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Story highlights

Comedians have conflicting introverted and extroverted personality traits, a study says

"Comedy may partly be a form of self-medication," researcher says

CNN’s “The History of Comedy,” an original series exploring what makes us laugh and the comedians who’ve influenced culture, airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

(CNN) —  

Comedians used to tell a joke that goes like this:

“A comedian walks into a psychologist’s office. The psychologist says, ‘lie down and tell me everything you know.’ “

The punch line: “I haven’t been able to get an appointment since. He’s been doing my act in Philadelphia.”

The material that comes from a counselor’s couch often makes great fodder for a comic’s act. It’s the sad clown paradox: The men and women who make people laugh for a living often struggle with mental health challenges offstage that are hardly a laughing matter.

It’s unclear how many comedians struggle with mental challenges such as depression, but many of the most familiar names have talked and joked about the issue: Robin Williams, Sarah Silverman, Stephen Fry, Spike Jones, Woody Allen, Richard Pryor, Ellen DeGeneres. It’s no accident that the Laugh Factory in Hollywood has an in-house psychologist.