia is credited with inventing the jazz form. No small contribution there.

Yet the Silvia Plath syndrome, as it’s come to be known, captures the public imagination more than it probably should, no doubt because it helps explain two great mysteries in one: madness and creativity.

From what I’ve seen, the creative plank tends to teeter somewhere between manic depression and schizoaffective disorder.

Trust me on this. Coming from a family that’s both very funny and very psychotic, I’ve witnessed the full spectrum, there and back again.

It must come from our father, who was both genuinely hilarious and slightly manic, a mix that left us all with ticklish funny bones.

Good and bad, Dad left his mark on me and the sisters. On the down side, we are so used to laughing it up that we almost die of boredom around stodgy people.

If that sounds horrible, it’s no great hardship. You meet so many stiffs in life, you learn to swerve quickly.

Kidding, of course. Just trying out my comedy routine on you. Because madness doesn’t just run in our family, it gallops!

Baddaboom, baddabing.

Maybe I should try my hand at comedy instead of blogging in vain about mental illness.  Or maybe not.

What the bard said remains very true:  laugh and world laughs with you; cry and you cry alone.

Still, and even on the best of days, the divine comedy can feel more like colossal blunder.

Not to worry because we’re never alone. Since one out of every five people is suffering from a mental illness if you’re talking to four friends and they’re all fine, then it’s you.

Maybe I’ve already crossed the line.  When it comes to family madness, humor requires a peculiar mental arithmetic that’s laudable when done right, awful when it lands badly.

Laughter, they say, may be the best medicine. Unless it’s not funny. Then, they say, you may need some medicine.

Laugh and the World Laughs With You

Patrick Tracey

PEN winning author of Stalking Irish Madness: Searching for the Roots of My Family's Schizophrenia (Random House/Bantam Dell). London correspondent in early 2000s, Washington City Paper contributing writer throughout 1990s. More recently writing for Salon and now blogging here.

3 comments: View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
Tracey, P. (2014). Laugh and the World Laughs With You. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 14, 2019, from


Last updated: 19 Jan 2014
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.