20 July 2016

Why stand-up comedians have shorter lifespans

Ongoing stress, risky behaviours and irregular schedules are cited as reasons why stand-up comics might have a shorter lifespan than regular actors.

Watch out Kevin Hart, Amy Schumer and Louis C.K. A new study finds stand-up comedians seem to die at an earlier age than actors.

Not a laughing matter

"The results point to a need for awareness of health and well-being concerns in the entertainment industry, and in elite comedians in particular," said the study's lead researcher, Simon Stewart, from the Mary MacKillop Institute of Health Research at Australian Catholic University.

Ongoing stress, risky behaviours and irregular schedules associated with stand-up comedy were cited as reasons why telling jokes may not always be a laughing matter.

The study involved 200 stand-up comedians, 114 comedic actors and 184 dramatic actors who were highly rated in ability and popularity by a crowd-ranking website.

Read: How stress can make you lose the plot

Looking at those who had passed away in each group, the researchers found the stand-up comics died at a younger age – about 67 years on average compared to almost 69 among the comedic actors and nearly 71 among dramatic actors.

Once date of birth and life expectancy were taken into account, the researchers found that of the 36 stand-up comics who had died, 39 percent passed away prematurely, compared to about 20 percent of the 56 dramatic actors who had died.

Higher suicide rate

The study found only an association between being a stand-up comedian and risk of an earlier death; it did not prove cause-and-effect.

Still, the researchers pointed out stand-up comics accounted for four out of nine drug-related deaths, and a higher rate of suicides than the other performers.

Moreover, the highest ranked stand-up comedians tended to have shorter lifespans than their less popular peers – a trend that was reversed among dramatic and comedic actors, the study found.

Read: Understanding stress

"Indeed, the data confirmed an adverse relationship between comedic ability and longevity, with elite stand-up comedians more highly rated by the public more likely to die prematurely," Stewart said in a university news release.

Oscar-winning actors, on the other hand, enjoy a 3.9-year life expectancy advantage, he added.

Chronic health issues

Stewart said comics tend to have higher rates of bipolar disorder than actors or non-comedians. Also, the profession often forces people to endure years of little job security, low pay and high stress before they attain success.

And instead of working on a controlled and highly supervised film set, comics are often working in nightclubs and bars where they are more likely to drink, smoke and engage in risky sexual behaviour, Stewart said.

Combined with extensive travel and irregular work schedules, these behaviours could negatively affect comics' sleeping, eating and exercise habits. This, in turn, could lead to chronic health issues, such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, obesity and heart disease, the study suggested.

The findings were published recently in the International Journal of Cardiology.

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