Consider the clown, a jolly figure who has been tickling people’s funny bone since time immemorial. They say pygmy clowns made the Egyptian pharaohs laugh back in 2500 BCE. In Imperial China, Emperor Qin Shih Huang got his hoots from court clown YuSze. Tenali Rama, Birbal and Gopal Bhar not only kept Mughal emperor Akbar, Vijayanagar’s Krishnadevaraya and Nadia’s Raja Krishnachandra in good humour with their escapades, their legends—in the form of folk tales—are still keeping people in contemporary India enthralled. But India’s super jesters were intellectual beings; their antics came with lessons attached. The regular clown—yes, he of the painted face and inflated features—hasn’t been treated particularly kindly by time.
Consider the word ‘coulrophobia’. The word may be unfamiliar to many; its meaning—a fear of clowns—not that unfamiliar. Back when we were growing up, everyone went to the circus every time it came to town. Watching the clown was a big part of the circus-going process. At the time, reluctant to be seen as namby-pamby, I kept quiet and pretended to enjoy the shows. Today, I can ‘fess that I always found the clowns creepy.
Increasingly I discover that I wasn’t unique.
Psychologists say the fear is a surprisingly pervasive one. Maybe it’s because clowns, with their exaggerated mannerisms, misshapen bodies and white faces, are discomfiting suggestions of a body gone wrong. In 2008, a University of Sheffield survey of 250 English children between the ages of four and 16 found that most of them dislike and even fear images of clowns. I’m sure a survey in India would throw up similar results. And why just blame the kids? Coulrophobia lurks in many adult hearts too, giving rise to clown-bashing Facebook pages and websites like ihateclowns.com.
Maybe all these scared people are on to something. Maybe all ‘funny people’ should not be laughed at. Maybe the comic-hater’s gut knows something that his mind doesn’t. Or at least didn’t till a recent Oxford study revealed that those who can make others laugh have high levels of psychotic personality traits.
The study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, analyzed 500-plus comedians from across the US, Australia and the UK and found a strong tendency towards psychotic behaviour.
The comedians were asked questions related to four categories: Unusual Experiences (or the belief in telepathy and paranormal events); Cognitive Disorganisation (difficulty in focusing thoughts); Introvertive Anhedonia (or the reduced ability to feel social and physical pleasure); and Impulsive Non-Conformity (or a tendency towards anti-social behaviour). Most of the comics got high scores in the last two questions, related to asocial behaviour.
The findings led the researchers to believe that the creative talent needed to produce humour is strikingly similar to the key characteristics of schizophrenics and people with bipolar disorders; that manic thinking, which is common in people with bipolar disorder, pushes people to form original and humorous connections while a lesser form of schizophrenic psychosis encourages individuals to think outside the box.
Women are always looking for men who can make them laugh. Maybe they souldn't.