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From Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin:

Comedians’ Mean Level and Stage Personalities: Evidence for Goal-Directed Personality Adaptation

Paul Irwing, Clare Cook, Thomas V. Pollet, …
First Published August 13, 2019 Research Article

Recent findings have shown that both mean levels of personality and situational variability in its expression are of importance. So here, the Big Five personality traits of 77 professional and 125 amateur stand-up comedians were compared with two large matched samples (N > 100,000). The comedians were also observed while performing, which enabled a comparison of their stage personalities with situational requirements on 10 selected NEO-PIR facets. Both amateurs and professionals showed higher openness-to-experience, extraversion, and lower conscientiousness than their norm samples, while professionals also evidenced greater neuroticism. Irrespective of trait standing, with regard to most NEO-PIR facets, professionals expressed the appropriate on-stage persona and were better able to regulate their personality to conform to situational requirements than amateurs. This is consistent with research showing that individuals regulate their personality to conform to situational and goal requirements, and adds the finding that successful comedians demonstrate enhanced adaptability compared with amateurs.

In other words, most professional stand-up comedians are members of the Awkward Squad without the kind of personality that would do well in a typical job. But perhaps a few comedians (e.g., multimillionaires Bob Hope and Jay Leno) are instead extremely well-adjusted individuals who can fake it.

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  1. Anonymous[304] • Disclaimer says:

    • LOL: kaganovitch
    • Replies: @J.Ross
    , @guest
  2. The only funny thing about Leno is his border line craniodiaphyseal dysplasiastic face that only Cher could love.

    • LOL: BB753
  3. Anon7 says:

    “Both amateurs and professionals showed higher openness-to-experience, extraversion, and lower conscientiousness than their norm samples, while professionals also evidenced greater neuroticism. ”

    In other words, there are fewer politically conservative comedians. Higher trait “openness to experience “ means they love multiculti, lower trait conscientiousness means less conservative and leftists have higher trait neuroticism.

    Conscientious individuals are more conservative because they are interested in social norms. Open-minded individuals are more accepting of unconventional social behavior and non-traditional economic policies associated with the left.

    Emotional instability, trait neuroticism, increases one’s chance of left-wing views. Emotionally unstable individuals are often more anxious about their economic future, and want to see more state control.

    • Replies: @Autochthon
  4. Cortes says:

    Delivery is important:

  5. Anon[393] • Disclaimer says:

    I’ve been watching old Jack Benny stuff. Boy, was that guy funny. And his timing! And the long silences!

    • Replies: @Reg Cæsar
    , @Dissident
  6. peterike says:

    Isn’t the short version of this simply, “Most comedians are assholes.”

    Which is something you can figure out without the need for any surveys and studies.

    I would like to see a breakdown on hostility levels of comedians and how that plays out against a racial/ethnic background. Of course, you have super-hostile a-hole comedians like Lewis Black and Lenny Bruce, stereotypical Jews doing their part to corrode the social fabric. But then there’s non-hostile Jerry Seinfeld. And then you’ve got pretty hostile George Carlin, who was Irish. It seems ALL the newer crop of Troublesome Asian comedians are hostile. Most women comedians seem hostile.

    Then again, I’m just blowing smoke because I hate 95% of stand-up comedy and I never watch it anyway.

    • Replies: @Desiderius
    , @Marty
    , @Dtbb
  7. A point for me was seeing comedians on shows like the old “Politically Incorrect.” Many (most?) couldn’t take it when the were challenged on their batshit crazy political views. And these were big or semi big names at the time.

    It pains me to see to see Jeff Foxworthy on a show with slut Christy Teighen. He has the bestselling comedy album of all time, and she’s a, well, now an overweight tramp.

    The comedians who aren’t afraid to rock the left wing boat make serious bank. You can look them up. Shitload. But still don’t get cred from Hollywood. So money’s not everything.

    • Replies: @Jim Don Bob
  8. @peterike

    Hope’s assholishness was, and is, extremely underrated. “Well-adjusted” is a loaded term.

  9. DWright says:

    Among themselves comedians have observed that they are chronic masterbators. Take from that what you will.

  10. Gracie Allen; just your average normal housewife.

  11. Marty says:

    Lewis Black is on NPR all the time; Seinfeld never is.

  12. Rusty says:

    Jerry Lewis was right about female “comediennes”.
    They are embarrassingly not funny, and frequently repulsive.

    • Agree: jim jones
    • Replies: @Dissident
  13. Jack D says:

    Jimmy Fallon seems to be another fundamentally well adjusted person. Unfortunately, in addition to having to fake being a misanthrope, he also has to fake being funny.

    In the case of Hope and Leno, the “nice guy” stage persona also hid a ruthless personal edge – no one gets to the top of the heap like that without kicking some people underneath him.

    Generally speaking, you can assume that the stage persona of any comedian or celebrity is NOTHING like their actual character. The reason they are successful is because they are good at faking it. The man who plays the most bitter misanthrope on stage may be a pussycat off stage. The man who you think is everyone’s best friend may be a consummate jerk. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that the stage character and the man are the same person.

  14. @bored identity

    He’s entertaining about cars, though.

  15. @Anon

    I’ve been watching old Jack Benny stuff. Boy, was that guy funny. And his timing! And the long silences!

    Someone backstage told Benny that he could make people laugh just standing there. He thought he’d try it.

    He went out and said nothing, just changing his expression now and then, and which hand he held to his chin. There were constant chuckles.

    After seven minutes of this, he finally said, “Well…” The place erupted.

    • Replies: @R.G. Camara
  16. R.G. Camara says: • Website

    I remember when Jon Stewart was leading The Daily Show and becoming the #1 Chief Corporate Propagandist against W. and for Obama. He was riding high, and yet he described the 1st writers’ meeting at the beginning of each day as a bunch of miserable, hungover alcoholics being nasty and bitter to each other.

    As the old saying goes, comedy comes from anger. Tina Fey once emphasized this, saying that every comedian she knew (self included) was an angry, depressed, self-loathing person except Rachel Dratch (her longtime comedy partner).

    Anyway, professional comedians tend to be the kind of folks who weren’t “the funny guy” back in high school, but always wanted to be. They tend to be the ugly, awkward dude whose jokes never fly. But they study up and work hard and learn the tricks and then become the funny guy on stage—and immediately hate the audience for not seeing them as funny before and also for falling for all the stage comedian tricks they’d learned (which now seem cheap to said comedian).

    Handsome dudes never do much comedy because they don’t need it. Women will give more of a pass to a handsome guy’s awkwardness than an ugly guys. The best a funny guy can be is “cute” (think Adam Sandler or Bob Hope in terms of looks).

    This is why Cary Grant’s impressive abilities as a comedian were never really celebrated. His physical comedy was superb (former vaudevillian) and his verbal timing was sharp and hilarious. But he was too good looking to rely on his comedy., and the romance and drama stuff was what made him huge back then. Had he been uglier, we’d likely talk about him like we do the Marx Brothers or Abbot & Costello.

    • Replies: @Corn
  17. @Reg Cæsar

    Story I heard once:

    Benny comes out in Vegas to do his act. All is going well. Then Sammy Davis Jr. , who was headlining in Vegas with the other Rat Packers, crashes the performance and gets on stage. Audience goes wild as Davis delivers an impromptu song and dance show for the next 20 minutes, with Benny standing there in silence the whole time on stage just watching.

    Finally, Davis ends his stuff and gets off. Audience applause dies down, and everyone’s focus turns back to Benny, who is still standing there in dead silence—and lets it hang until you could hear a pin drop.

    Finally, very slowly, Benny says, “Now, as I was saying…”

    Whole audience erupts in the biggest laugh of the night, and the applause is louder than for Davis.

  18. Kyle says:

    Jay Leno is great at hiding it and letterman was not great at hiding it. Maybe that’s where his hatred of Leno comes from. Even if Leno did steal the tonight show from letterman, Leno always won in ratings so nbc made the right choice. Conan had the tonight show and he tanked. Leno seems to be well adjusted and likable enough based on the business that he’s built and the friendships that he’s made. This is probably closer to what Leno is like in real life.

  19. Corn says:
    @R.G. Camara

    “He was riding high, and yet he described the 1st writers’ meeting at the beginning of each day as a bunch of miserable, hungover alcoholics being nasty and bitter to each other.”

    Same applies to other shows. I don’t know what it’s like now but Saturday Night Live has had a cocaine or alcohol fueled writers’ room for various periods in its history.

    • Replies: @guest
  20. Rodney Dangerfield and Richard Pryor are my favorites, in that order. Rosanne Barr is the only woman comic that has ever even made me crack a smile, so she would come in about 12th on my list of stand up comics.

    Dangerfield’s quip directed at two bald audience members still gets me:

    “If you two guys put your heads together, you could make an ass of yourselves.”

    • Replies: @J.Ross
  21. anonymous[191] • Disclaimer says:
    @bored identity

    Why be so nasty to one of the only decent and down-to-earth people in the entertainment industry? I I can only imagine what you look like!

  22. Dtbb says:

    Two great, funny, whiny assholes in my opinion.

  23. There are a few choice things one could say about this topic, but alas one prefers to emulate both Wittgenstein and Silent E.

    Instead, I direct your attention to the new HBO one-man(?) comedy special by Julio Torres, ostensibly a “standup” show but literally a sit-down affair, called “My Favorite Shapes”.

    Funniest thing I’ve seen in ages, and I share zero Pokemon intersectionality points with this dude. Haven’t laughed that hard in ages.

    When you rob a bank, they call you a bank robber. When you have a vision, they call you a visionary. So be it.

  24. J.Ross says:

    She’s only making plans for Nigel.

  25. J.Ross says:
    @bored identity

    Headlines was funny (in fact, it was more consistently funny than the monologues of any late night hosts, including Leno), but it’s such a simple concept it’s almost beneath qualifying as a joke.

  26. J.Ross says:
    @Twodees Partain

    Do you not love Joan Rivers, and, if so, isn’t that really your fault?

  27. No, I never really got her comedy, though I do admire the way she was fearlessly outspoken; and, yes, it’s entirely my own fault.

  28. guest says:

    Stand-up is among the least attractive job prospects not involving hard manual labor or risk of death/injury. They’re always telling us people’s #1 fear is public speaking. Clubs don’t pay you squat until you have a career, but in order to get one you have to work on stage for free for an extended period of time.

    Some people aren’t doing it to eventually be Eddie Murphy, but in order to make a real go of it you have to be semi-famous or find a niche. Not many people are willing to put that much effort in for such little return on the odd chance that one day they hit it big.

    Comedy is not the only field like that, of course. But at least musicians get laid in the meantime.

  29. Dissident says:

    The late Jean Shepherd did an interesting tribute to Jack Benny.

    Shepherd, incidentally, in a different monologue of his, absolutely excoriated Woody Allen.

    • Replies: @Dissident
  30. guest says:

    SNL is run a bizarrely stupid fashion, presumably because it was born in the 70s and no one in charge (really in charge, not Lorne Michaels who was a comedian himself) cared enough to pay attention. I mean, they’re probably still doing the thing where they stay up all night one of the weekdays in order to cram, as it were, for the dress rehearsal. It’s ridiculous.

  31. guest says:

    What’s a system?

    And could she say less with more words please?

  32. Dissident says:

    Jerry Lewis was right about female “comediennes”.
    They are embarrassingly not funny, and frequently repulsive.

    What about Carol Burnett?

    Carol Burnett looks back on a life of getting laughs

    At its finest, “The Carol Burnett Show” eschewed political humor and exclusionary jokes, the common currency of comedy in the modern digital age. Her brand of humor was proudly democratic. It’s why she’s less keen on sitcoms today.

    “I’m getting a little tired of everything having to do with sex and bathroom humor,” Burnett says flatly. “It’s almost like you have teenagers in a locker room writing a sitcom. They’re cheap laughs. It’s not clever writing.”

    Hearing women use rank profanity, such as the F-word, is particularly repulsive.

    Incidentally, in response to your use of the word comedienne, I wonder how many others here may, as I do, make a point of using such words in defiance of PC folly.

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
  33. Rapparee says:

    [S]uccessful comedians demonstrate enhanced adaptability compared with amateurs.

    Jerry Seinfeld frequently discusses this topic with guests on his Netflix show- essentially, one huge difference between great and mediocre comedians is that the former are completely insincere. The third-rate losers have a “message” to deliver with their stand-up, but the real giants don’t really care if anything they say is true or not, as long as it gets laughs. (This is probably part of the reason Lenny Bruce sound so dreary nowadays). Maybe it’s a good idea for young, aspiring comedians to start out by performing under a pseudonym (especially so in the Current Year’s political climate).

    • Replies: @Autochthon
  34. Dave Pinsen says: • Website

    My guess is that the most successful comedians are fairly well adjusted. That seems true of Jerry Seinfeld, and Colin Quinn as well as the ones you’ve mentioned. But there seem to be a number of less successful comedians who are 100% awkward.

    I forget the name now, but there was a comedian who killed himself last year, who apparently was well known to people in Hollywood because he frequently performed in the Los Angeles area, but not a household name. A bunch of famous and semi-famous people praised him on Twitter so I looked up one of his specials on YouTube. I think I lasted 10 minutes. The show started with a couple walking out and this comedian berating them for doing so.

  35. Mr. Anon says:
    @bored identity

    I found Leno to be pretty consistently funny. Certainly a lot funnier than Letterman, who spent most of his monologue mugging and snickering at his own jokes. The Top Ten Lists were good though. All of which only goes to show that Leno had reasonably good writers and a business-like delivery; Letterman might have had writers every bit as good, but his delivery was poor.

  36. Tyrade says:

    Couldn’t these ‘researchers’ have saved much time and expense binge-watching Seinfeld’s ‘Comedians in Cars getting coffee’? Coincidentally, I am (binge-ing) and discover:

    – 75% of Jerry’s ‘comedians’ don’t deserve him. They are too slow, too self-important, too shallow.
    – women are not funny. At all.
    – 90%+ of comedians of colour (in Jerry’s sample) are too pre-occupied bearing the chip on both shoulders to be funny. They are also inarticulate, at best.
    – old, white, predominantly Jewish guys are funniest, by far. Larry David, Mel Brooks, Don Rickles…

  37. Certainly a lot funnier than Letterman,…

    Now, that bar is set so low that not even Epstein could deliver.

  38. @Dissident

    Women who are really funny like Carol Burnett and Joan Rivers are really funny.

    Who are the richest comedians of all time? I’m guessing Bob Hope, Seinfeld/David, Leno, and probably Joan Rivers, who did it without having a show she owned, but who toured incessantly because she loved making and spending money, and was just as good in her 70s as ever. Joan Rivers might well have made more money off doing live stand-up than anybody sense, I dunno, Will Rogers.

    • Agree: Dave Pinsen
    • Replies: @J.Ross
  39. @South Texas Guy

    It pains me to see to see Jeff Foxworthy on a show with slut Christy Teighen.

    What show is that? JF’s show Blue Collar was hilarious.

  40. Gordo says:

    Tony Hancock, hellova funny guy. Until he offed himself.

  41. I’ve read that Bob Hope, like Bing Crosby, made boatloads of money buying California real estate in the 30s. And holding on to it.

  42. bartolo1 says:

    Adam Carolla somehow manages to avoid the full frontal attacks from the left, while tossing molotov cocktails directly at them.

    Budding up to Tucker Carlson while maintaining close ties to his long time buddy Kimmel.

    He is both well adjusted and hilarious. How he navigates his friendships says tons about his strength of character.

    Could do with less of his car talk, but a small price to pay for genuinely funny insights.

    His podcast also has a strong supporting cast.

  43. @Anon7

    I reckon you have completely lost the plot, and I disagree with you.

    The extraversion is more or less about having the ability to do your routine in front of a roomful of strangers staring at you – this includes elements self-confidence (“I am funny.”) and courage (“I can handle it if they don’t like me.”)

    The lower conscientiousness is about not being slave to the self-regulation, as it were, that keeps most people from saying (hilarious) things that one is expected to avoid because [“racist” / scandalous / mean / etc.].”

    I reckon “openness-to experience” (if I am even understanding correctly what that word salad means) is about paying enough attention to the world, and applying sufficient analysis, to come up with funny material in the first place, but also an aspect of the first point regarding overcoming stage-fright, and embracing the possibility of such an unconventional hobby or career as stand-up comedy at all.

    The neuroticism of the professionals probably just reflects that the successful were the more diligent and driven; lower neuroticism among amateurs suggests too many of them aren’t working hard enough at the comedy – doing it to get attention locally, meet women, have free drinks, whatever, but not busting their asses refining material and delivery to get it all just right, the way someone like Jerry Seinfeld is known to have.

    I do reckon some people are just naturally, intuitively, and relatively effortlessly funny, because of a quirky way of seeing things and a certain unfiltered mien inherent to their personalities. Mitch Hedberg and Norm MacDonald strike me as these types – less neurotic but nevertheless successful (although Hedberg’s problems with drugs make any analysis of his personality very difficult – what elements were him, and what elements were the drugs?).

    With regard to Bored Identity’s observation about this bit:

    [P]erhaps a few comedians (e.g., multimillionaires Bob Hope and Jay Leno) are instead extremely well-adjusted individuals who can fake it.

    I too, when I read that sentence, was thinking, more or less , “Right – in other words, the unfunny ‘comedians.’”

    • Replies: @Anon7
  44. J.Ross says:
    @Steve Sailer

    The one TV show I would watch if I had a TV (and could actually get what I wanted, and not a bizarre pre-set packaging of mostly waste) is re-runs of Fashion Police from when Joan was still alive.

  45. Anon7 says:

    The reason I use odd constructions like “trait openness to experience” is because these are terms of art in psychology; look up “Big Five personality traits” or “five factor model” so you’ll know what they mean.

    • Replies: @Autochthon
  46. Dissident says:

    I see no one mentioned Fred Allen. Or Stan Freberg, perhaps my favorite. Among Freberg’s best known parodies was the one he did of calypso legend Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat Song.

    Freberg parodied Allen and movingly paid tribute to him for being gracious and a good sport about it (“…his shirt wasn’t stuffed…”). Fred Allen and Jack Benny had a famous ongoing “feud” but it was all shtick; in real life, they were said to be good friends. It would appear to me that Benny, Allen and Freberg were all well-adjusted, affable personalities offstage as well.

    My favorite character from Allen’s Alley, a regular satiric feature on the Fred Allen Show, was “Mrs. Nussbaum”.

  47. @Anon7

    Oh, I’m familiar with them, I just think many are nonsense and others, while valid or useful concepts, are packaged in needlessly goofy jargon. Whereas law long ago did away with special pleading and made a shift to plain English, every other discipline – as well as conversation among laymen regarding mundane topics! – has taken the opposite approach, endeavoring to mystify and make weighty with magic words.

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