Humor

The Hidden Gears of Self-Deprecating Humor

(About a 5 minute read)

“The worst evil that you can do, psychologically, is to laugh at yourself. That means spitting in your own face.”  — Ayn Rand.

It might not be strictly true that Rand was an entirely humorous person, but what little I know of her humor makes me think she was no wit, and most likely to creatively come up with a genuinely humorous line or two roughly about as often as she bathed or changed her underwear for, apparently, both her personal hygiene and her sense of humor were best suited to being employed as weapons.

Then again, I myself am at a loss to understand her notion that self-depreciating humor “means spitting in your own face” — unless it be merely the mark of some emotional or psychological insecurities on her part.

Certainly, she had a lot to feel insecure about after having spent her entire career impressing almost no one but us Americans that she was an intelligent and insightful “philosopher”, and we Americans are about as well-respected for our philosophical skills and tastes as we are for our historical knowledge that the “pursuit of happiness” is a phrase found in our Constitution, rather than in the Declaration.

Rand would never have understood the people of my hometown, a tiny Midwestern community of about 2,000 people that was for its size and place in some few ways remarkable.

Notably it was remarkable for the taste of a sizeable percentage of us for self-deprecatory remarks.  And if you lacked an aptitude for such things, you need not fear.  Just as soon as you were found out, you’d be swamped by friendly people willing and eager to help you discover how to pull off self-depreciation by making fun of your many real and imagined flaws right to your face.

Like so many in my town, I grew up with a love for self-depreciation.  During the whole of my childhood and adolescence, my love for it was matched only once.  That was my love for Terri the first night I saw her breasts by moonlight, and even then I had a strange desire to tell her I too had something to  generously share with her that was just as perky as her nipples, only smaller and much less courageous.

I think that in order to have a taste for self-deprecatory humor, you must possess a bit of self-confidence, along with an equal measure of indifference should someone take you seriously.  At least when I was growing up, I tended to temporarily lose my self-depreciating sense of humor precisely when I would temporarily lose my confidence and indifference.

But is there anything else you must have?  I’m tempted to say, “a bit of creativity”, but I’m not sure that’s precisely correct.  I’ve known some pretty unoriginal folks who could make people roar.  What might be more important than creativity is insight into oneself and others.  Especially, I think, insight into what commonly embarrasses our noble and esteemed species of poo-flinging, fur-challenged super-apes.

In conjunction with that, I think it is arguable that self-deprecatory humor hits its mark — not merely when it pierces our egos — but when it causes us to laugh at the unlikeliness of someone being perfectly oblivious to the fact they should by nature be embarrassed to admit what they just then “admitted”.

Consider my earlier joke about having something “small and timid” for Teri.  I suppose you could say that — to the extent the joke was actually funny — it was funny because it poked fun at my lack of any massive endowment, and that hence, it was targeted at ego.  That’s probably true enough.

But I think it is most likely just as true — or even more true — that the improbability of my openly admitting such an embarrassing thing also plays a role.   It seems to me that the “perfect” joke comes across as someone inadvertently admitting  to an embarrassing fact about themselves, thus achieving an element of surprise, such as Rand herself used to achieve when she would at last take a shower.

So, if all of the above is true enough, then we now have four things to memorize about self-deprecatory humor before next Friday’s quiz.  The first two are about the joker:

1) He or she must possess a bit of self-confidence.

2) He or she must possess a bit of indifference to what others might think about them, should someone take them seriously.

And the second two are about the joke itself:

3) The joke must successfully pierce the joker’s ego — at least ostensibly.

4) The joke must achieve surprise by seeming to be an admission to some fact one would not normally admit.

Remember,  Friday’s quiz will is worth one-sixth of your total grade, which amounts to fully nine-tenths of our current president’s brain wattage.

Comments?  Questions?  Heart-felt bids for Ayn Rand’s fertile panties to be used as mulch?  Improbable flaws you find in the post author himself?

6 thoughts on “The Hidden Gears of Self-Deprecating Humor”

  1. Whenever Ayn Rand spoke on such weighty matters, Atlas Shrugged. Apparently, she was a heavy lift, even for Atlas.

    BTW, how does one spit in one’s own face? A long time ago, I tried spitting into the wind, but the wind took one look at my face and dropped the ball. And that’s how spitballs were born. 😦

  2. I have long been fascinated by the noble history of spitballs. So you are that mistermuse! It is an honor to meet the famed and esteemed inventor of the spitball! An honor!

    Thanks so much for dropping by the blog!

  3. I actually hate taking showers, too. But I don’t hate self-deprecating humor. (Just so you know, I take showers. I just don’t like them. BUT… my Annual Solitary Camping Adventure is just around the corner during which I DO NOT HAVE TO TAKE SHOWERS. Yay. )

  4. Well there are two points that I don’t have in common with Terri and that makes for great self-depreciation fodder, verbal, written and visual 🙂

    1. You crack me up, Kate. There was a real Terri, and we did have a brief fling, but she dumped me one day after a political difference of opinion. She was quite passionate politically.

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