Laughing at oneself can be an empowering and freeing experience. If a person criticizes himself, he takes away the ability for another to use the same words to hurt him. He is in control of his own sense of self, and thus joins in on the joke rather than assuming the position of merely the subject. Sigmund Freud notes in his work On Humour that “a person adopts a humorous attitude towards himself in order to ward off possible suffering” (Freud 1955, 164). Freud’s analysis outlines the power within the individual, claiming that laughter is a method in which one may assume the role of both the amused parent and the silly child by looking inward and finding humour in one’s own faults or attributes.
This is exemplified in comedy roasts, in which the invitees, all in the name of fun and laughter, ridicule the guest of honour. Comedy Central hosts roasts frequently, paying homage to the tradition started at the Friar’s Club in New York City in 1907 (Stampler 2015). Within this practice of humiliation lies an honour; to be roasted means to have achieved enough fame to be a worthy subject, and further, it represents that the person has a good enough sense of humour to laugh at him or herself.
A popular trend on YouTube appeared in the summer of 2016 that challenged content creators to roast themselves. The platform was overwhelmed by diss tracks by popular YouTubers that ranged from laughable and silly to cruel-intentioned and offensive, and this development showed that people on the site were seeking to turn the jokes inward to create a more positive form of laughter. Beloved creator Jenna Marbles took to the challenge and produced a video that sits at 13 million views; in the clip, she makes fun of herself for fading in relevancy and presents a sort of internal monologue of self-critique. It’s funny, but it also presents the message that anything an audience member might say to criticize Jenna or bring her down, she already knows. This empowers Jenna, and allows the audience to laugh along with her, sharing in the ideas and appreciating the vulnerability.
Freud, Sigmund. “On Humor,” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Hogarth, 1955, 160-166.
Stampler, Laura. “Justin Bieber Comedy Central Roast: A History of Roasts.” Time, Time, 30 Mar. 2015, time.com/3761846/justin-bieber-history-roast/.