It’s sweaty. The tension surges between two opponents, both shielding their faces with red boxing gloves. Just seconds before the bell rings, one of the opponents throws both paws into the air, slings a bitter punch back onto his own face and surrenders. This is self-deprecation, and it’s as harmful to your mental health as a boxing match blow.
Pete Davidson, a stand-up comedian on Saturday Night Live, is notorious for not just poking fun at himself, but also for making very dark statements –and in a surprisingly nonchalant manner. When these declarations are met with laughter, it’s not because we all think it’s a joke, it’s because he wants us to laugh with him. It’s his way of coping.
“Yeah, and after observing John’s life, I publicly threatened suicide,” said Davidson, the audience erupting in laughter. “I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t make that joke, but it is funny.”
The audience continued to laugh as Davidson updated the public on “The Weekend Update.” The clip currently holds 2.8 million views on YouTube, and though the comments are mostly positive and funny, why are we laughing at his pain?
“Laughter is just one of those fundamental things,” said Tej Joshi, a senior at the University of Miami studying broadcast journalism, who aspires to be a comedy television host. “I don’t know what the name of the emotion would be– maybe happiness. But, if I had to put it down to one phrase, comedy is the ability or the wanting to make other people laugh.”
Comedy comes in many different flavors and tones. From stand-up to late night to sketch, the way people react to jokes reflects a need from the audience. Today, political satire and self-deprecation are the fastest growing trends in comedy.
With the current state of politics and all its divisiveness, political satire has transformed into a new form of entertainment. It now not only makes us laugh, but is a source of news. Late Night with Stephen Colbert, for example, provides an opportunity to laugh your head off and consume updates on the world and current administration. Media has evolved from hot takes to informed jokes, and with every new comedian talk-show, the demand continues to grow.
“It’s informative, which is what people want to see. It’s infotainment,” said Joshi. “The idea of comedy and news coming together is continuing to grow in more shows.”
At its core, self-deprecation stems from the philosophies of stoicism which say that happiness is a virtue and judgment should be based on behavior, rather than words. It says that we don’t control and cannot rely on external events, only ourselves and our responses. In a sense, self-deprecation is a way of proving that your self-esteem is strong enough to take a hit without losing your sense of humor.
Of course, sometimes laughing at your pain with the rest of the crowd can be healthy because you’ve accepted your shortcomings and aren’t afraid to shed light on them. It’s both a display of confidence in yourself and an exercise in humility.“A lot of what I find funny is pointing out the weird things people do and don’t notice,” said Jeremy Erdheim, executive producer of
Erdheim uses self-deprecation as a way of owning his quirky peculiarities, while also using it as an ice-breaking technique when meeting new people. When things are framed in a comedic way, it allows for a more intimate connection. It is a balance, though. When these statements start to shape who you are and become a prevalent part of your identity, a vicious cycle begins to form in which you can be quickly consumed by a black hole of negative energy. There’s a fine line between keeping yourself in check and putting yourself down.
The sinister side of self-deprecation lies in consistency. Consistently telling yourself you’re not something, that you’re not good enough, doesn’t build you up. There’s no resilience of the mind when your biggest critic is yourself.
“When it goes from ‘what can I do?’ to ‘this is who I am,’ that’s it,” said Dorothy Addae, a psychology doctoral intern at the UM Counseling Center. “When it starts becoming the identity, that becomes harmful.”
The difference lies between telling yourself you suck or vocalizing it to your surrounding peers. Exclaiming how much you hate yourself while you cram for a final exam serves a purpose. It’s the notion of commiserating that brings the group together. It’s a common struggle toward a common goal. It adds a layer of comedic effect as you compare the worst of these moments to the worst things in life no matter how ridiculous of a comparison that may be.
Psychologist Natalie Kretsch promotes self-compassion, the opposite of self-deprecation, through her practice, which is centered around the idea of the common humanity. She stresses that we are all imperfect people who have imperfect lives and live in an imperfect
“In that moment of sadness or failure, being able to realize that other people feel this way too, that this isn’t just me. This is part of life,” Kretsch said.
Your thinking is your perception and your perception is your reality. Self-awareness plays a main role in this, because if you don’t recognize the pattern, then calling yourself a loser directly impacts your emotions.
The act itself goes hand-in-hand with the idea of knowing yourself. It’s about being able to not just identify and capitalize on your strengths, but also being comfortable with your weaknesses.
We are not all tall, charming, mathematicians, painters, engineers or writers –but we are all human.
“It’s so important to remember that you are a human being,” Addae said. “You have goals, and dreams, and hopes and wishes. You have things that you are good at, or you excel at or you have talents in. And then you have things that you struggle with. You are more than things you are doing, more than what you are striving for.