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Thursday, August 12, 2010

One sure sign of a narcissistic personality

One of the surest signs of a narcissistic personality is to constantly laugh at one's own jokes. (Yes, wearing clothes like those above might also be a sign, but that's not what this post is about; don't worry, we'll get to Diamond Dave soon enough.) It might seem as if I'm reading too much into one insignificant mannerism, but I've known several people over the years who always laughed at their own jokes, and, inevitably, there was a whole set of other characteristics that went hand in hand with it.

(Please bear in mind, although all sociopaths are narcissistic personalities, only a small fraction of narcissistic personalities are sociopaths. Quick definition of a narcissist: a selfish individual who will never admit he's wrong. Narcissists are generally not dangerous the way sociopaths are, they're merely unpleasant company. Also bear in mind, only a small fraction of narcissists laugh at their own jokes, although all people who laugh at their own jokes are, in my experience, narcissists.)

When I was in college, my swimming coach would make lame jokes and then let out this weird staccato laugh afterward, as if to signal to his listeners that he had just made a very funny joke and they should laugh too. No need to get into all the gory details of his personality; suffice it to say that he was unanimously disliked. After he left, I heard that unanimity of opinion followed him elsewhere.

Think of it this way: you're texting a friend, and after each of his own rejoinders he writes "LOL!" He doesn't say this after any of your bon mots -- only after his own. Wouldn't that strike you as a little bit off -- and more than a little vain? People who laugh at their own jokes are effectively doing the same thing.

Let me cite an example you may be better acquainted with: rock star David Lee Roth, the lead singer of Van Halen back in the 80's, pictured above. Roth was, by the way, one of the greatest performers in rock and roll, and he made three of the coolest music videos ever, which I will link here. "Jump" shows him at his campy best, vamping sexily for the camera and dancing up a storm -- but also seemingly making fun of himself at the same time:

Roth's cover of Louis Prima's "Just a Gigolo" is another tour de force: he sings, he dances, and he mocks the other big pop stars of the era. (I admit, this post is, as much as anything else, just an excuse to link these videos.) The first minute and a half of the video is slow, but the next few minutes have more joie de vivre squeezed into them than I've had in my entire life:

Finally, Roth's cover of The Beach Boys' "California Girls" is equally well staged. Most videos try to be sexy; this one is sexy and fun, if you can make it past the first minute:

After having seen these videos twenty years ago, I happened to listen to an interview with Roth on the Howard Stern show around ten or twelve years ago. Roth was extremely witty and quick, one of the few guests who could keep up with Stern. When Stern left the station to go to satellite radio, Roth was chosen as his replacement.

But when I listened to the show, I was disappointed. Carrying a four hour show five days a week is completely different from being impressive for a half hour as a guest star, and Roth, though he kept up a fairly snappy line of patter, couldn't quite manage it. What was most off-putting about his presentation was that he would punctuate his every comment with an appreciative laugh -- at his own wit. Even when he wasn't witty.

Within a few months, Roth's show was canceled. It was then that I remembered hearing once that his former bandmates all hated him. Then I thought about the kind of boundless self-confidence it would take to be the kind of performer he was, and to make the kind of videos he did. Then I thought of Roth's oft-repeated line about how the only thing he was allergic to was criticism. And then I thought about how long and bitterly he went on about the unfairness of his show's cancellation. And then I started to think about every other person I had ever known who laughed at his own jokes. And I saw a pattern.

(Just counted, and there were seven "I's" in the last paragraph; just so you know, eight is the threshold that marks a narcissistic personality.)

Anyway, think of the people you know who always laugh at their own jokes. Can any of them admit it when they're wrong?

Please don't confuse laughing at your own jokes with not being able to finish a joke because you're laughing so hard. One is a punctuation mark designed to demonstrate to the world -- and yourself -- that you're funny. The other is simply finding something so funny that it robs you of your ability to perform.

A very closely related behavior, by the way, is to listen to someone else make a joke, not laugh, basically repeat it with a very slight variation, and only then laugh. Another endearing habit of my former coach.

Wasn't this a great post?! LOL! LMFAO!! ROTFLMGDAO!!!


Sandy said...

I enjoyed this post. I, and probably everyone else who reads this blog, recognizes this obnoxious quality. I've known quite a few people, all guys come to think of it, who laugh hysterically at their own jokes and stories, while other people don't get what's so funny. Of course, there is the exception. Remember how we used to crack up at certain comedians who couldn't keep a straight face during a skit? Hmmm... now that I think about it, that's really something different; they were usually laughing at a fellow actor's antics, not their own funny business. And there are also those people who crack themselves up while telling stories and jokes and their laughs are simply infectious. We have a good friend like that, and it's definitely not the same thing as what you're talking about. (Maybe because he's charming and likeable and his jokes are funny?) And you demonstrate a variation on the "laugh at your own joke" syndrome -- the ability to laugh AT oneself! (your parentheses about the number of "I"'s) Isn't it amazing how that slight variation makes all the difference in the world?
So, do you normally laugh along, out of politeness, or just stare impassively? Most women, myself included, will politely laugh along. We've been trained to avoid hurting anyone's feelings!

John Craig said...

Sandy --
Thank you, and thanks for your comment. I agree with you completely on the difference between punctuating all your jokes with a staccato laugh and not being able to finish a joke. (And as you said in your email, you noticed after you wrote this comment that I had already said something similar in the post.)

You made an interesting observation -- that all the people you know who do this are men. Come to think of it, all the people I can think of are men, too. Hmm. I think many more men than women have narcissistic personalities, but there are definitely some women who have them too. I guess this is a character- AND gender- linked behavior.

Me? I normally try to laugh along, I'm just not very good at it -- I'm afraid it normally comes out more of a grimace. (I guess that makes me half woman.) The only people who get the impassive stare are people with whom my patience has worn completely thin.

Shaun F said...

I have pondered and taken observation of people and friends concerning your remark how "all people who laugh at their own jokes are narcissists." It is disturbing, as given I work on a military base - everyone laughs at their own jokes, at least at a certain rank. Also, just going out to social functions I notice what a pronounced behaviour this is. Most disturbingly of all is that, some people I've associated with for years, when I was for no better expression - asleep - have the same behaviour. I've also noticed some people on psychotropic drugs have this behaviour as well as certain unseemly women who cackle after a base tasteless remark. Truth can be painful. Some of these people are clearly manipulative and deceitful attempting to get some form of buy in - others, I will have to wait for the revelatory process to continue. Happy New Year, I enjoy your blog and I have learned from your posts.

John Craig said...

Shaun --
Thank you, and thanks for reading this far back. There do seem to be a fair number of people who have this obnoxious behavior, though there are some subtle differences, as pointed out in the comments above, namely, not being able to finish a joke because it's so funny, and laughing AT yourself. But mostly, it's a sign of narcissism. As far as the people on psychotropic drugs, that's probably different, not indicative of anything other than being high, though I haven't had much experience with people like that.

IanIan said...

If you don't laugh at your own jokes then doesn't that mean they're not funny? In which case why would you tell them?

John Craig said...

Ianian --
The idea is, you've heard your own jokes before, so they wouldn't be as funny to you. Think about it, how many standup comedians crack up every time they deliver a joke?

Occasionally laughing at your own joke is something we all do, but the constant, staccato laughter after one's own joke is something i've only seen from narcissists.

Anonymous said...

My soon to be ex did this, especially in a larger group of people. He would make what he thought was a witty remark and laugh hysterically. All of our friends would courtesy chuckle, but he would repeat the same remark over and over. I think he thought we didn't laugh because we didn't 'get it'. Or if we did laugh he'd repeat it trying to get the same response everytime. It might have been funny the first time, but not the 20th. Everyone in the room would look at me as if for a cue as of what to do. It was incredibly awkward, no one wanted to be rude, but we just didn't find his remarks/jokes very funny.
Shaun F, I find your observation really interesting because my stbx is retired Navy Chief.

John Craig said...

Anon --
I like that phrase, "courtesy chuckle."

I have a theory, that every time we have a genuine laugh it adds a minute to our lives, but every time we have to force a laugh, it takes five minutes off our lives.

Enjoy your freedom.

Anonymous said...

The fact that the author himself came to the presumptuous conclusion that anyone who laughs at their own jokes is in all likelihood a narcissist... Makes me believe that he himself may very well be a narcissist. I mean seriously? This judgement is downright comically offensive and has no foundation. Maybe he just finds himself funny... All the time. This is stupid to think about and sad.

John Craig said...

Anon --
I take it you laugh at your own jokes.

Anon said...

My husband has lots of classic narcissist traits, and I kid you not- the laughing at his own jokes is one of them. He does it very often and at every opportunity he can grab. Its been noticed by others too. If he succeed's in gaining an audience/attention he then repeats or exaggerates the same joke and his laugh becomes louder and louder. It can be very embarrassing at times - the awkwardness is there, but he really is totally oblivious to it.

John Craig said...

Anon --
My sympathies. That can't be easy to live with, especially given that he's never wrong (and you're never right, unless you're agreeing with him).

casie said...

I laugh at my own jokes but i don't repeat them.

Unknown said...

Ive noticed with all the Narcs in my life - they CANT tell a funny joke. They may mirror ur humor and tweek it a bit just to repeat it AND OWN it. Then THEY'LL OVER laugh at it. Once u see this u will see how they are incapable of making anyone smile...They live their life to only stress you and destroy. One narc friend of mine even runs a comic strip and after years im yet to read one thats close to funny. But you know you can never criticize him or say it could be better.

Barry Robinson said...

Maybe some people are just shy, a little nervous when socialising .. the comments here appear to come from people who are very articulate and have a deep understanding of the psychology and behaviour of people and...and... and give yourself and life and others not as confident a bit of a break.... sometimes it's our own mood (distraction) that prevents us from enjoying someone's remark, sometimes some people refuse to smile or chuckle at someone's remark simple because they are 'snobs'...

orange775 said...

The nervous shy laughs are definitely different from what the Author wrote. I know quite a few if those narcs that think they can never do any wrong, and laugh at everything they say hysterically without any logical cause, and they are definitely not say. They just think they are the star, who is always center of attention. Another annoying trait of these type of people is they often pretentiously give out critiques to others while they never listen to what other people's saying.