Self-deprecating humor is one of the most disarming forms of communication. It charms when done without sacrificing self-respect. Those using it benefit psychologically as they let go of suffocating ego.

Self-deprecating Legends

It’s curious to think of people who poke fun at themselves as legends. I’m referring to people who are widely admired that don’t mind exposing themselves to some good-natured ridicule at times. In a world where performance and image are subject to such scrutiny, it is increasingly difficult to lower the defenses and show a weaker or more vulnerable side.

The first person who comes to mind is Garrison Keillor, the author and brilliant humorist who created and hosted Prairie Home Companion for so many years. Not known for his good looks, he sometimes took some light swipes at his appearance. In one interview, he was asked about playing himself in the film version of his iconic radio show. He said, “It’s difficult to watch yourself…well, you can see why!”

Will Rogers was a master at portraying himself in a humble light. His homespun wisdom was doled out during his stage appearances in which he often aimed his humor inward. “I read about eight newspapers in a day. When I’m in a town with only one newspaper, I read it eight times.”
Or, “All I know is just what I read in the papers, and that’s an alibi for my ignorance.” And, “I’m not a real movie star. I’ve still got the same wife I started out with twenty-eight years ago.”

One of the best contemporary examples of a self-deprecating humorist is Tina Fey. She was once invited to the American Museum of Natural History as the host for a gala event. Her opening remarks were classic Tina Fey and were representative of how lightly she takes herself. “I’m here tonight not just as a New Yorker and a West Sider who loves this institution, but also as a new trustee of the museum. I was very honored. Which means that I am allowed to go into any diorama that I want. Last night I slept between two Lenape warriors. This morning, I came over to the museum.”

When we get swept away by our emotions because things don’t go our way or when we feel offended by a comment from another person, we sacrifice our happiness to a degree. We aren’t perfect and we each have a lot to learn. Let us take a moment and take a cue from those who can acknowledge their own foibles with a sparkle in the eye.

Beyond Humor

Humor is not the only way of taking ourselves lightly. Those who consider their lives super-important and deadly serious may not be able to enjoy the small things or what is happening in the moment. Attitude is a key ingredient in changing our self-image. On www.speakingtree.in, there’s a helpful blog post that says in part, “It is widely understood that the state of a person’s mind depends upon his attitude to people and objects present and to the events occurring around him. There is also a well-known saying: ‘you cannot change events, but you can change your attitude towards them.’ Yet when actual situations arise, attitudinal change is difficult because of the mindset already formed.

“Attitude is determined by pride and prejudices, desires and ambitions, priorities and preferences, needs and compulsions. These, in turn, are influenced by habits and addictions, learning’s and dependencies, beliefs and outlook, whims and fancies and a host of other factors. Pre-dispositions thus formed produce certain mental pulls and pushes which determine responses and reactions to external situations. That’s why attitudes towards the same event vary from person to person. New paradigms are called for to break the old mindsets and create inner capabilities that can automatically take care of anything that comes your way.”

Loving yourself, being gentle and forgiving yourself are parts of the attitude shift that can help you handle whatever life throws in your path. Practicing them every day can bring you peace in times of stress or hardship.

Summing it Up

Betty White, another entertainer who freely targets herself in her self-deprecating humor, sums it up well. “It’s your outlook on life that counts. If you take yourself lightly and don’t take yourself too seriously, pretty soon you can find the humor in our everyday lives. And sometimes it can be a lifesaver.”

This life is a blessing, not a curse. There’s so much irony, so much opportunity for learning and so much potential for fun in everyday living. There’s a great saying by G.K. Chesterton we should remember anytime we bog down in ourselves. “Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.”