Using self-deprecating humour – is it a good idea for business writing?

Let’s face facts: no one actually cares about your website updates apart from you. So, I realise that it’s not a very interesting thing for me to talk about updating my website.

But, bear with me, it gets good.

I’ve been updating my portfolio page with some new testimonials.

It’s weird to admit it, but people have said some really nice things about me. Now, I mention this because it inspired an interesting question: is it a good idea to use self-deprecating humour in business writing?

Because I just used it then and I’m pretty sure you were cool with it.

I’ve just been thinking about this because I was writing up some new testimonials and I felt weird about it. (Ironically, it’s probably because I’m not comfortable selling myself, even though I’m fine doing it for others.)

But I remembered a thing that comedian Stewart Lee often does in his promotional stuff.

He’ll put in a couple of nice quotes, and then one REALLY scathing one. It’s very funny.

See for yourself.

Poster of Lee & Herring show with self-deprecating humour

“Ugly young men presenting drivel” Viewer Mrs F. Gadrill, Devon.

Brutal. And Brilliant!

Or this one right at the bottom of this other poster.

Stewart Lee Poster with scathing insult from Mark E. Smith

“If I ever end up like Stewart Lee cut off my head with a garden tool” Mark E Smith, THE FALL.

I mean, if you had a bespoke insult from the late Mark E Smith, wouldn’t you slap it on EVERYTHING!

These are hilarious. But it’s expected, isn’t it? Stewart Lee’s that kind of deadpan, contrary comedian.

It might be hard for a B2B finance company to joke that they’re not the fastest at sending money. Or a cake shop to joke that their oven is a little small. Or a barbers to joke that, y’know what, they are a little overpriced.

Being a little self-deprecating can be helpful, as proven by the pratfall effect.

Being a little self-deprecating is an interesting risk, but is it a worthwhile risk?

Like most marketing issues, there’s no hard or fast rule about this.

It’s a little more complicated.

My main thought about it is that it’s got to actually be funny. (Thanks Einstein!)

And that’s pretty much my only conclusion to this point. I’ll be honest this is still a half baked thought. So, it would be interesting to hear what you think.

As for me, what scathing comment could I use as a testimonial?

Well, I have a whole load of school reports about me day-dreaming, not listening, doodling on desks.

Basically, spoilt for choice.

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