Ages ago when I was doing standup I noticed that there were a lot of comedians with various psychological issues. Some were flat out barking. Others were brimming. There were a few who were just plain miserable. At least one I knew fairly well ended up topping himself, the poor bastard. I know of other premature deaths of Aussie comics due to suicide or resulting indirectly from drug or alcohol abuse.
These sad tales don't seem all that surprising. They do confirm that entrenched "sad clown" stereotype, after all. I've long thought that this had a lot of truth to it and that comics are much more likely to be mentally ill than the wider population.
But as I've gotten older and observed the behaviour of so-called normal folk in more mainstream society I'm not so sure. Your average punter seems to be catching up to screwed up funny buggers when it comes to the prevalence and severity of mental health issues.
I may be wrong. But I think reality TV has got a lot to do with it. The eagerness with which so many people expose their inner, emotional lives to entertain millions of people they'll never meet (and who don't give a tinker's about 'em) is truly disturbing. I reckon you'd have to be a bit psychologically disordered to want to appear in some of those shows to start off with. And if you actually really enjoy watching them, well, I think you'd have to have some issues as well.
The idea that reality TV participants are an unstable bunch seems to be borne out by the fact that many of them have committed suicide in recent years. There have been a lot of these shows, sure. But 21 mostly young people dying by their own hands is an alarmingly high number however you cut it:
Dr Richard Levak, a California-based personality expert who has worked on several reality shows, including Survivor, says the spate of suicides among reality-TV stars boils down to a chicken-or-the-egg debate.
“Does [appearing on reality television] attract people with a higher rate of instability?” Levak asks. “Are people who are unstable more interested? Or do the vagaries of reality TV precipitate people killing themselves?”
I think both factors are at play. Reality shows are toxic, destructive environments that attract unstable individuals. And squillions are watching them every day! It has to be having some negative effects on the wider population.
I think the main one is that it promotes a toxic cult of narcissism (which is also fed by social media). More and more people these days seem to believe they need an audience to feel like they are worthwhile individuals.
Consequently they seek out fame at all costs. If they attain it, they're on a high. But when it is taken from them -- which is of course inevitable -- they end up trapped in a very deep low. Some decide that suicide is the only way out.