32. Humour Techniques Part 4: How Embarrassment!

Author: Nola Published: over 2 years ago.
Tags: humour, funny, comedy, self-deprecating, personal, embarrassment, Miranda Hart, sitcom, breast cancer, cycling Category: Writing tips

No, I’m not having a grammatical siesta. ‘How embarrassment’ was the catchcry of Effie, the quintessential Greek-Australian hairdresser from the TV series Acropolis Now! Self-deprecating humour “in which performers target themselves and their foibles or misfortunes for comic effect” has been a mainstay for comedy writers (see Nichol).

When I was a Uni student in the early 80s, one of my favourite outfits was a flared mauve skirt that I wore with matching mauve wedgies. On my way home one day, I popped into the department store where I worked part-time. I was a fashion icon—at least until my boss Wilma pulled me aside and said, “What have you got on the back of you?” To my horror, there was a lovely chocolate-coloured smear right on the derriere region of the skirt. I’ll let you imagine what it resembled. I’d dropped a chocolate in the car a few days earlier and couldn’t find it, but my skirt did!

We’ve all had wardrobe malfunctions (haven’t we??), so why not turn them into amusing anecdotes? British comedienne Miranda Hart does that brilliantly in her sitcom Miranda where the title character hurtles from one humiliating situation to the next, yet remains undaunted because “it’s all about the recovery”. For a short compilation of some of her most embarrassing moments, click here.

One of the reasons self-deprecating humour works well is that it focuses on what we have in common and helps others to identify with us. Kare Anderson calls this “unifying humour” because it makes other people feel included. It can also lighten the mood when dealing with a more serious topic and signal that it’s okay to laugh.

When my friend Susie Gibson was going through breast cancer, she was greatly helped by her love of cycling and the support of the “gutsy girls” and “very likeable crusty old MAMILs (middle-aged men in lycra)” who rode with her. She wrote in a blog post:

“They turned a blind eye on the days when, in the rush to get out of the door, I couldn’t find my prosthesis and rode lop-sided … ‘Sorry I’m late, I couldn’t find my helmet/gloves/boob?’ … It certainly brought a new meaning to ‘I’ve got a flat.’”

Breast cancer is a personal and sensitive topic, yet Susie makes you smile and lets you know it’s alright to talk about it. To read the inspiring blog post about her 220 km Ride to Conquer Cancer, click here.

However, there is one caveat. Self-deprecating humour isn’t about tearing yourself down or making out that you’re rubbish. It’s about finding the universals we have in common and being able to laugh at your own frailties so others can laugh with you.

So what are your most embarrassing moments? I’d love to know I’m not the only one whose life is a blooper reel.

© Nola Passmore 2015

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Posted over 2 years ago by Lynne Stringer

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