Tuesday, February 28, 2017

David Sedaris and Self-Deprecation

            One of the largest aspects of the humor of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (and indeed, most of Sedaris’s works as a whole) is its basis in self-deprecation, especially self-deprecation as a sort of coping device. I touched upon this in one of my questions, but I’m interested in both the way Sedaris uses it and its usage in humor as a whole. Sedaris often branches from outright comical stories to ones with much more depressing, or serious undertones—most prominently his facing discrimination/homophobia and genuine self-loathing. On one occasion Sedaris outright calls himself “evil” for exposing so much of his family’s past and present in his essays and being, paradoxically, too truthful about them. Yet he does all this in a tone that’s humorous. He points out his shortcomings and mistakes in jokes, and when he doesn’t and outright expresses disappointment in himself, he quickly reverts back to humor in the next sentence. His humorous self-deprecation seems to be doing two jobs here: one, serving as a coping method for his actual self-perceived shortcomings, and two, making for an enjoyable, and introspective, read. The first point I’ve already touched on, and plays on the idea of humor equals tragedy plus time we’ve discussed in class. Generally, when something tragic or terrible happens to us, it takes a while to forget about it. Laughing about it can help speed along this process; it makes the pain we’ve gone through (or are going through) less debilitating and more manageable. It also lightens the pain somewhat in the literal sense. If we search for the comedy in something painful to us and find it, focusing on that comedy rather on the pain has the same effect—less debilitating, more manageable.

The latter point is more obvious—after all, who wants to read an essay in which the author just lists every single thing he finds wrong about himself? It’d be incredibly depressing. And yet that’s essentially what Sedaris does. He does list most of his shortcomings and problems he’s faced throughout life but makes them palatable through humor—it makes the uncomfortable truth comfortable. That’s another positive feature of self-deprecating humor; it allows us to explore our faults in a way that’s not directly critical. Rather than obsessing over them or outright denying them, we can embrace them and poke fun at them and ourselves. We’re able to laugh at ourselves and describe how we wish we could improve in a way that’s positive rather than negative. It’s healthy, to an extent. And additionally, like when it’s employed in the manner that David Sedaris employs it, self-deprecating humor helps others embrace their faults in a healthy manner as well. It shows that it’s okay to be critical of one’s self and one’s faults and additionally, when the faults of the reader line up with the faults of the author, even offers a chance for self-reflection. It allows the reader to wonder if they do that too, and if yes, how they can improve on that or learn to deal with it, as well as a connection with the author—yes, we’re all only human, yes, we all have faults, and yes, we can all learn to cope with our faults somehow. Overall, the self-deprecation of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim is effective and points to how self-deprecation in general is an effective means of humor.

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