The masochist comedians and their aching need for love and approval

I ended my blog a couple of days ago by saying: “I think comedians are a bunch of masochists with an urge to fail.”

Then I went to comedian and occasional erotic dancer Charmian Hughes‘ entertaining Christmas party and bumped into the fascinating American expat comic Karen O. Novak, who has been my Facebook friend for a while but who (as is often the case in the surreal new world of Facebook) I had never actually met.

When I got home, I Googled her and discovered she had appeared as a stripper in Jerry Springer the Opera.

Interesting, I thought.

But “Oh no,” she told me yesterday. “My bit in Jerry Springer lasted all of ten seconds so, although I’m very proud to have been even a tiny part of such an important work, I would hate Stewart Lee or anyone else to think I was going around Christmas parties almost ten years later boasting I had a big part in it!”

A few years ago, she also had an ongoing show of her own called Mistress O’s Comic Discipline in which she played the role of a rubber-clad dominatrix hosting a panel game show, in which many prominent comics – including the inevitable Malcolm Hardee were ‘disciplined’ in front of the audience.

Now tell me comics are not masochists at heart.

Karen says Mistress O’s Comic Discipline was “a heady mix of filthy jokes and fetish play” but, after a few years, she “decided that the naughty comics had been spanked enough” and retired to her jacuzzi for a well-earned rest.

She also told me she has just finished a few years in therapy and feels much better inside, but has lost all interest in appearing on stage.

I think the last thing any comic – or, indeed, any performer – should ever do is find out why they do what they do. Once they exorcise their demons and find out why they do it – or even how they do it – they will be unable to do it.

Karen tells me that “therapy heals the aching need for that ‘fix’ of love and approval.”

But it is that very aching need for a ‘fix’ of love and approval which creates and drives comedians and performers generally.

If you satisfy it with therapy, you will screw-up the creativity.

Perhaps it is better to have a screwed-up psyche and a screwed-up life than to screw-up your creative performance ability.

But, then, I am not a performer.

I guess I am just fascinated by the screwed-up lives and screwed-up psyches of performers.

Charles Aznavour was once asked why he wrote and sang so many sad sings. He answered (I paraphrase extensively):

“When people are happy, they are all happy in much the same way. What can you say? They feel happy. But, when people are sad, each feels sad in a very different, very specific way for very personal, specific reasons. Unhappiness is more interesting to a writer and performer.”

So… Therapy…

Whether ’tis better be a screwed-up performer or to be a non-performer with fewer problems?… It’s a tough call for those with creative ability.

I never saw Mistress O’s Comic Discipline but, as Karen O. Novak also used to run the Poodle Club in Stoke Newington and the Pink Poodle Club in Soho, I somehow suspect that she may re-emerge with yet another OTT comic idea or persona.

In a sense, I maybe hope Karen’s demons re-appear.

I hope she gets a little screwed-up and performs wildly widely again.


Filed under Comedy, Psychology

3 responses to “The masochist comedians and their aching need for love and approval

  1. Tony morewood

    As a retired comedian of almost six years I can say that I fall into your category totally and I had an unavailable mother figure and was bullied at school. However I don’t think this is true of all performers. These days there are as many entering the arena for easy money or a recession proof job as anything else.

  2. Linda Cundy

    As a psychotherapist, I believe that it’s possible to be highly creative and very funny yet not feel compelled to put oneself in the limelight in front of an audience to get a fix. The compulsion itself – the masochism – is a product of distress. Humour, playfulness, wit and creativity can still flourish without it.

  3. i had psycho therapy which helped me escape my derangedl family and it did definitely stop me seeking approval but it didnt stop me seeking laughter from audiences. If I was a car my therapy re-tuned me to the proper settings. I think the loss of the neediness is a good thing cos we stop sucking up to audiences and trying to work out what would please them and instead share our visions for their entertainment, we properly seek connection and communion rather than approval. I’m sure Karen will be back!

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