How Do Actors Approve Self-Deprecating Jokes Specifically About Them?

Recently I was watching a television show featuring an actor with a specific facial feature. I’ve watched several seasons of the show and no reference had ever been made to this feature, and suddenly that person’s character referenced it and made a joke about it.

I’ve noticed this a few times over the years: A character in a show makes a self-deprecating joke about their real-life appearance. But it wasn’t until this recent situation that I realized there must be some sort of a process for this type of joke to make it into the script. Imagine how jarring it would be for an actor to be reading a script and see a reference to their height, weight, face, hair, etc?

My best guess is that the initial appearance of these types of jokes must almost always happen because the actor made a self-deprecating joke about that aspect of their appearance during a table read with the writer(s) present. That opens the door for the writer to ask the actor if they would be okay with them including the joke (or a similar joke).

Perhaps there’s another way this happens, but I just can’t imagine a writer risking their job by offending “the talent” with a joke about an aspect of their appearance that they may be insecure about. Is it possible there’s a formal procedure with this in the film and TV industry?

How do you think this process works behind the scenes? Consider it the next time you see a character make a self-deprecating joke about the appearance of the actor playing that character.

3 thoughts on “How Do Actors Approve Self-Deprecating Jokes Specifically About Them?”

  1. I think a lot of celebrities just have this kind of sense of humour. Jessica Biel in Bojack Horseman was a real stand out example as she apparently insisted the writers go as mean with their jokes about her as they could.

  2. I was part of a traveling drama group and have acted in a few professional theaters. I have done a lot of both written and improv shows (and have been both an actor and a writer for those shows). I can’t speak to all television shows and movies, but from my experience, self-deprecating humor was essentially part of the job. Sometimes they would even hire particular actors for self-deprecating humor that was intended for their character to begin with. Everyone tried to be professional and respectful enough that lines usually did not get crossed. Typically if someone was uncomfortable with a particular line (or the line just wasn’t funny) we would cut it from the show. And I believe that is usually the case. You seem to assume these type of jokes are heard from actors before but, sadly, in my (limited) experience it is often assumed as part of many gigs that actors are okay with these types of jokes being written about them and, if they’re not, then they should speak up about it. In my (limited) experience this has only created one tense and extremely uncomfortable moment, but I imagine that happens a lot in shows and movies, but I think it also depends on the show/movie, group of writers, and cast. Anyway, I’m not sure if this was helpful or not but this has been my experience. So yes, sometimes a writer can “offend the talent” but it is also assumed that the talent is professional enough to either take it in stride or speak up about it before it makes its way into the final product (just to be clear, I don’t think this is good, this has just been my experience in the entertainment industry).


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