Michael Ian Black, a New Yorker Cartoonist, and Imposter Syndrome

Yesterday, Michael Ian Black’s wrote a blog post about his new book You’re Not Doing It Right, in which he explains what it’s like to feel that you’re not doing it right.

I suspect there are many people out who feel as I used to, that everybody else has their shit figured out, that they are the only ones muddling through life with this intense feeling of incompetence, that any successes that have are accidental and any failures deserved.

And this week, in a fun and funny series of diary entries, New Yorker cartoonist Emily Flake is writing and drawing about the shame of working while clothed in “a dirty old towel.” In the drawing above, a mean angel berates her, telling her she’s “no adult at all.” These are two random recent examples in a phenomenon that plagues lots and lots of people trying to be funny.

Imposter syndrome, whether it’s an actual disorder or just a tendency to feel like a fraud, has been said to affect women, grad students, and also anyone who finds him- or herself in a writers room or in front of the computer, desperately trying to think of a tweet funny enough to prove that they belong in your twitter feed. And it makes sense! There’s no diploma given to comedians, no degree that gives you the authority to stand in front of people and tell jokes (or sit far away from them and write jokes). One of the side effects of a career field that has no barrier to entry is that there’s little assurance that you deserve to enter. In other words, a job that anyone can secretly be great at is also a job that anyone can be terrible at.

It’s also a job that rests on other people’s enjoyment for its worth. If you tell a wonderful joke that no one laughs at, can it really be a wonderful joke? When their purpose is to connect with other people, it’s no surprise that comics find it difficult to trust their own value separate from what other people think.

What do you think: do comedians have a greater tendency to feel that they’re not doing it right? And if so, why?

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