Self-deprecating humor: risks and rubber chickens

In light of last night's appearance at the Al Smith dinner by President Obama and also by that other guy, I'd like to point out that self-deprecation - the act of devaluing oneself and one's qualifications or achievements - has a long and storied history as a form of humor. In fact, as the wikipedia entry notes:
Many comedians use self-deprecating humor to avoid seeming arrogant or pompous, and to help the audience identify with them. In this way, the use of self-deprecating humor could be seen as an application of the rhetorical concept of pathos.
A lot of my own humor is self-deprecating. I bring this up because my sparkling wit, my innate genius-class brilliance, and my cutting-edge fashion sense can sometimes be off-putting to normal people. Self-deprecating humor helps me to remain humble in the face of my own obvious √úbermensch superiority. It makes the people I'm with love me all the more.

Similarly, when the black void of monstrous self-hatred swallows the world in unending, Stygian horror, when I shamble across my dead landscape as the anti-Midas, corrupting and rotting everything I touch, self-deprecating humor helps me to weather the storms of psyche and find a safe shore through the darkness. It makes the people I'm with hate me just a little bit less.

Although the rubber chickens serve many purposes, the risk of self-deprecating humor is that I might do it so consistently, so effectively, that my interlocutors will come to believe (or come to believe that I believe) all the lousy, crummy things I say about myself. Or worse, that I don't believe I don't believe them, when in fact I actually believe what I believe I don't believe. That would be sad, wouldn't it? Of course, it also assumes I could do something consistently and effectively, and how likely is THAT?

Who can tell where the balance is? Humor is always a risk. The clown is not defined solely by the rubber nose and the thick layer of makeup that stands between him and the world, but without them, he doesn't exist, does he? Not as a clown, anyway.

Did you read the part up above about how "In this way, the use of self-deprecating humor could be seen as an application of the rhetorical concept of pathos"? It's like that, but with hashtags.

All of this unfolds on Twitter more than it does here on this blog. Mostly, this blog is about that book I haven't finished yet.

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.

3 comments:

  1. Seriously, you have been reading my mail! I could have written this. Loved this part especially:
    Similarly, when the black void of monstrous self-hatred swallows the world in unending, Stygian horror, when I shamble across my dead landscape as the anti-Midas, corrupting and rotting everything I touch, self-deprecating humor helps me to weather the storms of psyche and find a safe shore through the darkness. It makes the people I'm with hate me just a little bit less.

    I liked this so much I read it out loud to my pals at work. You're famous in Bracebridge!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fame has to start somewhere!

      I'm glad it spoke to you, Cathy. I sometimes have to remind myself that the reason there are names for the emotions I feel is that (duh!) other people feel them, too.

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  2. But clowns are NOT defined by their makeup! They are defined by their behaviour. Just look at Weird Al!

    And I know just what you mean. I know people who listen to certain talk shows. I've tried, but the host does that self-depracating thing so much he just comes across as incredibly obnoxious and self-centered. Don't worry though, Tony. I don't get that vibe from you at all.

    And I still like you. Jealousy and dislike are two different things. ;)

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