October 6, 2010

Can you laugh at yourself?



"Humor is a powerful weapon," says Jeff Nussbaum, a speechwriter who has worked for Al Gore and Joe Biden. "But to earn the right to wield it against others, you need to turn it against yourself first."

Why do we love a speaker who uses self-deprecating humor?

It humanizes him.

It makes him less threatening or intimidating.

It defuses tension.

It shows he doesn't take himself too seriously.

It makes us laugh... and we love to laugh.

Self-deprecating humor allows us to be smart, funny and confident, while also demonstrating modesty and humility about those qualities. After all, a person who uses self-deprecating humor has to be confident, or she wouldn't risk making fun of herself!

What is self-deprecating (or self-effacing) humor? It's simply making fun of yourself to get a laugh. It's different than flat-out putting yourself down in that you are doing it specifically as a joke, not as a serious statement.

Someone I've written about a few times on this blog is British comedian Eddie Izzard, because I'm such a fan of his self-deprecating humor when he gets into a jam. One of my favorite bits is when he writes a "note to self" on his hand:

"No one got that. Never do that piece again."

"Lost everyone. No one understands."

"No one ever gets that one."

"Where is that bit going?"

He's confident enough in his routine that he can make a joke about a joke that doesn't work. And then he moves on.

Here's another example of someone who used self-deprecating humor at all the right times:

"I thought that remark accusing me of having amnesia was uncalled for. I just wish I could remember who said it." ~ former President Ronald Reagan

Reagan's former speechwriter, Doug Gamble, said, "It seems one of the personality traits we most value in others is a sense of humor. In fact, one of the worst things you can say about a person is that he doesn't have one."

However, you should be careful when using self-deprecating humor:

Use it too frequently and you begin to appear less confident.

Use it too emphatically and you look like you're fishing for compliments.

Use it to define a group and, even if you're part of that group, you'll make someone angry (see this article about Netflix CEO's faux pas in making fun of his fellow Americans. I thought his joke was funny!)

If you'd like to use more humor in your presentations, but aren't sure where to begin, try some self-deprecating humor. We all instinctively know how to do it and we do it all the time!

2 comments. Please add yours! :

Heather Stubbs said...

Great post, Lisa. In one speech I tried a joke that didn't get a laugh. Since I almost never tell jokes, I was prepared ahead of time for this, and then said, "I tried that joke at home in front of a mirror and got the same reaction." THAT got a laugh!

Lisa Braithwaite said...

That's awesome, Heather! I may steal that one from you. :-)

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