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Self-Deprecating Humour: Is Comedy The Lemon For Our Coping Glass of Lemonade?

The relationship of comedy with mental health is a layered concept.

Published
Mind It
5 min read
Self-Deprecating Humour: Is Comedy The Lemon For Our Coping Glass of Lemonade?
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What would you prefer, if given a choice, being funny or attractive? I'd personally go for funny since looks are bound to fade away someday. Unless you're Paul Rudd.

Jokes are good, but they too depend on that thin line one must try not to cross especially when it's about someone else. Beyond that line, the intent of cheering someone might turn into something unexpectedly ugly. But what about jokes that we crack about ourselves?

Self-deprecating jokes are funny most of the times, as we all relate to them better, and without feeling belittled. Who knew talking about our own traumas and shortcomings could be funny too, right?

To decipher all this and understand better, FIT spoke to spoke to experts and performers.

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The Relationship Between Comedy & Mental Health

"The relationship of comedy with mental health is a layered concept. In psychological terms, comedy can be seen as being used as a defense mechanism to deal with unconscious and conscious painful material," says Dr Chandrima Misra Mukherjee, Co-head of Psychological Services, Artemis Hospital, Gurugram.

It is also a higher order defense mechanism against emotional pain; it shows some amount of a person’s resilience, to be able to use humor as a way to cope with life’s trauma.

"It reduces the emotional pain of the event and makes a person feel more empowered ,  at the least, in talking about it. It also indicates that the person has worked through some amount of his trauma. However, it isn’t necessarily always a healthy coping."
Dr Chandrima Misra Mukherjee, Co-head of Psychological Services, Artemis Hospital, Gurugram
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Sometimes, humour can be used as a way of expressing unmet needs – hurt, pain, and unresolved trauma. Whether it is a coping skill, or a unresolved trauma or need, its relationship with humour can be only determined by how much self-work a person has done with their emotional pain.

Comedy – A Coping Mechanism 

Coping strategies are typical conscious choices we make to deal with emotional conflicts and internal or external stressors and sometimes can help to defend against anxiety and depressive symptoms. A person can have healthy or unhealthy coping strategies.

"Performing a comedy act, or watching it, both can be considered to be a good coping mechanism provided the comedian is trying to be funny without being offensive."
Dr. Vikas Gaur, Professor & Head (Department of Psychiatry), Amrita Hospital, Faridabad
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"I wouldn't really say it's a great coping mechanism. When I started, my very first jokes happened to be 'fat jokes' since I feel I'm fat and part of the reason I turned towards comedy and being the funny one was that I wanted to create my own personality as I was neither smart or athletic as a kid," says Aditya Dubey, 30, stand up Comedian.

When someone is performing comedy around something that has deeply affected them at some point, one can assume, it means that the person has already worked through some of their trauma or is working on it, says Dr Chandrima Misra.

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Is It a Good Idea, Though?

"I guess some comedy acts are being created or engineered by various standup comedians by taking a clue from their past hardships or traumatic events they have witnessed," says Dr Vikas Gaur.

He also says that it's possible that they use it to make their audience laugh and at the same time doing this probably helps them deal with their trauma in a better manner. It's something like – 'when life gives you lemons, make lemonade'.

"When someone from the audience relates to your insecurities, they connect with you. It helps them feel the same thing and send the message that it's okay to be a certain way. They come to laugh, they laugh, have a good time and also find a new friend in me - someone who feels the same. They realise they're not alone."
Siddharth Sudhakar, 31 Stand Up Comedian
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A comedian using humor to talk about trauma, can help to de-stigmatize the trauma, and create hope in people that at some point they can reach a place where they too, can freely speak about their trauma. The key here is priming the audience so that it doesn’t reach beyond the tolerance level of certain traumatized individual.

"However it is better to keep certain traumatic instances out of comedy because the audience may not be psychologically ready for such kind of humor. So, if you are using this kind of humor, please come with a disclaimer so that the audience who have not worked through can stay away from it," says Dr Chandrima Misra. For example, when some people talk about body weight issues, it can be quite triggering for individuals who are regularly body shamed, and are struggling with repercussions of body image issues.  

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"Cracking self-deprecation jokes initially made me feel like I own this thing that once shook my confidence. Now if I think of the jokes I cracked earlier, I don't think I can do it. There is a thin line and it might be a joke on me but I'd rather do it without being derogatory towards myself."
Aditya Dubey, 30, Stand up Comedian

In the best-case scenario, any comedian using humor to talk about trauma, can help to de-stigmatize the trauma, and create hope in people that at some point they can reach a place where they too, can freely speak about their trauma. The idea is priming the audience so that it doesn’t reach beyond the tolerance level of certain traumatized individual.

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How Does Humour Affect Mental Health?

"Humor can be good. It helps to build a narrative and can give us a vocabulary around our painful experience. It gives us a tool to talk about our pain without getting over whelmed with it," says Dr Chandrima. It helps us to feel less vulnerable while talking about our pain while in company of others. However sometimes it is dangerous.

"Humour can interrupt the process of working through trauma. The magnitude and impact of pain and emotional challenge remains unacknowledged as we end up learning to side step it by using humour. Trauma then gets locked inside and is covered by humor, which can lead to mental health issues such as shame, depression, anxiety, etc."
Dr Chandrima Misra Mukherjee, Co-head of Psychological Services, Artemis Hospital, Gurugram

When someone else is not in the same mental space as the person who is joking is, it can be very triggering for the other person. They may feel emotional distant from, misunderstood and lonely in the relationship.

Therefore one has to be very careful when one is using humor as a way to deal with one’s own trauma or talk about someone else’s trauma.  

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read and Breaking News at the Quint, browse for more from fit and mind-it

Topics:  Comedy   Depression   Mental Health 

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