Tag Archives: genius

What Mensa members have in common with mental retards and paedophiles

(This blog was also published in the Huffington Post)

UK-based German comedian Paco Erhard is a freak of nature, just as much as a sheep born with two heads is a freak.

At the Edinburgh Fringe this year, his stand-up show got two 5-star reviews.

Edinburgh Guide wrote he is a “stand-up genius… Paco Erhard is going to be big” and Broadway Baby said he is “insightful and hysterical” with “endless original jokes”.

I wrote a blog about him back in August

He is very amiable. But he s still a freak. By definition.

The newly-published November issue of Mensa Magazine has an article about him. There were at least two other Mensa members performing stand-up comedy at the Fringe this year, but I have not asked them if it is OK to ‘out’ them, so they shall remain nameless.

I have, however, asked Paco.

“I don’t mind being outed as a Mensa member,” he told me. “though I have no real idea what the reaction to this in Britain would be. In Germany I think some people fear and mistrust you a bit when you ‘out’ yourself as a Mensa member. But – Hey – Who cares? Just out me.”

Thus this blog.

UK-based German comedian Paco Erhard, like a mental retard, is a freak.

To get into Mensa, you have to get an IQ test score higher than can be achieved by 98% of the population. That does not put you in the ‘top’ 2%… It puts you in a 2% minority of freaks. Anyone different from 98% of the general population is a freak by definition.

IQ tests do not test intelligence. They only test the ability to score high in IQ tests.

They do not test intelligence because intelligence is as changeable as the Atlantic Ocean or a politician’s beliefs.

If I were travelling across the Sahara Desert in a Land Rover which developed a mechanical fault, even given surrealism as part of the trip, I do not think I would want to be travelling with Albert Einstein, because I doubt if Albert Einstein would be able to get the Land Rover going again. I would prefer to be travelling with some spotty, uneducated 16-year-old who is brilliant at mending engines but who is probably thought of as an idiot by everyone who knows him.

If he is in the top 2% of the population in his knowledge of engines, then he is a freak.

Education has nothing to do with intelligence just as IQ tests have nothing to do with intelligence. They test something but no-one can quite define what it is. People in Mensa tend to be computer programmers, teachers and socially inept. They do not tend to be raging successes at anything which would impress the Guardian.

I think the most interesting thing about IQ tests is the curve showing the distribution of IQ scores.

There are various numerical results according to which type of test you take – so a score of 110 may be given a totally different number on another test though it is scored by the same percentage of the population. By definition, the average IQ is always 100. And almost everyone lumps together in a fairly tight bunch on either side of that. The further someone’s IQ score separates from 100, the more freakish and odder that person is.

By 90 or 110, the graph of people’s scores falls precipitously. The interesting thing is that it falls evenly on both sides. The percentage of people scoring over 140 is roughly the same percentage as the percentage scoring under 60.

On the scale that Mensa uses, people have to score over 148 to get into the organisation – that is 2% of the population.

People who score over 148 are very definitely not ‘geniuses’.

They are freaks.

In very round numbers, the UK population is 60 million. The US population is 300 million. With 2% of the population eligible for Mensa membership, that would mean the UK has 1.2 million ‘geniuses’ and the US has 6 million ‘geniuses’.

That is obviously bollocks.

What IQ tests measure – in fact, what any tests about anything reveal – is divergence from the norm.

I remember hearing a radio programme quote the IQ figure at which people are clinically said to be mentally retarded. And it was higher than 52 – in other words, it was less far below the 100 average than Mensa’s 148 score is above the 100 average.

Let us not be PC, here. The people whom doctors used to call ‘mentally retarded’ do clearly think slightly different from Mr, Miss and Mrs 100 Average. That does not mean they are any better or worse. But they do not think in exactly the same way. As a result, they sometimes behave in what are seen as socially inept ways. The ‘bottom’ 2% of IQ scorers are, by definition, ‘freaks’.

For exactly the same mathematical reason, the ‘top’ 2% of scorers are freaks of nature. Anyone who is in the 2% furthest from the 100 score is a freak, especially as most IQ scores are bunched very close to that 100 average mark.

In very rough round figures, 70% of the population have IQs between 85 and 115 – that’s 70% scoring 15 on either side of the 100 average.

People who score between 70-85 (another 15 points away from 100) and 115-130 together account for only another 25%.

By the time you look at scores of 130-145 (another 15 point divergence) you are only talking about 2% of the population.

Mensa entry is 148.

You are not talking about ‘better’ or ‘worse’. You are talking, at both ends of the scores, about divergence from the norm, about brains and thought processes being wired-up ‘incorrectly’. You are talking about freaks of nature.

And, yes, the mathematics do not quite add up. They are rough numbers and I have always been shit at mathematics.

The point is that admitting you are a member of Mensa is a socially and professionally dangerous thing to do, because people get tremendously defensive, therefore aggressive and think you are a twat.

“I think some people fear and mistrust you a bit when you ‘out’ yourself as a Mensa member,” says Paco Erhard.

The Mensa Magazine piece that has just been published about him is, basically, the blog I wrote about him in August.

I joined Mensa in 1969 but never mentioned it to anyone, except a very very few friends, until the early years of this century. By that time, I was old enough to not give a flying fuck what people thought of me.

I took the test in 1969 in much the same spirit that I wandered into the Scientology testing centre in Tottenham Court Road in London one rainy day around the same time. It sounded interesting. And Scientology was certainly… interesting.

No, I did not become a Scientologist.

Nor am I a paedophile. Though admitting you are a paedophile and admitting you are member of Mensa are pretty much on the same scale of social acceptability.

I partly joined because I thought it might, on my CV, offset the fact I had decided to go to (what was then) The Regent Street Polytechnic and study for a Diploma rather than go to a university which would have given me a degree. The irony, of course, was that I could never mention Mensa membership because it makes you less attractive to any employer. No-one wants to employ an up-their-own-arse know-it-all. Which is the perception.

In the early 1970s, through bizarre circumstances, I happened to talk to someone about IQs and mentioned that I had joined Mensa – well, I don’t give a shit about name-dropping either – it was comedian Peter Cook’s then-wife. She said to me:

“You’ve got my sympathy. I know someone else with the same problem.”

She meant it.

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Filed under Comedy, Mental health, Mental illness, Psychology

Stand-up comedians: are they funny people?

(This article previously appeared in Mensa Magazine)

FUNNY PEOPLE

by John Fleming

You are a stand-up comedian. You get up alone on stage. A spotlight shines on you. If you now perform the greatest show of your life, your future is downhill. If you get badly rejected by the audience, their objective reaction reinforces your own insecurities. You’re in a Lose-Lose situation. Who can be attracted to that? A masochist. That’s what I thought. So I asked Jewish comedian Ivor Dembina who has run many successful comedy clubs over 20 years, has seen comedy talent of all types fail and succeed and who, in his show Sadojudaism, jokes at length about his penchant for sadomasochism.

“Well, stand-up can be painful,” he initially agrees, “but the point about masochism is that it’s a state where pain is pleasurable and I’ve never heard a comic describe the frustrations and humiliations of public failure as something to be enjoyed.”

So why does he do it?

“I’m aware of a a core desire within me to please others which I can trace back to early childhood, being rewarded by my parents with smiles and approval whenever I made them laugh.  In adulthood I’ve acquired a desire to control situations and an irrepressible need to prove I’m right. Stand-up comedy is the best outlet I’ve found for both characteristics.”

Comedian Ricky Grover comes from London’s East End:

“Whether they admit it or not,” Ricky suggests, “most comedians live their life in depression, even feeling suicidal. They feel like they’re shit, feel like they’re not going to be able to do it again. If you don’t laugh you’d cry. That’s your options.

“There was a lot of violence going on in my childhood and sadness and depression and one of the ways to escape from all that was humour. I would make ‘em laugh and sometimes I’d make my stepfather laugh to deflect a confrontational situation. A lot of humour where I came from was quite dark. I wanted to be like my stepfather – an armed robber – because that was the only person I had to look up to. I had him or my little skinny grandad who was really quite verbally spiteful to me. I thought, well, if it’s between the little skinny grandad or the ex-boxer/armed robber, I’ll be the ex-boxer/armed robber and I suppose that’s why I went into… boxing.”

Scottish comedienne Janey Godley was raped by her uncle between the ages of 5 and 13; at 19 she married into a gangster family; at 21 her mother was murdered; for 14 years she ran a pub in Glasgow’s tough East End; and, in a 22-month period, 17 of her friends died from heroin.

“I do sometimes think everything I say’s shite,” she admits, “and I do sometimes think nobody’s ever gonna laugh at it and I get worried.”

So why get up on stage and face total personal rejection?

“Because it’s challenging,” she explains. “Because, with me, every show’s different. I don’t really tell jokes; I tell anecdotes that are unusual in that I talk about child abuse and murder and gangsters and social issues. I get up and do something different every time and it’s a really exciting challenge because I think: I wonder how that’ll work? And, when it really works it makes me really happy. When it completely dies, I think, I’m going to do that another twenty times, cos that was strange. Most of the stuff I do is reality with bits of surrealism. I tell a big true story with funny bits and talking animals in it and sometimes glittery tortoises. It might not affect their lives, but the audience WILL remember it because it’s different.”

So what is the X Factor?

“In my case, delusions about my own self-importance,” says Ivor firmly. “That’s why I decided to become a comic.”

“You’re split between two extremes,” says Ricky. “Really low self-esteem and a massive ego. They’re the two things you need to do stand-up and they come hand-in-hand. Deep down inside, there’s a little voice inside that tells you you’re shit but you want to prove you’re not. Stand-up comedy is the nearest you’ll ever get to being a boxer, because you’re on your own and you’re worried about the one same thing and that is making yourself look a cunt in front of everyone.”

Ivor believes: “Successful comedians tend to be characterised by a slightly ‘don’t care’ attitude. They can be philosophical about failure and speedily get over things like bad gigs and hostile reviews and move on to the next performance without dwelling on setbacks.”

“I have the confidence to get up on stage,” Janey tells me, “because after the life I’ve led – all the madness and the pub and the gangsters and the abuse – there is nothing frightens me any more. So, if I ever stood in a room with 600 people and talked for 15 minutes and nobody laughed, then it’s no worse than having a gun held at your head and I’ve already had that, so it doesn’t really scare me.”

“Boxers ain’t worried about getting hurt,” explains Ricky, “because, when your adrenaline’s flowing there is no real pain. In fact the pain’s quite enjoyable. I used to like soaking up the pain in the ring and smashing it back into them. My favourite comedy gigs are when I’m watching comedian after comedian go under and get heckled and I think, Right, I’m going to conquer this. And I sort of go into battle and then I can turn a gig round and make something happen.”

“I’ve had gigs which were going too well,” says Janey, “and I’ve intentionally ‘lost’ the audience just so I can work hard to get them back again.”

“Yeah, sometimes,” says Ricky, “There can be a really happy great big roar on every word you say and the gig’s almost too easy and you think, I’m going to throw something in here and make this a little bit hard, and I’ll come out and say something that may be offensive to some people and the whole room will go quiet and then you can play with that quietness and see where you go with it and that can be an interesting gig. So it’s a battle going in your head all the time.”

The late great club owner Malcolm Hardee once told me he was unimpressed by jugglers because, if anyone practised for several hours every day over several years, anyone could become good. “Juggling is a skill you can learn,” he insisted. “Stand-up comedy is a talent. However hard you work, you can’t become a great stand-up without underlying talent.”

So is comedy a skill or a talent? Can you learn it?

“All that’s required,” believes Ivor, “is a bit of talent, a modicum of common sense, a thick skin and an ability to learn from your mistakes. Stand-up isn’t nearly as difficult as people imagine. I started by running small comedy clubs and witnessed the efforts of many others whom I thought I could be better than. It was as simple as that.”

“It’s not just one thing,” Janey believes. “Thirty things are important on stage. There’s talent, confidence, timing, connecting with the audience, empathy, humour, the human touch. People have said the most bizarre things to me on stage. A woman once stood up and told me she’d been raped a couple of weeks ago and this was the first night she’d laughed since then. That’s not talent or technique; that’s being able to connect with another human being in a room full of people. But I do it for me, not really for them, because there’s nothing better than standing on stage. I don’t do it because of ego or because of lack of confidence. I do it for the experience of doing it because I love the applause.”

“I suppose,” admits Ricky, “that you’re looking for someone to say This bloke is a comedy genius. But, if someone does say that, there’s this little voice inside your head which disagrees: No you’re not, you’re shit. Then, if someone writes a review and says you’re shit, you think: No I’m not, I’m a comedy genius.”

Rejection is the thing that binds comedians together,” says Ivor, “because they’ve all experienced it at some time or other. What separates those of us who eventually become stand-ups from those who give up is that we are prepared to risk rejection time and time again.”

“You know what I think it is?” says Ricky “What all us comedians have in common? What we want? It’s not about being famous. It’s not about having fortunes. I think it’s just about having a bit of recognition. The thing that drives us all mad is not getting recognition for what we do.”

But, once you have proved you can do it once or ten times or fifty times, why keep doing it? Why constantly risk rejection?

“If you have the best sex of your life,” suggests Janey, “It doesn’t stop you doing it again. You’ll keep on doing it and keep on doing it.”

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