The funniest stand-up comedians are more likely to die young.

By Seriously Science | July 21, 2016 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/JoonHo Son

Photo: flickr/JoonHo Son

From Lenny Bruce to Robin Williams, many great comedians have suffered untimely deaths. But is this actually a hazard of the job? In this study, the authors investigated whether stand-up comedians were more likely to die young compared to comedic or dramatic actors, as well as whether funnier stand-up comedians were more prone to death than less funny comics. The answer to both questions was, unfortunately, yes. Talk about killing it onstage! (Clearly I’ll be living for a long time.)

Is the last “man” standing in comedy the least funny? A retrospective cohort study of elite stand-up comedians versus other entertainers

“Background

This study aimed to confirm, in a large, diverse cohort of elite Stand-up Comedians and other entertainers, that there is an inverse association between comedic ability and longevity.

Methods

This retrospective cohort study included 200 Stand-up Comedians (13% women), 113 Comedy Actors (17.5% women), and 184 Dramatic Actors (29.3% women) listed in the top 200 in each category in a popular online ranking website. Longevity within each group was examined adjusting for life expectancy by year of birth and within-group ranking score.

Results

Stand-up Comedians were younger than Comedy Actors (median birth year 1962 versus 1947: p < 0.001) and Dramatic Actors (1962 versus 1946: p < 0.001). Overall, 36/200 (18.0%), 33/114 (29.0%) and 56/184 (30.9%) of Stand-up Comedians, Comedy Actors and Dramatic Actors, respectively, had died (p = 0.011). There was a significant gradient (p = 0.011) in the age of death, with Stand-up Comedians dying at a younger age (67.1 ± 21.3 years) than their Comedy Actor (68.9 ± 15.4 years) and Dramatic Actor (70.7 ± 16.6 years) counterparts. Stand-up Comedians (38.9% versus 19.6%) were more likely to die prematurely compared to Dramatic Actors; p = 0.043, OR 1.98; 95% CI 1.01 to 3.87). Independent of year of birth, for Stand-up Comedians alone, higher comedy rank was associated with shorter longevity (hazard ratio 0.938, 95% CI 0.880 to 0.999 for a 10-rank difference; p = 0.045).

Conclusions

These data reaffirm an adverse relationship between comedic ability and longevity, with elite Stand-up Comedians more highly rated by the public more likely to die prematurely.”

Related content:
Want to know how long you’ll live? Ask your friends!
Want to live three years longer? Just win an Olympic medal.
The higher the floor you live on, the less likely you are to survive a heart attack.

ADVERTISEMENT
  • OWilson

    We all know funny people who can make us laugh occasionally.

    A professional comedian, though, has to be funny all the time, regardless of his mood.

    He sometimes needs a little pharmaceutical “help” to keep that high going to maintain his image, even his livelihood.

    And, thereby hangs a tale!

    • Nom de Plume

      It’s more complex than this. Humor is often used as a mask or shield, and as such is sometimes a defense against darker moods, so a pharmaceutical solution to maintain humor isn’t required. That said, people may turn to pharmaceutical solutions to deal with issues that they use humor to hide in the first place. This includes alcohol.

      It’s not a given that stand-up is funnier than comic acting. Robin Williams, who’s photo graces this article, did both. He was also around 62 or 63, and it says something about our lifespans that his face is used on an article about comics dying young. If stand-up comics tend to die younger, the question should be why?

      • OWilson

        I don’t differentiate between stand up comics and comic actors. I’m talking about the ones that are paid to be dementedly funny all the time You know who they were Kinneson, Bellucci, Williams, et. al.

        That is unnatural.

        I’m also talking about people I met socially who needed to have their wittiness and charm on display in public, yet who were dependent on chemicals for their public persona.

        Quite a few of these people I knew died relatively young.

  • polistra24

    Sort of puzzling: “median birth year 1962 versus 1947” That’s a BIG difference, which doesn’t match the 3-year difference in life expectancy. Standup comedians aren’t a new occupation; plenty of them were around in previous generations. Did the comedians born in the ’40s have an even shorter life, so that they were all gone before the period used by the researchers?

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    Jon Stewart, Jerry Seinfeld, Joan Rivers, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Jerry Lewis, Jack Benny, Sid Caesar, Rodney Dangerfield, Carl Reiner, Larry David, Don Rickles, Sarah Silverman, Billy Crystal, Adam Sandler, Gilda Radner, Danny Kaye, Gene Wilder, Albert Brooks, Garry Shandling, Jerry Stiller, George Jessel, Jack Black, Fanny Brice, Lewis Black, Groucho Marx (3), George Burns, Mort Sahl, Alan King, Red Buttons, Ben Stiller, Victor Borge, Peter Sellers, Harold Ramis, Robert Klein, Sacha Braon Cohen, The Three Stooges (3), Joey Bishop, Zero Mostel, Bea Arthur, Jackie Mason, Marty Allen,. Morey Amsterdam, Marty Feldman, Totie Fields, Shecky Greene, Milton Berle, Molly Picon, Paul Reubens, Rita Rudner, Alan Sherman, Phil Silvers, Harry Shearer….

    elite Stand-up Comedians more highly rated by the public more likely to die prematurely” 59 counterexamples would be weather not climate, eh?

    • Cranky Crab

      Gilda died very young. And Jack Black is as funny as a shadow on a chest X-ray.

      • Disqustd

        Gilda died at 42. Young to die, not “very young”.

        • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

          Natural causes don’t count. John Belushi speed balled his way out. Lenny Bruce did a heroin overdose. Gilbert Gottfried died on stage, not biologically.

    • NobleHam

      Jon Stewart, Jerry Seinfeld, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Stiller, Sarah Silverman, and Jack Black aren’t exactly old yet. And at least Gilda Radner did die relatively young. As did Shemp and Curly of the Three Stooges, and Zero Mostel, and Marty Feldman, and Totie Fields, and Alan Sherman. Even Harold Ramis at 70 and Garry Shandling at 66 were bit younger than average.

      Also, several of those are just comedic actors, not stand-up comedians.

      So what are you on about?

    • OWilson

      Take my wife.

      Please! :)

    • John Byrne

      Jon Stewart, Carl Reiner, Sarah Silverman, and Sacha Baron invalidate your list.

      • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

        Youtube, respectively v=e43Bl8ONSFk, v=m7pOjYtx0Yg (196 total), v=3w4LtD_p53Q They’re dead? Has anybody told them?

  • north?really?

    So does this mean Amy Shumer, Sarah Silverman, and Chelsea Handler will live forever?

    • peteywheats

      No, it means you are a misogynist!

      • north?really?

        No it means I find their brand of humor un-funny. How dare you label me? I wish cancer on you and your children.

        • peteywheats

          So, your comment shows you have no idea what funny even is.

          • north?really?

            Ma’am why do you care? And by the way those women can’t hold a candle to Carol Burnette, Gilda Radner and Madeline Kahn. So please take your tired feminist propaganda to your next monthly meeting of the SJW alliance.

          • peteywheats

            Social Justice is not a joke, but people who think SJW is an insult are.

          • north?really?

            Ma’am, SJW’s are clowns and they are to be mocked, laughed at and treated as such. Now wobble along to your next protest.

    • Penelope Wallace

      Good point

  • Teto85

    Dane Cook is immortal.

  • Penelope Wallace

    Trump could have stand up

  • Penelope Wallace

    Don Rickles and Roger Dangerfield were to of the best.

  • Penelope Wallace

    Should read two not to

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Seriously, Science?

Seriously, Science?, formerly known as NCBI ROFL, is the brainchild of two prone-to-distraction biologists. We highlight the funniest, oddest, and just plain craziest research from the PubMed research database and beyond. Because nobody said serious science couldn't be silly!
Follow us on Twitter: @srslyscience.
Send us paper suggestions: srslyscience[at]gmail.com.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Collapse bottom bar
+