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Ian Dunn
1093320.  Mon Sep 08, 2014 11:01 am Reply with quote

Some facts relating to comedy and humour.

I was up at the Edinburgh Fringe this year working for the British Comedy Guide (BCG). My main job is to collect all of the reviews relating to every single comedy that is going on during the festival. This year I collected over 4,300 reviews, covering 1,110 shows, from 86 different publications. At the end of the Fringe comedian and data-analyst Gareth Morinan uses the information I collected to calculate which performers had the best results.

On the list we displayed on the BCG we posted we ordered it by the number of reviews each act had with a star rating of 4 or higher. Using this as a measure the comedian who had the best reviews over the entire course of the Fringe was Josie Long. Out of the 24 reviews she had 22 of them rated her with 4 stars or higher. Second was a comedy show in the theatre section of the Fringe programme: Mark Thomas's Cuckooed. Our top ten is as follows:

1) Josie Long: Cara Josephine - 22 (4 stars of more reviews) out of 24 (reviews in total).
2) Mark Thomas: Cuckooed - 19 out of 24.
3) Bridget Christie: An Ungrateful Woman - 17 out of 19.
4) Mark Watson: Flaws - 17 out of 17.
5) BEASTS: Solo - 16 out of 21.
6) James Acaster: Recognise - 15 out of 17.
7) Alex Horne: Monsieur Butterfly - 14 out of 15.
8) Nish Kumar: Ruminations on the Nature of Subjectivity - 14 out of 14.
9) Kraken - 13 out of 16.
10) What Does The Title Mean Anyway? - 12 out of 18.

Of course, you can measure it in other ways. In terms of the total percentage of reviews that 4 stars of higher, Mark Watson would come out top. If you calculated it by the total average review score (7 review minimum) then the top show is Showstopper! The Improvised Musical. In our main top ten, that show was =54th with Robin Ince.

Perhaps most interestingly QI wise is that Dan Schreiber's solo show, Cockblocked from Outer Space, was in the top 100 best reviewed shows. To be exact, it was precisely 100th. (4 out of 12). Jim Davidson was 128th (3 out of 15).

Some other 2014 Fringe facts:

• The shows Boxman and Josh Howie's AIDS: A Survivor's Story had what we at the BCG call "review rainbow" – they got 5 star, 4 star, 3 star, 2 star and 1 star reviews for their shows, which is rare.
• Character comic Marcel Lucont got a 1 star review from the website Arts Award Voice from a reviewer who did not realise Lucont was a character. Lucont’s response was to post his bad review on his posters.
• Brent Weinbach got the worst review of the festival. London Is Funny gave him zero stars.

For more info visit the BCG here and here.

 
ConorOberstIsGo
1093609.  Thu Sep 11, 2014 7:23 am Reply with quote

Poor Brent Weinbach! He only recently stopped doing the Legacy Music Hour podcast which I absolutely adored; there is probably no single person alive who knows more about 8- and 16-music than he!

 
ConorOberstIsGo
1093874.  Fri Sep 12, 2014 11:58 pm Reply with quote

He discovered the composer of this cult phenomenon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPkhhLC1tf8 I believe.

 
Ian Dunn
1104610.  Mon Dec 08, 2014 6:12 am Reply with quote

According to a study by the Australian Catholic University the funny-man in a comedy double-act is more likely to die first than the straight-man.

Quote:
Researchers Professor Simon Stewart and Professor David Thompson examined 53 male British and Irish comedians born between 1900 and 1954. Women were excluded so as to avoid gender differences. The comedians included both individuals and those in comedy partnerships such as Morecambe and Wise or Monty Python.

All comedians were given a subjective score from 1 (relatively funny) to 10 (hilariously funny), as chosen by the researchers and a popular ranking website. Researchers termed those with the highest ranking scores as 'elite comedians'. Of the 23 elite comedians examined, researchers found that 18 (78 per cent) had suffered a premature death, compared to 12 (40 per cent) that are still alive. The mean age of death for the elite group is 63 years.

Within a comedy team, researchers discovered that the difference in survival rates was stark – the designated funny members of the team were found to be three times more likely to die sooner than the 'stooge'. For example, Ernie Wise, the 'straight man' of Morecambe and Wise, lived to 73, while his funnier partner, Eric Morecambe, died aged 58.


The strange thing about this was how this story was reported on the Daily Mail website - "Bad news for Ant... good news for Dec: Study finds the funniest member of a comedy duo always dies first". I'm just trying to figure out who would be more offended: Ant for being the one who is told he will die first, or Dec for being told he's not funny.

 
Spud McLaren
1104702.  Mon Dec 08, 2014 6:20 pm Reply with quote

[quote="Ian Dunn"]
Quote:
...Of the 23 elite comedians examined, researchers found that 18 (78 per cent) had suffered a premature death, compared to 12 (40 per cent) that are still alive.
Hold on - 18+12=23? Shurely not...

 
14-11-2014
1104703.  Mon Dec 08, 2014 6:44 pm Reply with quote

Spud McLaren wrote:
Hold on - 18+12=23? Shurely not...


Copy & paste editors.

53 (male) comedians - 23 elite comedians = 30 non-elite comedians

Increased mortality risk of elite comedians: 78% of 23 = 18
Increased mortality risk of non-elite comedians: 40% of 50 - 23 = 12

All comedians: (18 + 12) : 53 = 56.6%

 
suze
1104705.  Mon Dec 08, 2014 7:08 pm Reply with quote

That's bad editing by the Daily Mail; I know it's hard to imagine such a thing, but there we are.

This story is based on a paper by two Australian academics. Both work at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, and ACU's press release is a direct copy of the paper's abstract. What that press release / abstract actually says is "Of the 23 comedians adjudged to be very funny (score 8–10), 18 (78%) had died versus 12 (40%) of the rest". "The rest" here means those comedians in the study who were not considered "very funny".

And actually, this bit concerns me more than does sloppy sub editing. The researchers chose a group of 53 comedians. All were male, all were British (this term not defined), and all were born between 1900 and 1954 (we are not told what is special about 1954). How they chose 53 from all the comedians who meet those parameters, we are not told.

Then, each comedian was given a score "from 1 (relatively funny) to 10 (hilariously funny)" by the researchers. It was then established that most of those whom they had rated 8 or better were dead, while most whom they had rated 7 or worse were still alive.

So hold on just one moment. The researchers have made up their own criteria to select a group of comedians. They have then made up numbers to "measure" how funny the selected comedians are. And then guess what - their numbers fit a conclusion which they'd decided before they started.

I've seen this kind of research before. It probably started with a casual remark in a bar one night ("Hey Bruce, seems to me that all the best comedians are dead.") Tenured academics are under pressure to get papers published, and this spurious paper should keep the Prof off their backs for a semester or two.


NOTE: I've only read the abstract, not the full paper. And since access to the full paper costs $370, it's going to stay that way. If the full paper isn't actually such crap as the abstract makes it sound then I will apologise to the authors, but I do not expect to have to do so.

The paper has not yet appeared in the International Journal of Cardiology; at this stage it is only online. The abstract is freely available here.

 
14-11-2014
1104706.  Mon Dec 08, 2014 7:25 pm Reply with quote

suze wrote:
That's bad editing by the Daily Mail


I'm afraid that's the wrong tree. The original source of the error is the press release of some overrated university, in this case the ACU:

http://www.acu.edu.au/connect_with_acu/newsroom/news/media_releases/repository/does_comedy_kill_stark_survival_rates_no_laughing_matter

Australian Catholic University's media release wrote:
Of the 23 elite comedians examined, researchers found that 18 (78 per cent) had suffered a premature death, compared to 12 (40 per cent) that are still alive.

 
suze
1104708.  Mon Dec 08, 2014 8:24 pm Reply with quote

In which case I had better apologise to the Daily Mail. This once!

The abstract has that bit right, but I still remain extremely skeptical that this paper is of any value. Mind you, the International Journal of Cardiology has been going for some considerable time, has an editor who is eminent in the field, and submissions are peer reviewed. It's not some fly-by-night journal which will publish anything for a suitable fee, so I must be missing something. Or it is.

 
14-11-2014
1104752.  Tue Dec 09, 2014 7:11 am Reply with quote

suze wrote:
I still remain extremely skeptical that this paper is of any value.


So do I.

 
Ian Dunn
1104761.  Tue Dec 09, 2014 9:01 am Reply with quote

I suppose I should have learned from experience - always treat a story reported in the Daily Mail with suspicion.

 
Zziggy
1104808.  Tue Dec 09, 2014 7:09 pm Reply with quote

I have the paper.

suze wrote:
The researchers chose a group of 53 comedians. All were male, all were British (this term not defined), and all were born between 1900 and 1954 (we are not told what is special about 1954). How they chose 53 from all the comedians who meet those parameters, we are not told.

According to their own methodology, they restricted their choice to comedians born between 1900 and 1953 "to ensure a sufficient number of fatal events", and, it seems, because they themselves were more likely to have been exposed to comedians born in this time period and were therefore more able to rank them. The particular 53 chosen were taken from "a popular website that ranks the best of British and Irish comedians" (ranker.com), minus an undisclosed number of women, plus 7 straight men to comedy partners already on the list.
suze wrote:
Then, each comedian was given a score "from 1 (relatively funny) to 10 (hilariously funny)" by the researchers. It was then established that most of those whom they had rated 8 or better were dead, while most whom they had rated 7 or worse were still alive.

More than that - most of those whom they rated 8 or better were born before 1930. It's no wonder they are dead! The first 15 of the 23 8+ers (that is, up until they stop being currently dead) were born in or before 1937; according to parliament.uk the life expectancy for a man born in the 30s was ~60. The only comedian to not live to expectancy out of this 15 is Tony Hancock.

Between 1912 and 1931 there are 13 8+ers and 11 -8ers - equalling 4 still alive versus 20 dead. Between 1934-1953 there are 10 8+ers and 19 -8ers - but, not surprisingly, only 10 dead and 19 alive. Is this evidence of the funniest among us dying early? Or simply of the researchers' preference for comedians famous in the 60s/70s? There's only 5 of these "hilarious" comedians who are best known for stuff after 1975: Connolly, Carrott, Sayle, Morgan and Smith. This bias for a particular era could also be throwing off the mean age at death since the life expectancy increases over time. Maybe this is the folly of youth speaking but I'm not sure alive/dead status should count for much in a group whose members were born at least 61 years ago and at most 102!

The paper does make a big deal about the fact that it compares straight and funny counterparts but it doesn't actually tell us who it is considering as which. Although you might think that is obvious, since there are mistakes in the raw data such as listing Tony Robinson as an individual comedian (I would have thought he counted as 'team comedian' surely?) and misspelling "Nigel Planer", I would have appreciated seeing their classifications rather than having to blindly accept their conclusions.

The paper has 22 lines of results and an A4 page of "Discussion" which includes methodological limitations and references to anecdotal evidence. One methodological limitation they do not note is one that seems pretty darned obvious to me, viz. those who die early are likely to die at the peak of their career. They defend their working - "strongly defend" it, in fact - including their scoring system since they "[place] individuals such as John Cleese and Billy Connolly in the elite category" (not sure they realise that just because you have a strong opinion doesn't make it more than an opinion but hey). Then there's a weird bit about how laughter is good for you but not if you laugh so much your sides split - this really does read like filler - and it finishes by noting that a few comedians have publicly admitted to suffering from manic/depression and suggesting that these disorders are "not uncommon" among comedians generally even if they are "... masked and difficult to discern". There are nine references - six if you dismiss those concerned with the 'laughter is good' paragraph.

All in all, I really have to agree that
suze wrote:
The researchers have made up their own criteria to select a group of comedians. They have then made up numbers to "measure" how funny the selected comedians are. And then guess what - their numbers fit a conclusion which they'd decided before they started.

I can only imagine it got published in such a good journal because a) it's very short and b) they spend so much of the paper telling us how impossible it is for them to do the thing properly!

I'm not sure if there are disclaimers I need to make with posts like this - I'm not a professional critic, this paper is not in my area of expertise, etc?

 
suze
1104810.  Tue Dec 09, 2014 7:28 pm Reply with quote

Thanks Zziggy. You're a graduate student and you've read the paper; in my eyes, that makes you absolutely qualified to comment. I've spent my life in a liberal arts discipline; that qualifies me to recognize pseudo-scientific bullshit when I see it!

This paper is little more than an essay about a self-fulfilling prophecy, and need not detain us further. Even so, thanks to Ian Dunn for bringing it here - it's provided a bit of entertainment and given me a chance to be rude about the Daily Mail !

 
Ian Dunn
1104842.  Wed Dec 10, 2014 2:30 am Reply with quote

Thanks suze - happy to provide some entertainment. Plus I suppose part of these forums is to prove or disprove interesting things, and that's what we've done.

 
14-11-2014
1104873.  Wed Dec 10, 2014 7:25 am Reply with quote

Ian Dunn wrote:
happy to provide some entertainment.


I assumed she was barking up the wrong tree, but she was just lifting a leg. You've retweeted a retweeded media release. The newspaper doesn't have to edit nor check such a media releases. Instead the scientists had to review their own communications about their important research.

I don't know why (avoiding an overload of numbers, or complaining readers) and when (before or after publishing it for the first time), but ABC News doesn't use the confusing 40%. The Huffington Post used the 40%, but they did edit it and added "of the rest":

Quote:
Of the 23 'very funny' comedians, 78% had died, versus 40% of the rest.


In general this free publicity was too "good" to be true. Honestly I'm not sure if there was anything to disprove. So it's not true (like "only qualifying right-handed baseball pitchers committed suicide"), or there's a problem with the population.

Yet another clue is the use of general statements, like mentioning a typical depression. Next time they can use the fact that making jokes is a way to avoid bullying, and that victims of bullying will die younger. It's true, it's good enough for the paper, but it isn't a discovery.

 

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