In the wake of the death of comedian Robin Williams, I found myself wondering, “why are so many comedians depressed?” Williams struggled with depression for a long time before deciding to (allegedly) commit suicide. And he wasn’t the only one; there are many famous comedians who have battled depression.
Famous Comedians who have struggled with major depressive disorder include:
- Jim Carrey
- Ellen DeGeneres
- David Letterman
- Sarah Silverman
- Conan O’Brian
- Owen Wilson
- Woody Allen
- Drew Carey
To some people, it is surprising to discover that the very people who make us laugh and feel good are not constantly giggling their way through life. In fact, the private selves of most comedians are very distinct from their public personas. In their everyday life, comedians are often highly sensitive, observant outliers, who spend a lot of time in their heads.
Inside a comedian’s mind
“In accessing the subconscious and trying to deliberately think about everyday things from unusual and unexpected angles there is occasionally an overlap with what would be considered mentally ill behavior if it wasn’t being done on purpose.” ~ Richard Herring
Comedians and introverts have a whole lot in common. In fact, studies have shown that most comedians are introverts. This makes sense when you consider how much time they spend observing and thinking (which can quickly lead to obsessing and overthinking). Both comedians and introverts are also known for being sensitive and intuitive. These qualities are the very reason why comedians are so good at picking up on subtleties and turning everyday occurrences into hilarious social commentaries.
Unfortunately, our culture doesn’t exactly nurture sensitivity and introspection. We’re more of a back-slapping, he-who-shouts-the-loudest-wins sort of society. I suspect this is a major reason why many comedians struggle with depression. I have heard from several introverts who say that their struggle with depression was likely caused by the overwhelming pressure to be more extroverted.
Another interesting facet of the comedian’s personality is their need for autonomy. The world of stand-up comedy is a place of rare individualism, free speech and independence. The comedian slays or gets slayed all on his own. And he wouldn’t have it any other way. Introverts, too, are known for excelling in roles where they can be completely autonomous.
R.I.P. Robin Williams