Put-Down Humor

This blog is written by Lee Gale Gruen to help Baby Boomers, seniors, retirees, and those soon to retire find joy, excitement, and satisfaction in life after retirement. Her public lecture on this subject is titled: “Reinventing Yourself in Your Retirement.” Her memoir, Adventures with Dad: A Father and Daughter’s Journey Through a Senior Acting Class, is available by clicking here Amazon.com. Click here for her website: http://AdventuresWithDadTheBook.com

Now, on to my blog:

Comedy HouseWhy are so many jokes based on putting someone else down?  A roast (ceremonious public ridiculing) is filled with anecdotes, jabs, stabs, and emphasis on the failings and negative aspects of the roastee.  He/she must suffer through the ordeal with a smile-plastered-on-face look to prove that he can take it.

If someone has a weight problem, no matter how accomplished he might be, there is always a fat joke lurking.  There are the jokes about ethnicity, sexual orientation, intellectual challenges, country of origin, frugality, and on and on. What does the joke teller or the passer-along of the denigrating email get out of his act?  What do the bystanders who laugh thereby encouraging this behavior get out of it?  Why is this type of “humor” so pervasive starting from childhood?

Maybe it makes the offender feel superior.  That, of course, means that they must feel inferior.  Yes, we all have feelings of inferiority no matter how attractive, skillful, intelligent, or wealthy we are.  We have a tendency to focus on the parts of us that aren’t as desirable as those of some arbitrary standard that has been set by others: parents, peers, authority figures, media, big business, etc., and to feel inferior as a result.  Oh, we may be very good at hiding those feelings from the world and even from ourselves, but we sure love a good joke at the expense of another.

A put-down comedian who rose in the ranks in the 1960s and persisted into the 2000s, commanded a high salary, and booked lots of appearances was Don Rickles (now deceased).  He was lauded as “one of the best insult comics of all time,” and was sarcastically dubbed “Mr. Warmth” due to his being the polar opposite.

As a young woman, I somehow found myself at a night club attending a live performance of Don Rickles.  His whole delivery consisted of finding people in the audience and ridiculing some aspect of them–brutally, in my opinion.  I was a nervous wreck during his entire act fearing that he’d pick on me.  Although I never found his brand of humor appealing, so many did.  You should have heard the laughter in that night club.

Don Rickles himself was a small, unattractive man with a loud mouth that spewed venom.  One can only wonder what he endured growing up as a child.  To me, he is a spot-on example of “the best defense is a good offense.”

Must we boost ourselves up at the expense of others?  Do we really go home feeling better having put someone else down?  Is there another way to improve our own self-esteem?


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Photo credit: awsheffield on Visual Hunt / CC BY


Filed under active seniors, Baby boomers, gerontology, healthy aging, longevity, reinvention, retirement, senior citizens, seniors, successful aging, wellness

4 responses to “Put-Down Humor

  1. Sheila Sauber

    Oops. I made a mistake. It wasn’t Don Rickles who tried picking up my friend at the beach. That was Rodney Dangerfield! Sheila

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Pat Spiegel

    I did my doctoral dissertation on aggressive humor and who enjoys it. Fun to see it discussed again.

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