Tag Archives: sociopath

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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Why comedians are psychopathic masochists with an overwhelming death wish

(This blog was re-published by the Chortle comedy website in March 2011)

I have seen several comedians get very close to big-time success and then destroy their own own chances.

Sometimes I have seen a comedian, after years of struggling, so close to their big-time breakthrough that they can almost reach out and touch it… they can smell it… they can feel the potential big change coming… and then they throw the chance away. Because, I think, after years of struggle, they know the taste of failure and know they can deal with that acid-like ache in the pit of their stomach… but they are frightened by the unknown challenges and feelings which success may throw at them.

It is fear of the unknown and also, perhaps, an inbuilt urge to fail.

Masochism.

I have a theory that there is very little difference between a stand-up comedian and someone who walks into a supermarket or sits atop a high building and randomly shoots people with an AK-47 assault rifle. Most of the psycho shooters are not homicidal but suicidal; they are not sadists, they are masochists; they know they will die and welcome it because someone else will kill them, someone else will ‘suicide’ them.

Comedians are, perhaps, psychopaths with a strong streak of masochism stirred in.

The motivation of both the psycho shooter and the stand up comic is to have a God-like, deep and lasting effect on the lives of others.

They want the public to be so affected by their actions that ‘ordinary’ people completely lose control over their emotions. They want to so affect ‘ordinary’ people’s minds, to have such a vivid, immediate impact that their name will be remembered for the rest of their contemporaries’ lives.

Choose which one is which. Toss a coin.

In the perfect comedy performance, the audience cannot control their basic bodily emotions – their laughter – the comic is in control. But, equally, if the comedian loses control for even a few seconds, the tables may be turned almost instantly and he or she may ‘die’. In the case of the random shooter, a police marksman may fire a fatal round at him/her. In the case of a comic, not just heckles but beer glasses can get thrown at you. I have seen blood drawn on more than one occasion. But it is the psychological damage which hurts more.

What sort of person decides to randomly shoot people knowing they will eventually and soon be shot themselves? The same sort of person who stands on a stage inviting inevitable (even if unjustified) rejection.

Arguably, psychopathic masochists.

Comedy performers have a need to be in control, yet are totally at the mercy of their audiences’ collective whims. Only the very insecure would risk such total rejection for such total control over others. Standing on stage is a masochist’s delight.

If you succeed, if you play the best gig of your life, you know that future gigs are highly unlikely ever to surpass this triumphant peak; the rest of your life will be less successful. If you fail, if the audience and/or the critics don’t find you or your thoughts funny right now, that reinforces your belief in your own worthlessness. It is a lose-lose situation and who would open themselves up to the risk of such rejection? Most comics I’ve met are a combination of vast ego and vast insecurity and self-doubt.

Masochists with a large ego.

Stand-up comics are not like the rest of us. And that is partly why their acts and their minds can be uniquely entertaining and uniquely insightful. If you put a talented masochistic psychopath on stage and say “Go on! Make me laugh!” you are bound to get a wonderfully unexpected result.

The irony is that audiences think it’s easy, that comedians are happy people offstage and that ‘anybody’ can do it.

Give me a well-balanced, happy person, content with their life, content in themselves and I will give you a person who will never be a good comedian.

Give me a psychologically-damaged mess, a mixture of dictator and masochistic neurotic and I will give you a potentially good comedian – which is why I enjoy being with them so much.

Perhaps I should start worrying about my own psychological make-up…

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