The Self-Deprecating Crutch

Overusing self-deprecating humor damages our brand. Let's balance humility with professionalism on-air

The main stereotype of on-air personalities is that we have huge egos. That we’re all just a bunch of prima-donnas who love the sound of our own voices. To combat that stereotype many of us rely on self-deprecating humor. Which in small doses can be funny, humbles us a little and reveals some of our flaws to help us relate to the audience. But, when we overdo it we damage the brands we’re trying to build and define daily, our stations, our shows and ultimately our own personal brand. I know I myself have gone to that well way too often throughout my career, so it’s something I’m very cognizant of as a talent coach. Here are two examples of ways on-air personalities fall into the trap of making self-deprecating humor a crutch and a few solutions for correcting it.

1) Show imaging that brands the talent as morons. Far too many shows lean heavily on imaging that points out how big of idiots they are in various ways. Ironically, some of the shows I’ve worked with that have done this the most are made up of incredibly intelligent people. They’re usually either doing it as a self-defense mechanism or to try and relate to an audience whose intelligence they underestimate. As I’ve said before, audiences in the aggregate are never dumb. Depending on the format and demo some of that ‘we’re morons’ imaging is okay, but especially on recurrent/gold based formats it can be problematic. Most adults are pretty knowledgeable. They’ve been around the block, are hard-working, whether they’re blue-collar or white-collar, and, most of all, they’re busy. Yes, listening to a couple people that don’t take themselves too seriously on their way to work can be an escape, but too much of the self-deprecating show imaging will turn them away. It’s unlikely that many adults will choose to spend what little time they have between work, errands and home listening to people who consistently brand themselves as stupid.

2) The too cool for school syndrome. A running gag a lot of on-air personalities have, especially team shows, is that they don’t really care. Usually that includes comments about how unprepared the show is, how they’re just winging it or how they’re uninformed on what’s happening in the world and don’t know any details on the things they choose to discuss. Again, ironically sometimes these personalities are actually very informed and in the know. So, they’re doing themselves and their audience a disservice by acting otherwise. Sometimes, however, it’s actually the truth and the air talent aren’t respecting the platform they’ve been given. They truly are flying by the seat of their pants and coming up with what they’re going to talk about seconds before they crack the mic. Then determining their angle to approach that subject either mid-break, or not at all, and just kind of randomly riffing on it with no forethought or structure. In those cases, there’s no need to tell the audience that they don’t care because that’s already painfully obvious.

So, if air talent have fallen into one of these two traps how do we correct it? For starters we point it out, or if we’re self-coaching we acknowledge that we’re doing it. Then we cut way back on it in our imaging or completely stop depending on the format and demo. If we’re branding ourselves as unprepared and uninformed we simply need to entirely eliminate that. Yes, it’s true that outside of news talk mainly people tune into the radio for an escape from their problems and they want someone who’s going to keep it light, fun and entertaining. But, we can do that without cutting ourselves down so much that we come across as a complete waste of time. As a general rule wasting a listener’s time is never a good plan. The goal is to have interesting, entertaining and informative conversations that come across as organic. To do that requires a lot of work and professionalism behind the scenes. If we’re putting in that work, let’s not negate it by being overly self-deprecating. If we’re not, let’s starting taking radio more seriously and treat it like a job instead of a hobby.

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