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Janus, S.S. (1975). The Great Comedians: Personality and other Factors. Am. J. Psychoanal., 35(2):169-174.

(1975). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 35(2):169-174

The Great Comedians: Personality and other Factors

Samuel S. Janus, Ph.D.

The aim of this study is to investigate the relationship between comedians and their anxiety and depression and to evaluate its function in their success as comedians. How this relationship is communicated to the audience and its interplay with the fears and anxieties of the audience will also be examined.

The world of the theatre has always found meaningfully symbolic the alternate faces of comedy and tragedy. Historically, court jesters were tragicomic figures — the embodiment of the bittersweet of life. Among the oppressed, the role of social critic has been the comedian's forte. Freud indicated that humor is a release for anxiety. To quote Abe Burrows: “The comedian must practice his comedy in order to avoid destroying himself.” Jack Carter, another leading humorist, says: “The funny part, the laughter, is given to the audience, but the comedian is left with the bitter dregs.” Comedy has been described by a leading theologian as: “The ability to laugh at one's own tragedy.”

There appears to be an awareness on the part of the audience of the relationship between humor and anxiety. Consequently it would be reasonable to assume some awareness of the fact that comedians are very anxious and often depressed people. Some indication of the need to view humor as a release for tension can be seen in the increasingly sadomasochistic relationship between the comedian and his audience. As an example, witness the success of the recent Don Rickles album Hello Dummy.

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