Metafilter: If I wanted a long, boring story with no point to it, I got my life
May 20, 2009 2:41 PM   Subscribe

When does making fun of yourself make you more attractive? Suppose, in an initial conversation, you say:
I hate this “to be continued” on TV. I was watching this show with a friend of mine the other day and I felt it was coming. We were into the story and when there was 5 minutes left you realize they can’t make it! There is no way to wrap it up in 5 minutes. The whole reason to watch a TV show is because it ends. If I wanted a long, boring story with no point to it, I got my life.
Would this make you seem more attractive?

The answer, according to social scientists at the University of New Mexico, is that it works if your status is high enough (pdf).

A example from one of the comments in the first link:
Conan O’Brien. This high-status host packs a one-two punch his fans, male and female alike, find irresistible:

1. Though he has made gentle spoofing of nerds and their culture a signature theme (as well as a charming embrace of old-timey, vaudeville, “snappy” wise-guy usages), he spoofs more often still what he takes to be his own nerd genes, his mind-of-its-own red pompadour, his stringbean physique, and his allied insecurities. And in collaborating with the wonderful dry and squeaky-clean standup comic Jim Gaffigan on regular cartoon segments starring the duo as mock superheroes (”Pale Force”, after their whiter-than-thou complexions), Conan obviously delights in the fact that his animated double incarnates pronounced cowardice, wispy limbs, and a voice that wouldn’t strike terror in an underworld mouse.

2. He also stands almost alone, in a profession in which egotist snark sometimes seems a job requirement, not to have a single mean bone in his body, and is thus a subtle and potent force for betterment in a corrupt culture.
Related: The Pratfall Effect
posted by AceRock (67 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Only in America does self-depreciating (deprecratory? WTF? you're not supposed to shit on yourself, just mock yourself a little) humour require both explanation and academic study.
posted by GuyZero at 2:50 PM on May 20, 2009 [8 favorites]


I wanted to like this article, but I guess it was just over my head. I'm so stupid.
posted by jbickers at 2:51 PM on May 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


If I wanted a long, boring story with no point to it, I got my life.

It would not seem attractive, self-deprecating humor aside, because this JOKE IS OLD AND HAS BEEN DONE TO DEATH.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 2:54 PM on May 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


I've always been a big fan of self-deprecating humor. I guess this study tells me I should ask my friends if it makes me more or less high status when I use it. OTOH, I think I'll just keep making fun of myself cause its funny.
posted by gagglezoomer at 2:54 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


So I mean has science pretty much settled on the notion that every human action, proclivity, and property is a direct result of fierce darwinian sexual competition or what.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 2:54 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


About TierneyLab
John Tierney always wanted to be a scientist but went into journalism because its peer-review process was a great deal easier to sneak through.
Clearly.
posted by dersins at 2:55 PM on May 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


Isn't the "To Be Continued" joke originally a Seinfeld bit? It seems strange that there's no cite there.
posted by Greg Nog at 2:55 PM on May 20, 2009 [3 favorites]



So I mean has science pretty much settled on the notion that every human action, proclivity, and property is a direct result of fierce darwinian sexual competition or what.


You just said that to get laid.
posted by lalochezia at 2:56 PM on May 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


I'm so stupid.

You're doing it wrong. Try this one: "You know what else requires an academic study? The search for my brain."

Hmm. Okay, maybe not that one...
posted by Kikkoman at 2:56 PM on May 20, 2009


When I was dating, I'd walk up to a girl in a bar and shout, "FUCK YOU I'M HILARIOUS, YOU BITCH! I'M THE MOST HILARIOUSNESS DUDE ALL UP IN THE PLACE!" and then I would kick her in the shins. After the initial shock wore, off, I'd get all aghast and apologize, "Sorry, sorry. I'm really bad at self-deprecation..."

A single tear would roll down my cheek and I would not be going home alone that night.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:56 PM on May 20, 2009 [29 favorites]


Yeah, Greg Nog, from this episode.
posted by AceRock at 2:57 PM on May 20, 2009


If someone is totally awesome, they become more human and relatable when they point out their own flaws.

If someone totally sucks, their suckiness is confirmed and they are made more pitiful when they point out their own flaws.

That's my opinion, for what it's worth (not much).
posted by brain_drain at 3:02 PM on May 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


The researchers need to take culture into account. I was brought up in a Woody-Allen-ish, East-coast-ish, Jewish, intellectual family. We're not high-status, and we all self-deprecate. And within our culture, it doesn't seem like low-self esteem. It just seems normal/funny.

But I don't get good responses when I do it around more "wasp-ish" people. I've been asked, "Why would you say something like that about yourself?" And when I said I was just joking, I got a head-shake in response.
posted by grumblebee at 3:03 PM on May 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


I was brought up in a Woody-Allen-ish, East-coast-ish, Jewish, intellectual family.

Why would you say something like that about yourself?
posted by Greg Nog at 3:09 PM on May 20, 2009 [17 favorites]


If somebody, in the initial conversation, said their life was boring, I would believe them. And walk away.

I'm gullible that way.
posted by anewc2 at 3:11 PM on May 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


A Roz Chast cartoon which I cannot find online is appropriate:

FOR THE ARTISTIC LOOK, WRAP YOUR HOLIDAY GIFTS IN NEWSPAPER!

All you will need:

1. Newspapers

2. Excellent gifts.
posted by applemeat at 3:11 PM on May 20, 2009 [6 favorites]


i'm not an asshole, i'm just other deprecating.
posted by doobiedoo at 3:12 PM on May 20, 2009


Being self-depreciating is an attractive quality to an extent. Too much of it can be annoying, if it strays into just putting themselves down all the time instead of gentle self-mocking. I had a roommate like that. It got to the point where my friends and I were perpetually trying to show her the bright side of her accomplishments, which was odd to say the least.

I think the only thing worse is false modesty - people clearly full of themselves who put on humble airs because they realize crowing incessantly is off-putting.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:13 PM on May 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


So I mean has science pretty much settled on the notion that every human action, proclivity, and property is a direct result of fierce darwinian sexual competition or what.

If the definition of "science" is "evolutionary psychology/sociology", then yes.
posted by muddgirl at 3:14 PM on May 20, 2009


Darwinians don't believe that all characteristics are selected for. For instance, some traits are byproducts of other traits being selected.
posted by grumblebee at 3:19 PM on May 20, 2009


But then again, what do I know. I'm not a scientist. I'm just your regular, every-day, run-of-the-mill human being who happens to possess an Adonis-like body and a Sauronesque intelligence.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:19 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Isn't the "To Be Continued" joke originally a Seinfeld bit?

Well, it certainly seems fitting, since Jerry Seinfeld's1 life is indeed a long boring story with no point to it.

1Jerry Seinfeld the TV character. I don't know enough about Jerry Seinfeld the real person to say whether his life is a long boring story with no point.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:23 PM on May 20, 2009


I think that self-deprecation might not work for low-status people because then it just sounds like a realistic self-assessment and is kind of sad. Also, it seems like the people who joke about their boring lives when you first meet them, really do have boring lives.
posted by betweenthebars at 3:26 PM on May 20, 2009


I think that the reason it's more attractive from a higher-status person is because it's funnier that way. Someone who actually seems to have a sucky life saying that their life sucks isn't a joke, it's a complaint.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:29 PM on May 20, 2009


I was on a double-date that was going bad. I started to make fun of how much fun we weren't having. My buddy pulled me aside.

"Dude, don't mention how you think this date sucks."
"Why?"
"Because eventually, the girls will start to agree with you."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:30 PM on May 20, 2009


Hugh Grant is an awful example, everyone with a modicum of intelligence sees his bumbler act for the cloying gimmick it is.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 3:40 PM on May 20, 2009


We're not high-status, and we all self-deprecate. And within our culture, it doesn't seem like low-self esteem. It just seems normal/funny.

Also, Canada and much of the UK. In Australia it's called "tall poppy syndrome" and is somehow subtly different.
posted by GuyZero at 3:44 PM on May 20, 2009


Someone who actually has a sucky life making a joke about it is not funny because you're suddenly thinking about whether they have a gun, and that if they shoot their own heads it's gonna make a mess on your carpet, and then the cops are going to show up, and chalk the silhouette over the blood, and then your carpet is never going to be the same again.

Carpet stains are not funny.
posted by qvantamon at 3:45 PM on May 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sauronesque intelligence

Dude got beat by two midgets. That may not be the analogue of "Adonis-like" you're looking for.
posted by GuyZero at 3:45 PM on May 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


Dude got beat by two midgets.

Lots of intelligent people will pay good money for that ($20, SAIT).

Er... or so I heard...
posted by qvantamon at 3:53 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


If I wanted a long, boring story with no point to it, I got my life.

What ever happened to self-confidence being attractive? If you don't mean it and are just humoring me, you're a patronizing douche. If you do mean it, you're a loser.

Just goes to show that people with self-esteem issues have a knack for finding each other.
posted by aquafortis at 3:55 PM on May 20, 2009


Conan O'Brien is a professional comedian. That's why it's funnier when he's self-depricating than when I am. I don't think Lance Armstrong rides a bike better than me because his status is higher.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 4:00 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


"In a charmingly titled paper"....now THERE is where I want to get the information that helps me form relationships...
posted by HuronBob at 4:01 PM on May 20, 2009


"I don't think Lance Armstrong rides a bike better than me because his status is higher.".. there's a million jokes in that statement... I don't know where to start...
posted by HuronBob at 4:03 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dude got beat by two midgets.

GuyZero, please. Little people.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:10 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you don't mean it and are just humoring me, you're a patronizing douche. If you do mean it, you're a loser.

Self-esteem fluctuates, at least for me. "If I wanted a long, boring story with no point to it, I got my life" expresses exactly how I feel -- sometimes. At other times, I feel like I lead a life of spice and adventure. Though contradictory, both of those feelings are very real.

Also, I'm a really great teacher, a good stage director, pretty good writer, and a decent programmer; I'm a clumsy dancer, an out-of-tune singer, and a wretched gardener. I can't spell and I suck and math. I'm geeky looking.

I'm great -- and I suck.

Most of my friends are great too. They also suck.

What I appreciate most from them is honesty and open-ness. I don't want them to talk about how the suck all the time, because that wouldn't honestly describe their feelings. On the other hand, I know they do sometimes feel that way, and it makes them seem much more human and vulnerable (in a good way) to me if the admit it.
posted by grumblebee at 4:11 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


aquafortis: What ever happened to self-confidence being attractive? If you don't mean it and are just humoring me, you're a patronizing douche. If you do mean it, you're a loser.
People keep putting the cart before the horse. If you are physically attractive, or failing that very wealthy and powerful, everything you do will seem more (pick one or more) charming, intelligent, confident (not arrogant!), insightful, appropriate, desirable, funny, etc, etc, etc.

Really, everything you'll ever need to know about human interactions can be found in this charming SNL skit about sexual harassment starring Tom Brady...
posted by hincandenza at 4:17 PM on May 20, 2009 [7 favorites]


I'm The Guy Who Sucks
posted by Ian A.T. at 4:56 PM on May 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


There is a significant difference between joking about one's own weaknesses (with is the definition of self-deprication) and joking about how one's life sucks (usually caused by everyone but oneself). Everyone assumes Rodney Dangerfield's act was the former when it was 99% the latter. He complained "I don't get no respect" but his style and persona was one of someone who didn't deserve respect, mixing the message to his benefit. In fact, the best use of truly Self-Deprecating humor is in 'softening up' your audience before launching into your ego-tastic sales pitch or outwardly targeted attacks (humorous or otherwise). Too much and you dig yourself a pity hole, too little and you appear to be using it manipulatively, even if you aren't.

For me, using it manipulatively is just too much work.
posted by wendell at 5:07 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Scientists Discover What High School Nerds Have Known For Ages, Film At 11
posted by DU at 5:30 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Did anyone else find the article's reference to Hugh Grant and Chris Martin out of the blue and unsupported? Also, I think I'd rather read examples of their being bumbly than the actual argument on the attractiveness of self-deprication. (Which is probably a nod in the direction that it is indeed attractive?)
Oh and also, this whole thing reminds me of those endless asinine comments from modern female celebrities, who wish to sound relatable:
If it wasn't for my trainer, I'd never get off the couch!
I can't imagine a better time than drinking a beer and watching the game with my boyfriend.
My favorite food? Pizza, ofcourse!
I do break down and have a Big Mac every once in a while!
I'm not perfect!
It takes a whole crew and lots of hours for me to look this way. You should see me before I have my coffee in the morning!
I was a total nerd in high school!
I'm still blown away when people say I'm a sex symbol. I was an ugly duckling, I'm telling you.
I couldn't find a date for the prom.

And my personal favorite, I'm a t-shirt and jeans kind of girl!
posted by thebellafonte at 6:08 PM on May 20, 2009


Most humor is funny because it makes fun of something. Self-deprecating humor is funny because when you make fun of yourself you don't risk hurting anyone else.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 6:36 PM on May 20, 2009


I often tell jokes at my own expense, because JESUS H. CHRIST, WHO THE HELL DOES THAT GUY THINK HE IS, ANYWAY?!! FUCKER.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:34 PM on May 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


So, interestingly enough, self deprecation only works when you're better than the people you're telling the joke to.

Hey, backhanded insult!
posted by Talanvor at 8:03 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Talanvor: when you're perceived as being better.

I'm about as self-deprecating as they come and get very mixed results depending on the audience. I was raised in a similar environment to grumblebee. I get fantastic results with those kind of Jews. Others? Not so much. I guess the ultimate proof is how accepting your circle of friends are of your self-deprecation. And that's only a guess because I have no friends.

Overall, the article WAS interesting, though. And while it was longer than my penis, it wasn't nearly as boring.

I'll leave the determination of "life sucks" or "sucks at life" to the reader.
posted by zerokey at 8:09 PM on May 20, 2009


There's a middle ground, a sweet spot to this kind of humor. If you truly think you suck then it comes off as pitiful; on the opposite end of the spectrum if you're patently claiming "I suck" but you really think you're utterly awesome then it's annoying and fake. But if you can pull off an "I suck" comment while conveying the sense that you aren't taking yourself too seriously either way and that you're comfortable enough in who you are that you can simultaneously poke fun at your own foibles, rampant self-pity, AND overweening narcissism ... now THAT'S comedy!
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:54 PM on May 20, 2009


I'm pretty sure this article just confirmed that I am "high status" slash totally awesome. Which I totally am.

Am I doing this right?
posted by lunit at 8:57 PM on May 20, 2009


I wanted to link this to Joe Piscopo, comparing pre- and post-body building phase... but it's late, and I don't have the energy.
posted by deliquescent at 9:27 PM on May 20, 2009


I hide post-it notes around the house and in my stuff so I can find them months later that say things like "go fuck yourself," does that count?
posted by Smedleyman at 9:45 PM on May 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty sure this article just confirmed that I am "high status" slash totally awesome. Which I totally am.

Am I doing this right?


No, you should really use / instead of typing 'slash'. The full word only works in spoken conversation, and even it makes one sound like a bit of a dick.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:13 PM on May 20, 2009


thebellafonte- regarding the unsupported use of Hugh Grant and Chris Martin I think that the author touches on a point that is interesting- in general I have found that the UK is more at home with self deprecatory humour. While this is of course not true of all sub-cultures within the two countries I did find that when I was in the US and was using my knee jerk 'I'm a jerk' lines in conversation rather than being appreciated a lot of people did think that I had self-esteem issues and could not seem to grasp the concept I was putting myself down for a laugh.

The article has made me think though- maybe the lower uptake on my self deprecatory humour in the US was due to being a 'furriner' and therefore people saw me as lower status than I was used to in my own culture- therefore undermining my joke.
posted by Gratishades at 1:54 AM on May 21, 2009


I've never, personally, used self-deprecation as a form of humour, because I have friends for that.
posted by Sparx at 2:24 AM on May 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think one of my favorite examples of celebrity self-deprication was Harry Hamlin getting People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive award in 1987, and responding, "When I look in the mirror, I don't see the sexiest man alive." I love that. I think Dennis Miller at the time said something like, "I'm surprised he even gets a reflection."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:49 AM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


The peacock tail example is telling; and it depends on having other ways to signal that you're a high status asshole who doesn't need to flaunt all his (her? I doubt it) power to get laid because a little dab'll do ya.

Oh this Rolex? Just a little bauble I picked up in Switzerland last week.

My mentor was the greatest genius in the history of the field, compared to him I'm nothing.

etc.

Somehow, "I hate 'to be continued' TV shows" doesn't do the trick. It suggests you have time to watch TV shows.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:55 AM on May 21, 2009


I can never think of anything self deprecatingly funny to say, so I usually end up punching myself in the face.

I've gotten a few numbers from the ladies. Psychiatrists, mostly.
posted by orme at 4:56 AM on May 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Not to get all meta-communicative on you but, man, if this isn't the chattiest Chatfilter that ever chatted, I don't know what is. It could go into the Wiki as the definitive example, it is so pitch perfect.
posted by y2karl at 5:39 AM on May 21, 2009


apart from the fact that it's not on the green, of course.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:01 AM on May 21, 2009


"I'm very self-deprecating, but I'm not very good at it." -Greg Knauss.
posted by plinth at 8:13 AM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


The point of self-deprecation is to demonstrate that you have so much self-esteem that you can give it away, freely. Self-esteem directly correlates to social status -- one drives the other.
posted by LordSludge at 8:39 AM on May 21, 2009


I used to go the self-deprecatory route, it didn't really work and just made me seem lame or cloying for pity. So one day I went in the complete opposite direction of absurdly confident. Here are some good pick up lines that have granted me untold access to trim:

"Hey baby, why don't we go back to my place and play 'guess who's dick is amazing' "

"Pardon me, would you mind if I borrowed your vagina for 5-20 minutes?"

"Let me put the sex on you"

"Take off your clothes immediately."

and so on.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 9:51 AM on May 21, 2009


Here are some good pick up lines that have granted me untold access to trim

I'm going to go ahead and assume this is totally tongue-in-cheek, because otherwise, ick.
posted by dersins at 10:04 AM on May 21, 2009


That whole "high status/low status, etc." thing constantly amuses me. The improv folks use it all the time. The conceptual set o tools is constantly being reiterated at the ImprovOlympic and Second City, etc. Funny thing is it mostly came from Close who borrowed it from Crowley et.al. (the universal mind, etc.). Not that it's not useful within its limits, but it sort of reiterates cultishly. (Hell, L.Ron Hubbard borrowed the war of angels stuff from the same source and repackaged it, fire is useful too. Doesn't mean you want to take it internally) I'm not saying improv theaters are dens of cultists. I just get a kick out of it and the origin. Kind of funny how committed some folks in comedy are to the concept.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:05 AM on May 21, 2009


Question: "Why do women have no brains?"

Answer: "No dick to put them in."

I think we're all offended now.

I think the explanation in the link of why the joke has differential effect depending upon the status of the teller is more complicated than it need be. For a high-status teller, the listener does not believe the description of the teller's life as being boring and pointless, whereas for a low-status person, it may be perceived as accurate. Hence, for the high-status teller, self-deprecation; for the low-status, real life.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:44 AM on May 21, 2009


"Hey baby, why don't we go back to my place and play 'guess who's dick is amazing' "

What if it turns out to be hers?
posted by qvantamon at 2:42 PM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


then you could be pretty sure you really are in thailand.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:47 PM on May 21, 2009


well, i DO suck.
posted by tehloki at 7:05 PM on May 21, 2009


but do you also swallow?
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:41 PM on May 21, 2009


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