Sunday, November 20, 2011

On the Origins of Comedy and Other Neuroses

There was a story in a paper about the French comedian Dany Boon, famous over there and genuinely funny. But where did it come from? He says it: “My mother was pregnant with me at 17. “ She was then disowned by her father because her husband was a French North African. (Black). His mother cried all of the time because she was totally rejected by the family. Dany tried always to cheer her up. He needed a happy mother, and he did his best. He had no father, of course, who took off early on. So he was reared by a young kid was neither ready for motherhood and had no support. Dany shifted from child to parent; he found he could make her laugh by acting funny and telling jokes. He elevated his neurosis to an art form, which is what a lot of us do, perhaps not so successfully but we try. We get smart in school in order that one’s parents have an intelligent child. We all try to get love in the way that parents point us, even unconsciously, both them and us.

But we see here how what happens to us as young kids has a lifelong effect. Some of us have the means to please the parent and others don’t. When we do we don’t suffer as much; we transmute in this case depression into humor. We no longer feel the hurt of not having a normal, loving mother; we are too focused on pleasing them at all costs. Dany later bought his mother a house that made both of them happy. He became what parents usually do; help out the child, and she was a child.

This cannot happen to everyone. Another child might work hard in business to support the child-like mother. Dany perfected his neurosis. Anyone else would have had to find another way to get the mother to love him. His way of trying would become a template or prototype that would follow him throughout his life. He would go on doing his schtick everywhere and for others as well. His behavior would become fixed and enduring. It starts with a parent and ends up as a lifestyle.

Dany might take drugs later and never know why. He would not know that he hurts too because he was too busy attending to his mother. All of his life would involve taking care of her so that he could finally have a loving, happy mother; something that will never happen. She was and is an unloved child. She needed a father much more than being a mother. Her need became his life. Isn’t that true of so many of us. A failed athlete like Andre Agassi’s father became Agassi’s life. A failed actress becomes the destiny of her daughter, and so on. Parental need becomes our destiny. My father felt stupid and the only way he could feel smart was to make me stupid, which he did at every turn. Later, I would never consider college because I felt too stupid to do it. I would ask him something like the meaning of the word, which he never knew, so he would say, “Look it up, dummy.” That feeling stayed deep inside and colored all of my life. Until…….I was sent to college as part of going to flight school, and I got “A’s”. For the first time I began to feel not stupid.

So to reiterate; your parent’s needs become your destiny; not only any parent but the one where there was some possibility of love to be had. That is the one that sets you on the struggle. Once the prototype sets in it applies to everyone and everywhere. It becomes your personality. All to handle a pain when you were very little.


  1. I agree, the best way to raise a child is to let them be themselves, difficult in this culture where everyone is always praising-coercing w/'good boy/girl', 'look at so&so, he's eaten all his dinner'- I know the intention may sometimes seem right but at what cost? Having felt one's own pain and full, constant awareness is needed in allowing a child just to be. Then they can become what they naturally are (&blow us all away w/their gifts, just joking!)

  2. 1. I once had a dream where I was struggling to make my father understand something. He finally got it. I then immediately woke up and I felt utterly exhausted.

    Maybe this is part of my act-out in my 'building utopia' blog; that is, to make my symbolic fathers understand.

    Just a thought.

    2. Your fathers defense--to make you "stupid" so he can be "brighter"--is terribly unfortunate. There are many people with anti-social defenses like this. They push so many people away.

    3. Humor is a weird thing. It must have some form of instinctual function. I'm suspicious that it's related to unconscious testing for interpersonal compatibility - and probably a lot more.

    Down here in New Zealand, for example, I find it very hard to get along with Polynesians on a more "real" level. Interestingly their humor does absolutely nothing for me - and I think they would say the same of me!

  3. so if neurosis derives from trying to meet the need of the other, so that your own need gets met in return, (love, acceptance, emotional security) would you also argue that more severe cases of schizophrenia or psychosis have their origins in the same problem Art? It seems to me that the whole idea of problems being intrapsychic (freud's position) and essentially biological is wrong. I would argue that it is always a case of being born into a difficult (social) environment which forces you into an extreme existential position and as a result leads to other developmental difficulties because some situations we are not equipped for. But there is a genetic aspect to and some people will find ways to cope with certain environmental challenges better than others. For example, if Dany Boon had not had the requisite intelligence to serve his comedic ability how would he have coped? His increased suffering may well have led him to create a fantasy life for example.

  4. "I learnt something 'bout my ma and my pa
    they didn't want me so they made me a star..."

    - John Lennon

  5. I don't know if all comedy has neurotic origin, but I do appreciate that there is comedy out there , whatever its origin. I have been watching a lot of Woody Allen again recently, and it has been a comfort.I am so much like Woody Allen, or at least the characters he plays in his films.Sure it's OK to laugh at his awkwardness, his nervousnes, his anxiety etc...,as long as the laughter is not malicious, but, I can tell you, it is no laughing matter when all these uncomfortable things happen.Perhaps we can at least laugh at it all, when it occurs, if we can't do anything about it.


  6. andrew makes an interesting point. why do we laugh? my friend and i couldn't stop laughing at the sight of a cat walking by. it was bouncing too much with each step. it looked so silly, so hilarious, but why?

    do chimpanzees laugh?

    i think andrew might be right. perhaps you are more likely to survive when you bond with a person who has similar brain frequencies; a person who can identify certain subtleties in your reality.

  7. Wow, Lennon was always so insightful, did he say that before or after PT?!
    I've also always loved his "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans".

    I've noticed w/working w/abusive/violent men over the years that often those w/particularly violent/traumatic childhoods themselves, from their own account, can often have a marked grandiose sense of importance. They are stars in their own minds. Possibly making up for/defending the excruciating knowledge that they weren't loved or even kept safe as little children..

  8. About the senseless wars in the Arab countries
    How can we solve an equation already presented answers? Intellectually… we keep away from the presentation with further "education" of mind constructions to calm the pain at our schools. To become something means everything… to not feel how we suffer. Boys gangs for analgesic effects continuously to get shimmer of the General's oak leaves and stars...generals with orders to kill to “treat”…numb his own pain and further be worshiped as a hero. Suspicion against the truths is an intellectual constructs to calm pain.


  9. Hi,

    I feel it's the contradictions in life that trigger humour in us. In our own sphere of responsibility they generate friction and the need to stretch ones' psyche further than one's own capacity to endure the consequences. . . . sometimes that's funny, other times tragic, etc. Irony is the clash of un suspected opposites.

    Is it legitimate to cultivate a satirical view? I feel so because contradictions never go away, life is full of them till we die. It's not just neurotic.

    You don't have to be neurotic to experience contradictions and fail to behave perfectly in the face of the ensuing adversity. Humour about that is often a cultural thing because so much of what is contrary is to do with the idiosyncracies in the way we live in groups. That differs from culture to culture. Though some of the funniest moments are when people from different cultures (and languages) momentarily identify with the same pan cultural 'situation situation'.

    Most people laugh hardest when the underdog gets one over the over dog, When the egoist gets his come-uppance. . .
    Particularly when the egoist doesn't get it and becomes more and more infuriated by his own contradictions and his audiences heckling him for it. . . oh dear. . . I've been on both sides of that one.

    Laughter is essential I feel, it is not just neurotic.

    Paul G.

  10. Paul G.: I agree w/you, laughter is not just neurotic. Sense of humour plays a big part of my life. And you don't find it in psychotics

  11. So, if we are discussing laughter here, let's actually laugh also, so...

    (excerpt from Woody Allen's "Manhattan":)

    The Woody and Diane Keaton characters are a couple in the middle of a fight:

    Diane: I think I'll phone my analyst Donny..

    Woody: Oh right, you're gonna phone that analyst of yours who phones you at 3am weaping over the phone!? Right!

    Diane: Well, his methods are unorthodox...

    :) :)


  12. Jacquie, it was after PT, on the album Plastic Ono Band, his first after the Beatles.

    I also love the quote you cite...

  13. Hi Jacquie,

    -"you don't find it (humour) in psychotics"-.

    Speaking from the professional point of view, I suppose that when we have finally learned not to hate/laugh at them/us for their/our own sub-conscious narcissism we probably qualify as a Primal Therapist (7yrs training).

    It's a tall order to be 'defenceless/empathic' in the face of a psychotic.

    Paul G.

  14. Hi Paul: not sure if my comment was understood, sometimes I abbreviate. I meant from my (professional) experience psychotics don't have a sense of humour, and they are along the advanced line of neurosis.
    Our treating them certainly required us to be empathic w/them, I agree often a tall order when they were in full blown mania or intensely delusional for eg

  15. well jacquie, your experience with psychotics might be more limited than mine. i lived with a clinically diagnosed psychotic for about six months and visited another daily during that time (i won't explain's a long story). we were unemployed and spent most of our time together. psychotics do laugh sometimes. they are not always in hell (as long as they take their medication).

    right from the start, they both acted as if they had known me for years. they boldly approached some strangers and kept well away from others. sometimes they would say hello to a really grumpy-looking person, and sometimes they would avoid the most unassuming characters. and sure enough, the grumpy person would reveal a friendly personality, and later, the unassuming person would hit a child or something like that. if you're an employer looking for staff, ask a 'functional' psychotic for recruitment advice.

    both of my friends were intelligent, and you would never have suspected they were psychotic until you asked them certain questions, or until somebody triggered their rage. they both had permanent delusions. i was surrounded by at least five psychotics every day, and got to know them fairly well. some of them had obsessions very similar to mine!...but they couldn't tell the difference between a nagging obsession and a real emergency.

  16. A poem from a reader (translated into English, from Serbian):

    I listen what you talk my friend,
    I know you want just best for me,
    well,don't be mead,
    but,it's better to give advises to someone else..

    There is no feelings in me,
    and for who I can do good,
    I'm thirty five and like hundred,
    I'm just shape of life..

    We all need courage for tears,
    We all need soul to move on,
    And,I don't have it any more,
    Sadness find me too soon,
    And I can't do for,
    I prepare my self to leave..

  17. Hey Art, know this one:

    This Be The Verse

    They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
    They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

    But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
    Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another's throats.

    Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
    Get out as early as you can,
    And don't have any kids yourself.

    --Philip Larkin


Review of "Beyond Belief"

This thought-provoking and important book shows how people are drawn toward dangerous beliefs.
“Belief can manifest itself in world-changing ways—and did, in some of history’s ugliest moments, from the rise of Adolf Hitler to the Jonestown mass suicide in 1979. Arthur Janov, a renowned psychologist who penned The Primal Scream, fearlessly tackles the subject of why and how strong believers willingly embrace even the most deranged leaders.
Beyond Belief begins with a lucid explanation of belief systems that, writes Janov, “are maps, something to help us navigate through life more effectively.” While belief systems are not presented as inherently bad, the author concentrates not just on why people adopt belief systems, but why “alienated individuals” in particular seek out “belief systems on the fringes.” The result is a book that is both illuminating and sobering. It explores, for example, how a strongly-held belief can lead radical Islamist jihadists to murder others in suicide acts. Janov writes, “I believe if people had more love in this life, they would not be so anxious to end it in favor of some imaginary existence.”
One of the most compelling aspects of Beyond Belief is the author’s liberal use of case studies, most of which are related in the first person by individuals whose lives were dramatically affected by their involvement in cults. These stories offer an exceptional perspective on the manner in which belief systems can take hold and shape one’s experiences. Joan’s tale, for instance, both engaging and disturbing, describes what it was like to join the Hare Krishnas. Even though she left the sect, observing that participants “are stunted in spiritual awareness,” Joan considers returning someday because “there’s a certain protection there.”
Janov’s great insight into cultish leaders is particularly interesting; he believes such people have had childhoods in which they were “rejected and unloved,” because “only unloved people want to become the wise man or woman (although it is usually male) imparting words of wisdom to others.” This is just one reason why Beyond Belief is such a thought-provoking, important book.”
Barry Silverstein, Freelance Writer

Quotes for "Life Before Birth"

“Life Before Birth is a thrilling journey of discovery, a real joy to read. Janov writes like no one else on the human mind—engaging, brilliant, passionate, and honest.
He is the best writer today on what makes us human—he shows us how the mind works, how it goes wrong, and how to put it right . . . He presents a brand-new approach to dealing with depression, emotional pain, anxiety, and addiction.”
Paul Thompson, PhD, Professor of Neurology, UCLA School of Medicine

Art Janov, one of the pioneers of fetal and early infant experiences and future mental health issues, offers a robust vision of how the earliest traumas of life can percolate through the brains, minds and lives of individuals. He focuses on both the shifting tides of brain emotional systems and the life-long consequences that can result, as well as the novel interventions, and clinical understanding, that need to be implemented in order to bring about the brain-mind changes that can restore affective equanimity. The transitions from feelings of persistent affective turmoil to psychological wholeness, requires both an understanding of the brain changes and a therapist that can work with the affective mind at primary-process levels. Life Before Birth, is a manifesto that provides a robust argument for increasing attention to the neuro-mental lives of fetuses and infants, and the widespread ramifications on mental health if we do not. Without an accurate developmental history of troubled minds, coordinated with a recognition of the primal emotional powers of the lowest ancestral regions of the human brain, therapists will be lost in their attempt to restore psychological balance.
Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D.
Bailey Endowed Chair of Animal Well Being Science
Washington State University

Dr. Janov’s essential insight—that our earliest experiences strongly influence later well being—is no longer in doubt. Thanks to advances in neuroscience, immunology, and epigenetics, we can now see some of the mechanisms of action at the heart of these developmental processes. His long-held belief that the brain, human development, and psychological well being need to studied in the context of evolution—from the brainstem up—now lies at the heart of the integration of neuroscience and psychotherapy.
Grounded in these two principles, Dr. Janov continues to explore the lifelong impact of prenatal, birth, and early experiences on our brains and minds. Simultaneously “old school” and revolutionary, he synthesizes traditional psychodynamic theories with cutting-edge science while consistently highlighting the limitations of a strict, “top-down” talking cure. Whether or not you agree with his philosophical assumptions, therapeutic practices, or theoretical conclusions, I promise you an interesting and thought-provoking journey.
Lou Cozolino, PsyD, Professor of Psychology, Pepperdine University

In Life Before Birth Dr. Arthur Janov illuminates the sources of much that happens during life after birth. Lucidly, the pioneer of primal therapy provides the scientific rationale for treatments that take us through our original, non-verbal memories—to essential depths of experience that the superficial cognitive-behavioral modalities currently in fashion cannot possibly touch, let alone transform.
Gabor Maté MD, author of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction

An expansive analysis! This book attempts to explain the impact of critical developmental windows in the past, implores us to improve the lives of pregnant women in the present, and has implications for understanding our children, ourselves, and our collective future. I’m not sure whether primal therapy works or not, but it certainly deserves systematic testing in well-designed, assessor-blinded, randomized controlled clinical trials.
K.J.S. Anand, MBBS, D. Phil, FAACP, FCCM, FRCPCH, Professor of Pediatrics, Anesthesiology, Anatomy & Neurobiology, Senior Scholar, Center for Excellence in Faith and Health, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare System

A baby's brain grows more while in the womb than at any time in a child's life. Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script That Rules Our Lives is a valuable guide to creating healthier babies and offers insight into healing our early primal wounds. Dr. Janov integrates the most recent scientific research about prenatal development with the psychobiological reality that these early experiences do cast a long shadow over our entire lifespan. With a wealth of experience and a history of successful psychotherapeutic treatment, Dr. Janov is well positioned to speak with clarity and precision on a topic that remains critically important.
Paula Thomson, PsyD, Associate Professor, California State University, Northridge & Professor Emeritus, York University

"I am enthralled.
Dr. Janov has crafted a compelling and prophetic opus that could rightly dictate
PhD thesis topics for decades to come. Devoid of any "New Age" pseudoscience,
this work never strays from scientific orthodoxy and yet is perfectly accessible and
downright fascinating to any lay person interested in the mysteries of the human psyche."
Dr. Bernard Park, MD, MPH

His new book “Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” shows that primal therapy, the lower-brain therapeutic method popularized in the 1970’s international bestseller “Primal Scream” and his early work with John Lennon, may help alleviate depression and anxiety disorders, normalize blood pressure and serotonin levels, and improve the functioning of the immune system.
One of the book’s most intriguing theories is that fetal imprinting, an evolutionary strategy to prepare children to cope with life, establishes a permanent set-point in a child's physiology. Baby's born to mothers highly anxious during pregnancy, whether from war, natural disasters, failed marriages, or other stressful life conditions, may thus be prone to mental illness and brain dysfunction later in life. Early traumatic events such as low oxygen at birth, painkillers and antidepressants administered to the mother during pregnancy, poor maternal nutrition, and a lack of parental affection in the first years of life may compound the effect.
In making the case for a brand-new, unified field theory of psychotherapy, Dr. Janov weaves together the evolutionary theories of Jean Baptiste Larmarck, the fetal development studies of Vivette Glover and K.J.S. Anand, and fascinating new research by the psychiatrist Elissa Epel suggesting that telomeres—a region of repetitive DNA critical in predicting life expectancy—may be significantly altered during pregnancy.
After explaining how hormonal and neurologic processes in the womb provide a blueprint for later mental illness and disease, Dr. Janov charts a revolutionary new course for psychotherapy. He provides a sharp critique of cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, and other popular “talk therapy” models for treating addiction and mental illness, which he argues do not reach the limbic system and brainstem, where the effects of early trauma are registered in the nervous system.
“Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” is scheduled to be published by NTI Upstream in October 2011, and has tremendous implications for the future of modern psychology, pediatrics, pregnancy, and women’s health.