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NOT SO GROUCHY ANYMORE


Socrates is purported to have said, "Know thyself." A self-deprecating person knows her own weaknesses and shortcomings and takes this knowledge a crucial step farther. She then isn't afraid to point them out, often with ruthless insight and even irreverence. The most successful comedians make a (sorely underpaid) living off this particular brand of humor, which is the acme of comedy. And I like to use it every chance I get. To be the brunt of your own jokes humbles you, but it also elevates you in the listener's estimation. It makes you more relatable. We all have our quirks and idiosyncrasies, and most of us vigorously conceal them. We wear masks in public, put our best foot forward. It is easy to laugh at another person's foibles, far harder to make yourself the sorry punchline. Try it sometime. Not taking yourself seriously is the most liberating experience you will ever have. 

At a dinner party the other night my friend the host introduced me to a guest as the fittest guy he knows. "Second only to Michael," I added, pointing at the host. Who has a spare tire and hasn't worked out since his son was born seven years ago. But married life is a drudge, and who has time to lift weights when practically every waking hour is spent putting (high calorie, nutrient deficient, if you're like most Americans) food on your ungrateful child's plate? Besides, Michael still looks pretty good, despite eating the remaining half of his mother's birthday cake (after all the guests had left, of course) and he's flirting with fifty. And you know what? Michael is the first to finger his flab and to pinch his paunch, which is why I fucking love him!

Now, my compliment barely qualifies as self-depreciation, but nevertheless it makes the cut. Because I deflected attention and admiration off myself, let a friend shine in my reflected light, and in so doing elevated him above me. On rickety stilts, but still. A self-deprecating person makes light of his own accomplishments. Say he runs a marathon, for instance. When a friend hears of this not too shabby content of the average bucket list and asks if it was fun, he replies it was fun "to have done." Rather than elucidate the personal revelations he had while running 26 miles, and there were some, rather than discourse upon the sheer joy of moving through space as fast as his feet could carry him in front of a cheering crowd of thousands (who it must be said were cheering for someone else), he implies that the experience was a chore, something to be got through, and downplays the very accomplishment that easily ranked atop his list of biggest achievements for the last six years.

Of course the opposite of self-depreciation is to use oneself as an example of this commendable personality trait, as I just did. But calling myself out is an example of self-depreciation. For like the disapproving parent or the pedantic school mistress, the self-deprecating person is onto himself. He sees his own faults in stark clarity, and reveals them in a light that is so blindingly bright as to actually burn. But he doesn't worry about the thinning ozone layer of scathing criticism, for he transcends his own defects and helps others do the same. His introspection is a call to friend and foe to inspect their own cherished notions about themselves. And by doing so, the self-deprecator has no foe.

People are comfortable around him. He is the indulgent nanny, the cheerful grandparent, Richard Simmons. Around him you are able to breathe more easily, and smile more freely. Because not taking yourself seriously is a sign of being ego-free. Which is the only freedom deserving the name. Look at yourself and see the many targets at which to point your witty barbs. You can make fun of your lack of intelligence, for instance. Your squinty eyes or hooked nose. Your saggy balls. Cankles. Your utter lack of rhythm or inability to carry a tune. Your pear-shaped posterior, excessive flatulence, foul-smelling breath. Or your inability to take a joke, even when the joke's on you

These are all part of the human condition, and as such they are opportunities to squeeze a laugh out of the most humdrum conversation. And aren't they all? No aspect of life is off-limits, as every topic under the moon represents a valuable opportunity to poke fun at "yours truly." The true expert in this underused art can be so ruthless with his own flaws that he often makes others blush in sympathy. He elevates others in their own eyes by debasing himself to the level of the lowly cockroach, and then squishing it. If Dr. Johnson's "clubbable chap" always asks about others and in coaxing out of them their passions and pet pursuits (about which they speak in glowing terms) instantly becomes the most popular person in the room, the self-deprecating person is a close second. He talks about himself, it is true. But in doing so he doesn't excite envy or boredom, only belly laughs.

My favorite rock band, Green Day, does this all the time. "I was a young boy that had big plans, now I'm just another shitty old man," laments lead singer Billy Joe in "The Grouch." In "Long View," he complains: "I'm so damn bored, I'm going blind!!! And I smell like shit." Who hasn't felt the same? There comes a point in the life of each of us that masturbation loses its fun. When it does, make fun about it at your next get-together. Because who isn't worried about turning out like their dad? Who doesn't think the wife's a nag? Who sometimes can't get it up (especially with the wife, who's a nag)? 

Celebrate life's shittiness! Laugh out loud about it! Put it on display for the world to see. Advertise it in no uncertain terms at your next party. The laughter will flow like the cheap wine you're trying to pass off as top shelf stuff. And you'll have more fun than you ever thought grown-ups could. Because playing in the mud makes one feel like a kid again. And dragging yourself through the closet dust of your own pathetic existence cleanses your soul. Suddenly you're not so grouchy anymore.


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