Asking any comedian or lover of comedy how they feel about self-deprecating humor leaves one with a confusing array of answers, most ranging from vehement opposition to enthusiastic acceptance.
For whatever reason, self-deprecating humor has become a controversial topic within the world of comedy: some see it as a crutch for the comedians’ insecurities, whereas others see it as a hilarious, self-aware technique. The consensus on whether or not self-deprecating humor is a crutch or a form of comedy essentially boils down to personal preference.
For Katherine Holden, a senior studying mass communications, self-deprecating humor has always been a staple. Holden, who has been doing stand-up comedy since her freshman year, believes that self-deprecating humor is a “genuine comedic form.”
“It’s one of those things that’s a staple of comedy,” Holden says. “It makes the audience more comfortable if you make fun of yourself before.”
On the contrary, Ari Kantor, a freshman who is a mass communications interest major, does not share Holden’s enthusiasm and belief in self-deprecating humor. Instead, Kantor, who is a member of an on-campus improv group, The Rubber Chickens, has lukewarm feelings toward the comedic form.
Kantor notes that using self-deprecating humor in improv is almost unheard of. According to him, self-deprecating humor does not fit with the structure of improv.
“It sounds cheesy, but improv kind of reflects how we act on a day-to-day basis,” Kantor says. “We act, we justify and we live with whatever happens. A lot of the time, all self-deprecating humor does is emphasize an insecurity. You can’t respond to it.”
Kantor also notes that he has found self-deprecating humor to have a psychological effect on its users. He recalls experiences of being an “edgy tweenager ” and making jokes of his own insecurities before anyone else could make them. According to Kantor, making a joke for the sole purpose of having someone in the audience negate it for you is unhealthy and doesn’t support growth as a person.
However, self-deprecating humor can also be seen by some comedians as a way to relate to their audience. Dan Rosenfield, a junior studying sports management and a member of the on-campus improv group Unfiltered, claims to use self-deprecating humor as a way to gain the trust of the audience.
“I mostly try to touch on things that college kids go through, because that’s my main audience,” Rosenfield says. “I think a lot of the things we joke about is kind of what everyone is going through. That’s what makes the joke work.”
Ultimately, there is no consensus on whether or not self-deprecating humor is simply a crutch for insecurities or a genuine comedic form. However, most comedians agree that it is up to the personal preference of the user and the tasteful execution of self-deprecating jokes.
“If it’s what you like to do, and it makes people laugh, keep doing it,” Rosenfield says. “Try to use is as a motivation to improve yourself instead of getting down in yourself all the time.”
Disclosure: Dan Rosenfield is a Senior Sports Reporter with The Review.