One of the things that makes people in life, and characters in a story, likeable is self-depreciating humor. It’s a lost art. I think of Rodney Dangerfield or Phylis Diller. Those comics gave us a nudge to remember that we’re all less grand than we think we are and silly things happen to everyone. Who do you find on the comic circuit today…those who use outrage and expletives in their jokes? Those who laugh say something about themselves too…that they’re not the type of people we’d like for our children to associate with, a type of sub-culture class that brings us all down.They aren’t likeable, they aren’t funny.
If your character is an anti-hero or flawed in all sorts of ways, his sense of humor can make him likeable. Let’s say there’s a western hero who’s berating the heroine, a shy girl from the east. He’s calling her stupid, telling her that she could just go home, that she’d faint at the sight of mouse. If he’s standing beside a horse that suddenly slaps him with his tail, the anti-hero can go off in a huff, leaving the girl and those standing around laughing at him, or he can say, “Well, I guess we know what the horse thinks of me,” and laughs along with the others. His anger is defused and he comes across looking likeable.
Why is that type of humor so rare? We’re full of self. Yes, Christians too, and it looks worse on Christians because we’re supposed to be filled with Christ.
Here’s a test. Give someone a bit of your work, a chapter out of a manuscript, a crocheted doily, a new paint job, asking for an honest critique. When the critiquer points out flaws, do you jump to the defensive and immediately think “what does she mean? Who does he think he is? She’s no expert. I’ve had more experience that he has. Joe Blow said it was great” Or do you take a second look at the flaws and see possibilities for improvements, maybe even greater than was pointed out. Your thanks will be genuine instead of begruding as in the first case, and the critiquers will see the difference.
We’re all flawed. Lighten up. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Look for ways to improve instead of defending yourself against criticism.
The world will laugh with you instead of at you.