His death raises a question about comedy that comes up again and again: Do comedians have a dark side?
The notion that comedians are unhinged can be traced back to the beginnings of the art form. Some historians believe Charley Case, an African-American vaudeville performer, gave birth to stand-up when, in the 1880s or ’90s, he starting performing comic monologues without props or costuming, something that hadn’t been done before. While Case enjoyed relative success at the time, he lived a troubled life. He suffered a nervous breakdown and died in 1916 at the Palace Hotel on 45th Street in New York “while cleaning his revolver,” as reports later put it.
Does success in the comedy industry really depend on psychological instability? Is there scientific proof that it helps to be a bit crazy in order to be funny?
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