Is it Better to Be an Introverted or Extroverted Comedian?

Check out the BBC interview I did here on The Why Factor: Why Not Celebrate Introverts?

You can listen to the entire interview below (at least my half of the conversation).

The stand-up comedy industry is full of diverse comedians. However, there is a very interesting (and misunderstood) pattern to comedians’ personalities. Audiences almost always believe that comedians are highly extrovert (i.e. “are the life of the party”). As research has shown (and comedians would attest) this isn’t really the case. As it turns out, many comedians tend to be introverted. This isn’t surprising to many comedians. What might be surprising, however, is just how strong the link is between introversion and creativity in all fields. This article will discuss why so many comedians are introverts, the relative strengths of introverts and extroverts in stand-up comedy, and list ways comedians can enhance the strengths of their natural personality while decreasing their weaknesses.

What is Introversion and Extroversion?

A quick definition: Extroversion is generally defined as “heightened sociability and an inclination towards social dominance.” Extroverts tend to be the “life of the party.” Introverts, however, tend to be less inclined towards socializing. Introverts tend to be happier with a good book rather than attending a party.

What’s really interesting is where this comes from. Research shows that how introverted/extroverted you are is relative to your sensitivity to the environment. Introverts are much more sensitive to their environment than extroverts. When and introvert is at a party there tends to be “too much going on” and it quickly overloads them.  An introvert might be highly sociable, but it tends to drain them of energy. Extroverts, on the other hand, thrive in highly stimulating environments.  We'll see how this plays out in creativity as a comedian in just a moment.



Better at thinking alone

Better at thinking on their feet

Think to themselves

Think out loud

Prefer close friends to large networks

Have larger networks, but less depth

Listen more than they talk

Talk more than they listen

Get over-stimulated more easily

Seek stimulation

Less likely to chase a temporary high

More likely to chase a temporary high

Great at working solo

Better at working in a team

Highly reflective

Less reflective

Take calculated risks

More likely to take risks without calculation

Prefer deep conversations

Prefer shallower conversations

Heightened sense of empathy

Lower empathy




You can see from this list that there are positive creative traits on both sides. Extroverts excel at developing large networks and risk-taking, both are important to creativity and stand-up comedy. Introverts excel at solo-activities (such as writing comedy), empathy (allows for highly personal material), and reflection (better at learning from mistakes).

Introversion and extroversion lies on a continuum. Nobody is entirely introverted or extroverted. We all have a mixture of these traits and we use them at different times. Research has shown that introverts are highly sociable when discussing limited topics in great depth. They tend to dread small talk. Once the small talk is over, it might be hard to shut them up about a topic their passionate about.

Why Comedians Tend to be Introverted

Comedians like Steve Martin, Woody Allen, and John Belushi are/were introverted, even though they’ve spent the majority of their lives in the limelight (the list is no doubt very long, but it’s difficult to find self-proclaimed introverts in entertainment). Outside of stand-up comedy the list of creative introverts is extremely impressive: Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, T.S. Elliot, Vincent Van Gogh, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniack (co-founder of Apple), and Steven Spielberg to name a few.

Why Introversion Tend to Make a Comedian More Creative

Introverts are better at working independently. While extroverts get bored with the “under-stimulating” environment of being alone with their thoughts, introverts thrive in it. This allows introverts to spend far more time writing material and working with ideas. They are also less subject to “group-think” because the vast majority of their writing is done independently.

Introverts are more sensitive to their environment as well. This is both good and bad. It’s good because an introvert is much more likely to identify “what’s out of place” (a great way to begin writing comedy), but it also means they steer clear of environments that are overly stimulating. These stimulating environments might be the source of many great stories that could easily be put on stage.

Next, introverts are highly reflective. This gives the introverted comedian two advantages. First, the more one reflects on their experience the more one learns from it. Introverts are more likely to see the subtleties of a situation or idea. Those subtleties lead to very fine distinctions that can be used to learn more nuanced ideas about how to write stand-up comedy. This nuanced understanding is the mark of an expert in any field (this is why experts always seem to answer with “it depends on the situation”… they understand the nuances).

Secondly, introverts can use their reflective nature to write better comedy material. Oftentimes, the humor is in the details. When introverts reflect on a situation or meeting a new person (whatever topic their material is on) they uncover ideas that weren’t immediately apparent but provide lots of humor. A simple reflection like “why did they make that face when I said x” might lead to an amazing bit about being socially awkward (among the many other ways to take that story). Introverts love asking these types of questions to themselves, which, if used correctly, can be a powerful ally in their comedy career.

Introverts are also more empathetic than extroverts. If you want to write material that’s highly personal, empathy is a great attribute to have. There more opportunity for writing point-of-view (POV) humor when you understand what others are thinking. Writing material with empathy is also a great way of building rapport with the audience. The audience will undoubtedly have many of the same thoughts themselves. Tapping into those thoughts and bringing them into the spotlight is a powerful strategy for comedians.

Another reason why introverts might be more common in stand-up comedy is that introverts have less social validation. Extroverts tend to naturally be social (and, therefore, socially validated). Introverted comedians tend to try to make up for their lack of social-validation through mastering a creative art form like stand-up comedy. But this lack of social validation can create powerful motivation for comedians. Who would put in more effort? A comedian that wants to do comedy because it’d be a lot of fun? Or a comedian that wants to do comedy to validate themselves in the world? Clearly, the comedian who’s self-identity is on the line is going to put far more effort into developing material than the one that simply views it as a hobby.

Where Extroverts Reign

Here’s where extroverts have a clear advantage: networking. There are two advantages here, one creative the other regarding marketing. Regarding creativity, a network can be used effectively for generating creative ideas. Its safe to say this creative advantage is outweighed by the many creative advantages of introverts (or else we’d see extroverts dominating creative fields).

Extroverts have people that will champion their creative ideas. Every creative result goes through two stages: ideation (coming up with the idea) and marketing (getting others to see the validity of an idea). Both are required to be creative. Nobody would have cared if Steve Wozniak developed the first personal computer if it stayed in Steve Job’s garage. We only cared when it came out into the world.

The same is true for a comedian’s career. A comedian can become amazingly funny, but if nobody hears about them then they will have little impact (YouTube and other social media have made this slightly easier, but it’s still not as easy for introverts as extroverts). Similarly, a comedian can be very good at networking, but if they can’t back it up with something remarkable, few people will take notice. Again, both are required. Introverts tend to excel at developing the material but falter when it comes to getting it out into the world, extroverts tend to not be as good at the initial stage, but are much better at getting that material out there once it’s complete. These are just tendencies. While it’s an overgeneralization, it does help comedians identify strengths and weaknesses.

When an extrovert is ready to hit the road they’ll likely find many other comedians that they’ve networked with willing to take them. Introverts will be more likely to hold themselves back, continually increasing quality until another comedian takes the initiative and invites them. Both strategies work out in the end.

Better Networking For Introverts

Interestingly, the most highly creative people tend to occupy both ends of the introvert/extrovert spectrum. However, they do it at different times. One of famed psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s (don’t even try to pronounce it) criteria for a creative personality is the ability to be introverted or extroverted when it’s needed. Here’s how you can do just that.

In her book Quiet: the Power of Introverts, author Susan Cain notes research that suggests it’s both positive and healthy to stretch yourself towards the other end of the spectrum. She states that “the most creative people tend to be socially-poised introverts.”

I suggest two strategies for highly introverted comedians (new comedians will get more out of this than veterans):

One of my favorite strategies for introverts is to set a quota. If you find networking difficult, set an initially low quota of talking to one or two comedians at a show. When you’re done… you’re done. Release any stress that might come from not “meeting 5 or 10, etc.” While initially slow, this strategy can pick up steam. Undoubtedly, you’ll develop closer relationships with others and that relationships will naturally lead to others. The key here is meeting the goal and then releasing any feelings of guilt for not surpassing the goal.

A second strategy is to attempt to find a common passion with those your networking with (sometimes this will be comedy, but not necessarily always). When introverts are passionate about a subject they tend to shift their focus from themselves to the content of the conversation. The shyness fades away.

Jared Volle, M.S.