Years ago I used to do what I called a ‘self caricature’. Basically, these are characters I make of myself with the intent of making fun of myself. At first, it was just for fun but, as time went on, I found that they often revealed a lot about myself. They often showed sides about myself that I didn’t know I had. Not only that, it often revealed worries or concerns I often wouldn’t admit to myself. In other words, I found that by making fun of myself I often learned a lot about myself.
One of the reasons why I feel I learned a lot about myself is that when you joke about yourself you seem more ‘relaxed’ and free. This makes it so aspects of yourself come out easily. If a person is too serious or ‘cranial’ (that is, try to make things make sense) then it seems to impair aspects of yourself to come out. It’s almost like putting a damper on it.
A person, of course, must know how to joke and be willing to joke about themselves. These can often get quite difficult, especially when making fun of a difficult emotion. I found that joking about yourself can take great courage and strength. We must remember that it is you that is doing it, not no one else. If you get mad, you’re only getting mad at yourself. This is good as a self caricature often brings out how we are really upset with ourselves but won’t admit it.
In starting a ‘self caricature’ I usually thought about an aspect of myself, often of something which ‘bothers’ me. I note its qualities and the type of person it seems to represent. Sometimes, it may be inspired by something else, such as a character in a movie that I somehow relate to. Taking this, I’d create a person and give him a name. I’d define his character and qualities and what he did. I’d then come up with stories about him, which I often would write down. This character often evolved over time and changed. This is an important point as the character often changes as the ‘revealing’ of its meaning unfolds.
The idea is to laugh at oneself . . . because we all do things that can make us laugh at ourselves. I’d make the character do all sorts of funny things, inspired by my behaviour and thoughts. Sometimes, I’d laugh just thinking about some of the stories.
Because these stories are so personal they often will seem weird or bizarre to someone else. In fact, I found that few people could see humor in many of my self caricatures. It doesn’t matter. This is not for other people. It’s for oneself.
Here’s a storyline of one I did starting in the early 90’s:
“There is a character I created called Ranger Bob. He took care of No Man’s Land. There nothing grew, trees were stripped, and there were craters everywhere, like the no man’s land of WWI. He had a friend who I called Petrified Squirrel. He was so scared of No Man’s Land that he was petrified stiff. No matter how hard Ranger Bob talked, he could never get Petrified Squirrel to say anything. But Ranger Bob carried him around anyways. Ranger Bob had a TV show called “The Ranger Bob’s Show” and would sit and tell the kids about No Man’s Land. He would excitedly talk about how desolate it was and how neat it was that all the trees were stripped bare, as if it were a great thing. He would talk about the animals that should be there but aren’t because of the desolation. He would discuss how you would dodge shrapnel, find things to live off of in the wasteland, and other things as well. Then, one day, he looked out over the desolation and saw how bleak it was, and bare. He got very depressed. He sat down and, like Petrified Squirrel, turned into Petrified Ranger Bob . . . and there he is today. He now hosts “The Petrified Ranger Bob Show” which, needless to say, doesn’t get a lot of good ratings. The whole show is a picture of him sitting there in the midst of No Man’s Land, petrified stiff.”
This may not seem funny to someone else, but it was to me. That’s because there is a personal meaning behind the story. Only I know this meaning. This means that only I can understand it. In reality, the story is only a fragment of a process. It is just the end result of a lot of inner activity, which the story may not reflect at all. This side of the story only I know.
The story of Ranger Bob reflected my feelings of alienation toward the modern world. Ranger Bob, being a ranger, represents someone trying to be a person, a someone in the world – me. The name “Bob”, at least where I live, is like a generic name, like an ‘everyman but no man’ which reflects my alienation. No Man’s Land was the modern world and its desolation (this meant its cultural desolation and emptiness). Petrified Squirrel represented that part of me that was frightened of living in a cultural wasteland. The “Ranger Bob Show” represents how we try to ‘make the best’ of things and be productive in the midst of problems and the desolation of the modern world. When Ranger Bob became petrified it represents how he, like the squirrel, succumbed to this desolation. The “Petrified Ranger Bob Show” represents irony, as its him doing nothing, petrified, and yet its a show kids watch. It also shows its enduring truth as it’s still played, despite its low ratings. Various aspects of this character made me laugh. I’d create episodes and write them down which were quite funny, at least to me. What I was really doing was making fun of my alienation and how it made me feel.
Overall, though, I have always considered it a great strength to be able to laugh at oneself and to see how ridiculous we all are. All of us are so funny after all. We are all so ridiculous. We are so foolish. We all act stupid. We all do nonsensical things too. There’s nothing wrong with that either. In actuality, its a wonderful thing. There can be a ‘genius’ to this as well, a ‘hidden genius’.
In general, laughing at oneself means being something like a clown. This quality seems to require a number of qualities:
- A willingness to debase and degrade oneself.
- An ability to remove themselves from themselves and as if look at oneself at a distance.
- A sense of stability as a person.
- An ability of a ‘revealing’ of oneself (that is, make up stories and traits reflecting oneself).
- An ability to do irony and humor.
I’ve found very people who have a clown-like quality. Most humour is seeing humour in things, not themselves. That’s a whole other type of humour than what I speak of. Most people seem to have a fear of laughing at themselves. No doubt this is because it’s not a normal thing to debase and degrade themselves. That seems ‘undermining’ to most people and conflicts with pride, dignity, and such. Certainly, it’s not for everyone.
Interestingly, most of the jokes I do about the place are often making fun of myself. It occurred to me many years ago that I seldom saw anyone else doing this. It almost seemed like a unique form of humour, which I believe it is. In many ways, I am like a clown, tripping over myself, acting incompetent, and such, all reflecting the truth of who I am. I found that I could tell a lot by a person by how they reacted to this type of humour. If they went along with it then it’s a good sign. If they looked at me in a disgusted way it meant that they will be hard to associate with. A persons reaction to humour reveals a lot about a person’s character. This is why its good to watch how one reacts to humour and what makes one laugh.
Overall, I found that there is great power in humour . . . but not just any humour. Usually, humour is just an outlet for people, a way of expression, and that’s good. But a ‘self caricature’ is more than that. It is a humour that is self revealing, like peeling the layers of skin off an onion. This means that it is more of an applied humour. As such, it is a therapeutic humour as well, intended to help us as people. It is a humour that is specifically personal. Most humour is social and is meant primarily in a social atmosphere. A ‘self caricature’ is not. This means a person must find humour by themselves and laugh at their own thoughts and ideas. This quality I have seldom seen in people.