Why You’va Gotta Laugh At Yourself Before You Laugh At Others

Laugh At Self

You’re never the villain in your own story. Except in comedy. In comedy, ego is the villain. Every time a character in a comedic storyline tries to hide themselves or appear better for the sake of getting love or a job, they falter in the pretense and then take off the mask and reveal themselves. By laughing at themselves and their own short-sightedness at the end, they feel lighter and freer and become more humble, likable, and trustworthy. In other words, an audience-pleaser!

Let’s explore how to apply this logic to content marketing.

Be Self-Deprecating Before You’re Egotistical

But if you have a story or comedian who is NOT laughing at themselves but laughing at others, there’s NOT that same light and free feeling at the end. A comedian sitting atop a perch of moral narcissism, looking down at all the “fools” below and mocking them often isn’t funny, it’s preachy. It may be funny to the rest of the people sitting on the perch and reveling in haughty hatred, but it’s humor with an expiration date. Egocentric humor doesn’t hold us; humanistic humor does.  You must be able to laugh at yourself–your own brand, as it were–before you laugh at others.

Humor that builds its foundation on certainty and mocking others (especially your competitors) is tempting. Why not point out their flaws and marinate in your victimhood? Truly, there is a strange kind of high in feeling like things happen to you and it’s not your fault and you don’t deserve it. The responsibility is no longer on you to change. It’s on the cruelty and chaos of the world against you. Blame is easy to pass onto someone else. That’s why it’s tempting for comics to rip on everyone else but themselves. But that type of comedy is ineffective because you must know how to laugh at yourself and your own shortsightedness before you an audience will accept you putting down others.

Customers Don’t Look Up To Brands That Look Down On Them

What does this have to do with using humor in content marketing? Easy. Customers don’t look up to brands that look down on them. They don’t need more know-it-alls and lectures. They like to see a brand that can laugh at themselves because that brand is then humanized. Why do we like to see celebrities eating cheese in their pajamas while they binge-watch Friends? Because we see that despite the glamour and wealth and elite lifestyle, at the end of the day, they’re just like us—humans.

Comedy that pokes fun at our fallibility, our self delusion, and reality is what has succeeded since ancient Greece.  Ever since Aristophanes in ancient Greece, the essence of comedy has lain in exposing certainty or self delusion as ridiculous. Often, people’s identities are obscured or hidden or split and then the end people become whole by reconciling either with their friends, family, lover, or their identity. We feel good from that because it’s humble. We don’t feel good from a cocky person proving themselves right and being overly certain and condescending.

Bulletproof: The Self Deprecating Nutrition Brand

One brand that really nails the self deprecating humanistic humor is Bulletproof. Instead of telling us what to do, they show us what they’re doing, what mistakes they make, and how they’re learning and growing. They’re coming from a place of “we’re just like you” and not “we know best.” For instance, they’ll share Instagram posts about shopping in a grocery store while hungry and buying the entire Aisle 6. That’s atypical for a nutrition brand. Most nutrition brands don’t laugh off binge eating or falling off the health wagon.

But Bulletproof regularly acknowledges weaknesses. They don’t claim to know it all. And it’s that “laughing WITH us” and not “laughing AT us” that makes their content sparkle and pop. Customers, in turn, SHARE relatable content like that with their friends over social media more so than they share a scolding lecture.

Build Trust, Not Fear

Making fun of your self before others isn’t just about showing humility either. It’s about building trust. Think about how when you have a friend who’s two-faced and talks about shared friends to you and you in turn, assume they talk about YOU to others too. This makes you feel less free and light around them. The trust is ruined. That’s the same mistrust you feel for comedies or brands that rely on mockery. You’re laughing with a sour aftertaste and ripple of fear there.

So when whatever you’re writing, whether it’s a marketing script, a social media status, a joke, a stand-up routine, or a story, check that you are not falling into the trap of superiority-complex humor. Audiences can detect when you’re looking down on them and it’s an immediate unfollow. Make a list of your favorite comedy movies, TV shows, and comedians and you’ll see more often than not that they employ self deprecating humor FIRST, before they go mocking others. Indeed, if you want to get away with making fun of others, be humble enough to make fun of yourself first. A brand that uses this type of humor is not lecturing or demanding or begging us, but simply charming and disarming us.

For more humorous insights into this topic, don’t miss The Serious Business of Poking Fun at Yourself!

Samantha S writes direct, dynamic, digestible copy for any purpose and any medium. She has written for apps, games, websites, literary journals, trade magazines, newspapers, e-commerce brands and health//nutrition brands. Samantha’s most notable achievements are authoring a guidebook for College Prowler, interviewing Leonardo Dicaprio, Zac Efron, and Amy Sherman-Palladino for The Hollywood Reporter, reviewing books for Publishers Weekly, covering the World Series of Poker, teaching creative writing at Harvard-Westlake, and working as Editor-in-Chief of The Oval literary magazine.


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