Tag Archives: psychopath

Comics, bankers & surgeons: Sociopaths

Lindsay Sharman with some quiet opinions (Photo by Tigz Rice)

Lindsay Sharman expresses some opinions on comedians (Photograph by Tigz Rice)

“So you are telling me all comedians are sociopaths?” I asked comedian Lindsay Sharman.

“Not all,” she said. “Just some.”

“I never know,” I told her, “the difference between psychopaths and sociopaths.”

“I think it’s the level to which they have violent impulses,” said Lindsay. “Shall I go through the symptoms?”

“Simpsons?” I asked.

“Symptoms,” said Lindsay. “The main one is a lack of empathy: an inability to understand other people’s emotions. Hence a lot of them become mimics, so they can move throughout society easily. They become excellent mimics of what they think other people want to hear and see. So a lot of them are very charming and have very close relationships which, at some point, break down because the other person ends up getting mistreated by them. The sociopath will emotionally manipulate people in order to go for their weaknesses and vulnerabilities to bond them closer to them.”

“Just sounds like men with women and vice versa,” I suggested.

“There are other things that tie them to the comedy community,” said Lindsay. “They’re very promiscuous, because they don’t necessarily form very close bonds. And there’s a high incidence of bi-sexuality…”

“I’ve not noticed that in comedians,” I said, surprised. “I mean the bi-sexuality.”

“Yeah, well, maybe not all comedians,” said Lindsay.

“I was reading the other day,” I said, “about a high incidence of promiscuity among people in a particular bank branch in Regents Street. Someone who worked there was saying everyone was bonking everyone else.”

“That’s just them self-aggrandising their workplace,” said Lindsay. “Look at us! We’re all bonking all the time!

Sociopaths are also,” she continued, “constantly observing – to understand human behaviour so they can absorb it. It’s this outsider position while desperately trying to be an insider and there’s also an element of game playing to the whole thing. They seem to go through life like a video game – like it’s all about levels and achievements.”

The City of London - home to sociopathy and promiscuity?

The City of London – a hotbed of promiscuity and sociopathy?

“But bankers are the same aren’t they?” I asked.

“Yes,” agreed Lindsay. “And the reason why there’s a lot of sociopathic behaviour among financiers and CEOs is because they’re not risk averse. The things that would scare the crap out of us, they just do. If it doesn’t work it doesn’t matter: they’ll just try another thing. They’re accumulating power and points and they don’t care if other people are adversely affected.

“The people who brought down banks and wiped out people’s pensions probably are not kept awake at all at night by that. They’re probably just planning their next move to get back on top of the heap.”

“But comedians are terrified of everything,” I said. “I’ve seen comics virtually shit themselves before they go on stage.”

“There’s adrenaline,” countered Lindsay. “A lot of sociopaths will create difficult situations for themselves because they enjoy the challenge and the adrenaline associated with getting out of those situations. I’m not saying all comedians are sociopaths but, in a lot of the different problems which different comedians have, I think there might be an element of it. Sociopaths have also got a very high regard for themselves. Quite narcissistic.”

“But,” I said, “comedians have got terrible problems of self-doubt.”

“They say that,” agreed Lindsay, “but they think that’s what people want to hear. It’s that duality of thinking you’re constantly screwing it up while thinking you’re the best thing in the world. They’ve got rock-solid self-esteem while knowing they can screw up quite a lot.”

“So comedians have simultaneous low self-esteem and high self-esteem?” I asked.

“I think that’s a very comedian thing,” said Lindsay. “There’s an arrogance in even trying it in the first place. And part of sociopaths’ charm is that they’ll use humour as a mechanism to hide the fact they have no feelings. They know people are attracted to humour.

Surgeons - are they a bunch of sociopaths too?

Surgeons. Are they also a bunch of sociopaths or psychopaths?

“Some other industries do attract sociopaths. The financial world. Any world which can bestow prestige and in which it’s helpful to not have too many empathic feelings. Top surgeons who carve into bodies all the time and have to see the body as just a collection of tubes. Anyone who climbs to the top of the heap.”

“But surely,” I said, “everyone is trying to climb to the top of some heap, even if it’s small and parochial.”

“Well,” replied Lindsay, “it has become a bit hip to say you’re on the autism scale. It might make more sense to say we’re somewhere on the empathy scale. I like to think of myself as an empathic person but, if I was really empathic, I would be a vegetarian. I am quite happy to eat animals which have been slaughtered.

“Intelligent sociopaths who have been raised in empathic environments will try and replicate what an empath does, though they might only go for free range eggs or something. Whereas a lot of people who are empathic use their emotions as a terrible excuse for atrocities – like blowing up an anti-abortion clinic. That’s all about emotions and nothing about logic. In fact, either end of the scale is not great, really.

“Maybe comedy commissioners should be recruited from fallen financiers who have taken too many risks. The trouble with the current UK comedy commissioning scene is that is seems to be populated by a load of scared people. They all seem scared to lose prestige, to lose their job, to look like an idiot. They don’t take any risks.

“There have always been people scared in their jobs, not willing to risk things, but I just think it’s getting a bit endemic. And now they’re all thinking: Oh! We’ve got to be relevant because apparently this thing called ‘the internet’ is taking over. So now they do things like look at YouTube hits and go: Oh! Let’s give him a programme! Hence Dapper Laughs. He wouldn’t have got a programme if it hadn’t been for panicked TV commissioners. It’s idiotic. If they did what the internet does, they’d have wall-to-wall pandas on slides and kittens falling off tables.”

“When you say comedians are sociopaths, though,” I said, “you’re describing any person really. Dustmen probably want to get to the top of their profession.”

“No,” said Lindsay. “I think a lot of people are very happy doing what they’re doing. They have different priorities. I’ve had quite a few different jobs in my time and the majority of the people I’ve worked with outside comedy are happy doing what they’re doing and they’d prefer not to have the stress of extra responsibility. I don’t think everyone is hungrily ambitious. You’ve probably spent too much time around comedians, John. You’re starting to think most people are ambitious.”

“No. I think most people are barking mad,” I told her, “and that’s the good side of them. I think most comedians are terrified.”

“Like I said earlier,” replied Lindsay, “I don’t think all comedians are sociopaths, “just that there might be a high incidence. The incidence of sociopaths and psychopaths among the top tier of financiers is supposed to be much higher than in the general population. And I think that might be the case with comedians too.”

Don’t blame Lindsay - she’s only giving an opinion

Don’t blame Lindsay – she’s only giving her opinion!

“Other comedians,” I said,  “are going to hate you implying they might be sociopaths.”

“Some of them definitely are. Some of the ones who are a bit more ruthless and careerist – maybe they have an element of it? That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with being ambitious. I find the more successful comedians think: I know exactly what works. I know my schtick. And they do it with such conviction and belief in themselves that audiences can get swept up in it.”

I said: “It sounds like being a sociopath might help in career terms.”

“Probably,” Lindsay replied. “If you’re not so bridled by morality and guilt, then you…”

“Guilt?”

“If you have absolutely no remorse for anything, if you don’t care about the pain you might cause others, then you probably will be incredibly successful in business. And comedy. And you won’t be hung up on artistic integrity – Screw you! I’m going to do this because it will give me greater exposure and more money and that’s what it’s all about.”

So are you a sociopath?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” said Lindsay.

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If Bernard Manning had told these Jerry Sadowitz jokes, he might have been arrested – with good reason

(This blog was also published in the Huffington Post)

The comedian Jerry Sadowitz’s schtick is that he is highly offensive.

Last night, I saw his full-length stage show for the first time in a few years. The latest show is called Jerry Sadowitz: Comedian, Magician, Psychopath which, I think, pretty much covers all the angles – though it did not demonstrate any of the sheer genius of his actual magic act. He is a world class magician.

I have blogged before about Jerry’s early comedy career in the 1980s, how he was managed by the late Malcolm Hardee and how I produced a TV show in 1990 in which Jerry did not swear.

When I produced that show, Jerry spotted two lesbians in the audience (do not ask) and zeroed-in on them for particular comic attention. After the show, they were outraged and complained. Jerry was genuinely perplexed.

“They are just jokes,” he said, nonplussed.

My attitude was that, if you knowingly go to a Jerry Sadowitz show, you cannot complain afterwards about being offended. It is a bit like letting your small child watch Doctor Who and then complaining afterwards that he or she shat behind the sofa with fear.

That is almost the show’s raison d’être.

Doctor Who can sometimes scare the shit out of children.

Jerry Sadowitz’s comedy show is highly offensive.

The only reason to complain would be if Jerry were NOT offensive.

It was good to see last night that he can still go beyond highly offensive. All other so-called offensive comedians pale into insignificance compared to him. They are like a little pile of sugar four inches high in comparison to the Himalayas.

The two things which struck me last night were that he seems to be talking more about death than he used to. No surprise there, I guess. He is older. And, in among the bile and vitriol spewed at almost every target under the sun, there is an occasional unspeakable truth spoken.

I find it is always good for my blog to mention the late ‘old school’ comedian Bernard Manning because it annoys people. It is like saying “mint sauce” to a lamb.

If Bernard Manning had told almost any of the jokes Jerry told last night, people would have been even more outraged than the people who are currently retrospectively outraged by Manning’s live act although most of them never saw it.

If any other comic had told some of the jokes Jerry told last night, I think there is a high possibility he would risk being arrested.

And not without reason. Some of the Muslim jokes were so close to stirring racial hatred that there could be a nice philosophical discussion on where the line lies. Though, interestingly, some of the jokes were so unsettling because they said out loud some normally unsayable truths.

If comedy, like trouble, can be said to brew, Bernard Manning told comparatively mild gags. With Jerry, motormouthing for well over an hour at about three times the speed of any other comic, the gags are more bitter.

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So this woman approached the two of us at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2002…

It was late afternoon on Tuesday the 13th of August in 2002.

I had been having tea with a fairly well-known alternative comedian at a cafe on the Royal Mile.

As we left, he leant against a pillar at the entrance and we talked some more.

A middle-aged French woman approached us, nervousness in her eyes because of her bad English. She was clearly a tourist.

The plaintive-looking middle-aged Frenchwoman with big eyes, unsure of her English, asked us the question:

“Iced tea?”

We looked at her.

“Iced tea?” she asked again, even more nervously.

She thought the comedian was a waiter.

“Yeah,” he replied to her, insulted. “I’ll just go and get it.”

The woman looked relieved as he walked out the open door.

As he was about to cross the street, he turned and asked her: “Small or large?”

“Small,” she replied. “Thank you.”

He smiled reassuringly to her and walked away across the Royal Mile.

I left as well.

The dividing line between comedy and psychopathy can be narrow.

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Terrorists and psychopaths: standing on the shoulders of creative giants

I was watching Penn & Teller: Fool Us on ITV last night and they did a trick in which a long ribbon-like sheet was wrapped round and round a 9-year-old boy’s neck. Penn on one side and Teller on the other then stood apart and pulled the opposite ends of the sheet tightly and… of course, the sheet unravelled and came away from the boy’s neck.

A variation on the cutting-the-knot-out-of-a-rope trick.

I was amazed this had been screened – presumably the defence is that it was after the nine o’clock watershed.

The possibility of children doing this to each other – wrapping a sheet or length of material or rope around another child’s neck and pulling it, killing the child, seems quite high to me.

I once interviewed the British Film Censor John Trevelyan. He was highly important in Britain, because he was in charge of British film censorship 1958-1971 when everything changed.

He told me that, as Secretary of the British Board of Film Classification, he had had a panel of psychologists advising him and, as a result, he had made slight cuts to the 1968 movie The Boston Stranger. He had cut the sound of ripping fabric which was heard as the leering strangler’s face was seen while attacking a victim. He had been told the sound of ripping fabric was a ‘trigger’ and a stimulant to would-be rapists.

He also cut scenes where sex acts were immediately followed – or were interrupted – by murder, especially involving knives or sharp instruments. Again, this was because he was told it was a turn-on for psychos. These scenes are now almost de rigueur in slasher movies… A teenage couple are having sex in a bunk in an isolated cabin; one or both of them are then immediately skewered by a deadly sharp implement.

Generally, though, I don’t believe that violence on the movie or TV screen really affects ordinary, non-psychopathic adults. And you can’t fully run your culture by making concessions in case a psycho gets an idea from a movie or TV show.

It is the Nature v Nurture debate.

Or, more correctly, Nutter v Nurture.

If 50 million people see a movie and one person copies it, the cause lies within the person not the movie

When news of the bomb explosion and island massacre in Norway started coming through yesterday – particularly the island massacre – a friend said to me: “It’s like some movie” and, increasingly, over the last 50 years, psycho and terrorist attacks have been getting like what you see in the movies.

When the Twin Towers were attacked on 9/11 everyone was saying, “Ooh – It’s just like a disaster movie.”

Maybe psychos and terrorists are being made more creative by access to other, more creative minds.

Novels, movies and sometimes even episodic TV series are written by more-than-averagely-creative minds. To get a movie script, a novel or a TV series made and out there and available to a mass market, you often – well, sometimes – have to have a spark, perhaps even a giant flame, of originality.

Rod Serling, who created The Twilight Zone, reportedly died still blaming himself for writing a 1966 TV movie called The Doomsday Flight which was a then-highly-original story about a bomb on board an airliner which has an altitude-sensitive trigger device. Unless a ransom is paid, the bomb will explode when the plane descends to land.

Apparently Serling blamed himself because, after this TV movie was screened, the PLO and others started a spate of airliner hijackings and bombings. He blamed himself because he thought they might have seen or heard of the plot and decided to target planes.

To me, this does not sound likely – the plot is too far removed from what became an ordinary terrorist attack – though it does make me wonder where the idea for the 1994 movie Speed may have come from.

But creative thinkers have always driven reality. The skylines of modern cities were clearly inspired by decades of science fiction films dating back to Metropolis and beyond. We are now building what we were once told would be our future. The fictional thought of flat screen TVs has been around for maybe 50 years. The concept of the hovercraft was surely partly inspired by endless hovercraft in sci-fi comics and novels. And famously, of course, sci-fi novelist Arthur C Clarke wrote an article in Wireless World in 1945 proposing the concept of communication satellites.

Martin Cooper, who developed the first hand-held mobile phone, said that he had been inspired to do it by seeing the hand-held communicators on Star Trek.

Irish novelist Robert Cromie’s 1895 book The Crack of Doom described a bomb which used the energy from an atom. I do not know if anyone on the Manhattan Project had ever read it – perhaps the idea would have come about anyway – but the idea of an atomic bomb was around for 50 years before it became a reality.

Of course, conspiracy theory thinking and making links where none exist is always a dangerous temptation.

Iconic international terrorist Carlos The Jackal was given that nickname by the press after a copy of Frederick Forsyth’s novel The Day of the Jackal was found in a London flat he had rented. It was said he had copied details from the book. In fact, it later turned out it was not his book and he had never read it.

But the cliché nutter is a loner with a grudge against something or someone. By definition, a loner – “Ooh, he was a quiet one,” neighbours traditionally tell newspaper reporters – has access only to his own deluded psychopathic ideas. Over the course of the 20th century, though, nutters had increasing access through books, TV, movies, DVDs etc to the more creative ideas of other, better minds. Now, in the 21st century, almost all human knowledge and the creativity of the best of human brains past and present is a mere click away on the internet.

On Friday night, as first reports of events in Norway were still coming in, one commentator on the BBC News channel said that, if the Oslo bombing and the island shootings turned out to be linked, that would point to al-Queda because they had a track record of linked attacks. As it turned out, he was wrong. But presumably the Norwegian killer was ‘inspired’ by al-Queda’s publicity-seeking methodology.

When I first heard details of the 9/11 terrorist attacks back in 2001, I thought to myself, “I’ve heard this before. I read about this maybe a year ago in the Sunday Times.”

I can’t find the relevant article now but it turned out I had read about it before. Because the 9/11 attacks were based on someone else’s much better idea – the Bojinka plot which was conceived in Indonesia and suggested to al-Queda, who adapted and downgraded it.

The Indonesian-originated plan was a three-tiered concept.

1) assassinate the Pope

2) blow up at least 11 passenger jets simultaneously over the Pacific

3) fly a single light aircraft laden with explosives into the CIA headquarters or several aircraft into buildings across the US, including the World Trade Center and the Pentagon

The 9/11 attacks were not an original idea. They were inspired by someone else’s idea.

I imagine the lone Norwegian nutter was inspired by the methods of al-Queda.

I suspect we will get increasingly creative and increasingly paranoia-inducing terrorist attacks.

The internet allows even nutters to stand on the shoulders of giants.

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How did spaghetti-juggling get into this year’s Edinburgh Fringe programme?

The ever-energetic comic Bob Slayer is looking after The Hive venue at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe for the Laughing Horse Free Festival and, back in January, he asked me if I wanted to do any chat-type shows based on my blog.

I had already arranged to stage a two-hour Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on the final Friday of the Fringe.

So we arranged that I would precede this with four ‘talking head’ shows. Debates, but with comedians. I would chair the first two and doyenne of Edinburgh Fringe comedy reviewers Kate Copstick (a Malcolm Hardee Award judge) would chair the second two. The subjects seemed quite clear:

On Monday – “Comedians are psychopathic masochists with a death wish” – based on a blog I wrote which comedy industry website Chortle later used.

On Tuesday – “Racist or sexist jokes? It doesn’t matter if they’re funny!” – again based on a blog of mine which Chortle later printed.

On Wednesday –  “Have the Big Boys Fucked Up The Fringe?” about large promoters, producers and management agencies’ effect on the Fringe.

On Thursday – “Are Bono, Bob and the Big Boys Fucking Up The World?” about charity and aid money.

This was all OK until Copstick discovered, at the last moment, that she had to be in London for the final of ITV’s new reality TV series Show Me The Funny on the same days as her planned Fringe debates – and possibly rehearsing in London on the previous two days.

This happened a few days before the final Fringe Programme deadline, when the titles and billings had already been submitted.

I have always wanted to hear the introduction, “And now… a man juggling spaghetti…”

I would accept a woman. If you have a spare one, let me know.

But, if I could hear that introduction and then see someone do it, I could die happy and fulfilled.

Since the mid-1980s, when I was working on the LWT series Game For a Laugh, through series like The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross, I half-heartedly tried to find someone who could juggle cooked spaghetti for more than one minute. It appears it cannot be done. In the 1990s, I tried with the brilliant juggler Steve Rawlings, at which point, I gave up – If he can’t do it, no-one can do it, I thought – but it has always simmered away at the back of my mind.

So, on the basis that I could not think of anything better, I decided to hold the Malcolm Hardee Spaghetti-Juggling Contest – Year One (who knows if there will be a Year Two, but it sounds good) at the Laughing Horse Free Fringe venue which is exactly what it says in the name – Outside The Beehive – in Grassmarket for 45 minutes on the final Tuesday and Wednesday nights of the Edinburgh Fringe.

It should be messy and, if it rains, shambolically messy – a fitting tribute to Malcolm Hardee. But it might get a few pictures in the media and/or some word-of-mouth to plug the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on the Friday night. And I suspect I can get quite a few comics to wander along and take part as well as members of the public.

The submission has gone in to Guinness to see if – in the unlikely event someone can actually keep cooked spaghetti in the air for more than a minute – they would actually recognise spaghetti-juggling as a world record.

Now all I have to do is find somewhere to get large amounts of cooked spaghetti on two nights in Edinburgh in late August…

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“My name is Ozymandias, comic of comics”… maybe

I will need incontinence pads soon.

I thought I’d blogged somewhere before about my theory that most comedians are a combination of masochist and psychopath… and then I thought maybe I hadn’t. And then I was sure I had, but I couldn’t find it. And then I did here. Clearly my memory is going. Not that it was ever very good. I’m sure this Coalition Attacking Libya semi-war thing has happened before. Several times. After a while, all post-Korean wars seem to merge into one.

On my Facebook page a few days ago, I mentioned a Sunday Mail interview with the immensely talented Scots comedian and magician Jerry Sadowitz.

In 1995, when the late Malcolm Hardee was writing his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, I asked him: “Who is the most talented comedian who has not yet made it?”

He immediately said: “Jerry Sadowitz”.

Or, in fact, “Gerry Sadowitz” because, at that time, I think Jerry was still (as far as we could see fairly randomly) alternating between billing himself as Gerry Sadowitz and Jerry Sadowitz.

In the Sunday Mail interview, it was claimed Jerry predicted he will die penniless and lonely and described himself as a failure who had struggled to find work since his last television series almost a decade ago. It sounded pretty downbeat.

Though, in fact, he can fill large theatres, is very highly regarded by the media and, as the Sunday Mail pointed out, he has been voted one of the greatest stand up comedians of all time.

On my Facebook page, one reaction to the interview, from bubbly comedienne Charmian Hughes, was:

“Yes, failure is a strangely seductive and addictive mistress – so much safer and predictable than the vagaries of success. You know where you are when you think you are not going anywhere!”

I agree. I have seen several performers blow their chance of success. It’s as if they have struggled for so long that they know they can deal with failure, disappointment and rejection, but success is a great – and therefore a dangerous and very frightening – unknown. The pain of rejection is like a release of acid in the stomach and, once you know you can survive it, like all strong physical feelings, it can become addictive.

It is something I think I have noticed in a lot of stand-up comics – perhaps it’s something in all performers. There is this inner, outgoing, self-confident need to show-off combined with a sometimes almost paralysing self-doubt.

This can manifest itself in two areas.

One is publicity where the effervescent, outgoing performer is so fearful of being hurt by criticism that they want to hide inside a bag inside a wardrobe inside a cave in a vast impenetrable mountain range. I’ve been involved with more than one performer who refused to do interviews or any publicity which would expose even the most general details of their private self to any public view.

The other area is even more extreme – career self-harm – and it is epitomised, let’s say, by former punk rocker Johnny Rotten walking off I’m a Celebrity – Get Me Out of Here! when it became crystal clear he was going to win it. Anyone who knows the comedy business will be able to remember an exact parallel on another TV reality show involving a successful comic on his way up.

I once chatted to that comedian and said, quite honestly though perhaps a tad insensitively, that I did not know why he had not been picked up by TV producers in the past.

“It could be,” he suggested, “that I have a tendency to tell them they’re cunts.”

“That would probably do it,” I had to agree.

It is the conflict between wanting to perform yet being phenomenally over-sensitive and the fear of failure.

Charmian Hughes admits, “I have done a couple of self-saboteuring things in my life. One was not returning the call of a BBC Radio One producer who came up to me after a show and asked me to write for her before that was a fashionable Radio One thing. I pretended it wasn’t my thing artistically but, of course, inside I was afraid I would be shit at it. The result was I slammed that door in my own face.”

Another comic told me:

“It’s like a knot in the pit of your stomach. The fear. You know you’re going to go up there alone on stage and they may hate you. Not your material. It’s not like doing Shakespeare or Alan Ayckbourn where you are an actor in a play. They see the comic up there on stage telling jokes and it is you. Just you. If they hate you, it is because they hate you for yourself. You have to get up on stage to get the attention you want but, at the same time, the last thing you want is attention. You want to be in the spotlight and you want to hide and both emotions are inside you simultaneously.

“That’s what the problem with publicity is. You want everyone in the whole world to know who you are and to reassure you that you are brilliant and better than anyone else. But, at the same time, you don’t want anyone to know who you are: you want to run away and hide, because you are just a little kid standing up there alone, afraid that you will get told off and you are on the brink of crying inside. It’s like a physical knot inside your stomach.”

Charmian Hughes says:

“I remember a kind of exuberant horror at what I was doing and feeling quite angry with the people who wanted to promote me which quickly turned to self pity when they then didn’t. It takes a lot of personal untangling. Of course, all that was in extremis and I would recognise it immediately now… maybe!”

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