Making conversation always requires effort, for some people more than others. For the unfortunate ones who find themselves unskilled at conversation, unprepared spontaneous reactions are created by their self-defence mechanisms.
A self-defence mechanism is defined as a “pattern of unconscious psychological strategies that reduces anxiety arising from unacceptable or potentially harmful stimuli.” In Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, defence mechanisms are used to “manipulate, deny, or distort reality” to reduce anxiety and control impulses or to maintain dignity. All defence mechanisms are responses by the subconscious/unconscious to handle the stresses of a social situation.
Almost all the research out there about using comedy as a self-defense mechanism is in the form of comedy itself.
As comedian Daniel Sloss talks about it in his Netflix specials, “Dark” and “Jigsaw”, he subtly dives into philosophy when he talks about politically incorrect and “dark” humour. His sense of humor has a quite commonplace origin: he grew up in a family that had a distinct distaste for tense situations, and at no point in his life growing up, even when he was at his best friend’s father’s funeral, did he stop joking around. He explains that if there should be any limits to what humour can be employed to do, the point of it is lost. A joke cannot be offensive or disheartening; if it is, then it isn’t a joke at all. What the author is trying to establish here is: a joke is never meant to be delivered with the intention of doing anything other than reinforcing a positive attitude or attaching a positive attribute to a negative or uncomfortable person or situation. Attaching a positive attribute is exactly what a person in an uncomfortable situation is always frantically trying to do to get out of that situation. This is why comedy acts as an excellent front when it comes to dealing with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.
The case of Jewish humour is an interesting example: while diverse, it revolves around wordplay, irony, and satire, and is mostly anti-authoritarian. Jewish humour is unique because it primarily derived in mocking themselves rather than any other group or culture. Great examples of Jewish humour can be found in small snippets in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”, a light-hearted comedy set in the 1950s, when Maisel pokes fun at Jews being stingy people while being Jewish Orthodox herself. However, Jewish humour can also be voiced in other forms; rather than just being self-deprecating, it can also consist of self-praise.
Late New York psychologist Samuel Janus had a theory based on his link between Jewish humour and tragedy. The conclusion of his research was “comedy can act as a defence mechanism to ward off aggression and hostility.” Janus interviewed numerous comedians over a time period of a decade and the results of the study showed that almost 80% of them had experienced traumatic childhoods.
This, however, does not mean that every comedian is a troubled individual, or that every troubled individual chooses comedy as a means of coping. The audience that finds the comedian funny can relate to the comedian on a psychological level and hence can relate to events that are joked about to events in their own memories. They are equally troubled, and they find solace in the relatability. But the spotlight is not on them, and that means that not everyone needs to make jokes to make themselves feel better.
Everyone has a different self-defence/coping mechanism, and different people see comedy in different ways. While some see comedy as a relief, a release from the pain of existence in an otherwise ordinary world, some see it as a distraction, one that has to be curbed. The worst-case scenario is when someone who has low self-esteem and social anxiety uses humour involuntarily when they get anxious. They start hating themselves for having said anything at all and end up spiralling into self-loathing tendencies.
We have no right to beat ourselves up, even if that is our first response. We have the responsibility of owning up to our mental health, and either working on our social hindrances or dealing with them in a way that we may not be comfortable with. Comedy is a great way to do that. Distraction Humour is an efficient method of getting yourself out of a tense situation without having to deal with it. The next time someone tells you you’re a pain to handle, you could just say “That’s what she said” and deal with the situational reality of you being annoying later. It takes away the need for split-second decision making, and no awkward, half-hearted apologies need to be made. You can assess the situation in your own time, which is what’s great about using humour to distract any present company. It isn’t ideal, because reliance on repetitive distraction is a sign of poor decision-making abilities, if not bad conversational skills, and some people may see through it instantly. It’s a win-lose situation one way or another.
Aristotle defined comedy as “an imitation of men worse than the average” in a system where tragedy was “an imitation of men better than average”. According to him, it originated from the light treatment of the otherwise bad and ugly. In contrast, Plato taught that comedy is a destruction of the self. He believed that violent laughter provoked violent reactions. In the modern-day, there really are two ways about it. When you are faced with an out-of-control social situation, (much like the author is in with coming to a rambling conclusion for this article) just remember that whether the outcome of your response is positive or negative, the choices you make are part of who you are, the method of your response is integrated into your character and-
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