Self-deprecating humor is pretty commonplace. It’s easy to pull off, and no one can be offended, because you’re only disparaging yourself. It’s a great way to look humble and witty at the same time, and a self-deprecating joke makes everyone around you feel that much better about themselves. This style of humor is a useful tool, certainly. But, like I said, it’s pretty commonplace. People have a knack for selling themselves short, because doing the opposite makes them look arrogant. And there are a fair number of societal norms that ask us to think poorly of ourselves, including social media and beauty standards. We’re all pretty much in agreement, though, that being humble is more noble than being boastful, right? I like to think so. It’s just the polite thing to do, really. When it comes to comedy, though, self-deprecation gets tricky.
Self-deprecating humor is the safest form of humor. The only target is the person who made the joke; that’s simple enough. And a fair number of professional comedians use self-deprecation to their advantage. Rodney Dangerfield discusses his misfortunes and plays the victim to craft this hilariously frustrated and desperate character. In his movies, Woody Allen pairs his self-deprecating humor with a superiority complex, which creates ambiguity in how he actually feels about himself. Louis C.K. self-deprecates and equates his flaws with society’s to make a statement. These three comedians use this style of humor to make a point; it’s a tool in their toolbox. However, in all three cases, these comedians are performing as characters; the self-deprecation is not necessarily a reflection of the artist. In our day-to-day lives, however, we don’t play characters. So, instead, all of this self-deprecating humor comes from a place of truth. Let’s talk about that.
We laugh harder at the people we like more. This is why, despite how funny, talented and attractive I am, no one laughs at me. I mean, they laugh at me, but it’s usually behind my back, and I don’t hear about it until they accidentally send me a Facebook group message saying —
you get the point. That being said, we also tend to like people who are more humble and more grateful. That’s a given. Slap these two ideas together, and we get a feedback loop that encourages self-deprecating humor. The more you sell yourself short, the more people will appreciate your humility and the harder they’ll laugh. But, like I said, these jokes come from a place of truth. A joke about how weak and lanky you are wouldn’t be funny if you weren’t actually, to some extent, weak and lanky. When you make these jokes, you’re leaving yourself pretty vulnerable to criticism; as a result, people appreciate the joke that much more. The feedback loop strengthens.
The odd reward system that develops essentially asks you to think less of yourself and to continue to sell yourself short to other people. While it’s great to keep your ego in check, it’s also way too easy for this feedback loop to spiral into something harmful. Even when the jokes are a bit exaggerated, the repetition and the positive reception to that exaggeration encourages you to adopt that exaggerated point of view. It’s pretty toxic.
Take care in the kinds of jokes you make. In the wake of this whole Halloween costume hullabaloo, it’s important to consider your audience when you select your costume. At the same time, think about how you’re treating yourself when you make jokes. Comedy is a very powerful tool, and it’s often used to spread hate. That hate not only extends toward others, but toward yourself as well.
I have 33 words to kill as of this word. What are y’all going to be for Halloween? I want to be Mettaton from “Undertale,” but that seems like a lot of work. I don’t have that kind of time, you know? I’m a busy bee.
Michael Smith is a mechanical engineering junior. His column appears on Tuesdays.