The Ten Most Self-Deprecating Celebrities
Whether due to the increasing acceptance of geek culture or perhaps one of the causes, there is a growing subset of geek-friendly celebrities that wear their insecurities on their sleeve. These stars down-play their celebrity status and/or embrace their designation as non-A-listers. Taking on roles that are a little (or a lot) too close to reality, they focus on their negative character traits and portray themselves as losers and jerks. Ironically, although not surprisingly, this has proven to be a successful means of improving one’s celebrity status. The historical idea of celebrities being somehow better than you and I doesn’t fly anymore. We want to know our heroes are not only fallible but able to laugh at their own expense. In some cases, the cynic in me has to wonder whether this seemingly down-to-earth attitude is itself just a ploy. Regardless, here are ten of the most self-deprecating celebrities.
10. Charlie Sheen
Love him or hate him it is hard to deny that Sheen can take a joke at his own expense. I hope no one failed to notice that his role as womanizing, immoral, drunken Charlie Harper on Two and Half Men was meant to mirror his own life. And that was before he seemed to go completely off the deep end, was fired from the show, and started spouting disjointed nonsense that seemed equal parts delusion and self-mockery. But he came back…playing a womanizing, immoral character named Charlie (he drinks too but maybe not quite as excessively as Charlie Harper). Anger Management was recently cancelled but as Sheen has said, “Everybody deserves a 24th chance.”
9. Larry David
The self-mockery of Larry David is a multi-layered thing. He co-creates the character of George Costanza as petty, cheap, quick-tempered, and self-absorbed. Then to completely drive home the fact that Costanza is based on himself, he develops a storyline in which George and Jerry write a show containing a character based on George. When the opportunity arises, David moves on to Curb Your Enthusiasm on which he can play himself as an even more socially awkward person. Finally, he includes storylines on this new show about writing the original show and explicitly points out that some of Costanza’s less than proud moments were based on himself (or at least this fictionalized version of himself).
David has stated that the version of Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm is what he would be like in real life if he lacked social awareness and sensitivity. If you think about it that means Larry David is equating himself with Daffy Duck. Anyone willing to accept their inner cartoon character is ok in my book.
8. Betty White
Last September the satire site Empire News posted the headline “Actress Betty White 92, Dyes Peacefully In Her Los Angeles Home” followed by a brief article about White dyeing her hair. White appears to have had no involvement in this rather weak prank, but it seems like the sort of thing she might go along with. At 93, White focuses most of her self-deprecation on her age. Whether playing a foul mouthed caretaker for a giant crocodile in Lake Placid, rapping while surrounded by beefcake models, playing football with Abe Vigoda, leading a gang of prankster senior citizens on Betty White’s Off Their Rockers, or enjoying a Death Metal version of “Thank You for Being a Friend” on SNL, White is that fun if slightly loopy grandparent. She ridicules her age in the best possible way, by not letting it define her. And, as her recent People’s Choice award shows, people love her for it.
7. Felicia Day
After playing Vi on Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 2003, Felicia Day found herself disillusioned by a lack of interesting roles. To escape the unhappiness she felt in her life, she turned to World of Warcraft and, in her own words, developed a “very bad addiction to online gaming”. When she realized she was planning real life around the gaming world, she made the decision to break her dependence. She did this through a self-imposed exile from the gaming community and by developing the web series The Guild. The Guild focuses on the character of Cyd Sherman, an introverted and agoraphobic character with an addiction to online gaming. Although Day has stated that Sherman is not strictly autobiographical, Sherman’s reliance on gaming as an escape is meant to mirror Days’ own dependence.
With the launch of her YouTube channel Geek & Sundry (now purchased by Legendary Entertainment), the creation of her romance & fantasy book club, Vaginal Fantasy, and a significant presence on social media, Day has found success in letting her geek flag wave proudly. Sadly, this has caused some people to label her as a fake geek girl who only pretends to be a geek in order to profit from it. Alternatively, although just as bad, others have placed her on a pedestal as the ultimate geek girl to which all others must aspire to. Although Day has spoken out against these labels, she refuses to let them impact her. Day has stated that part of being a geek is not allowing the judgement of others to impact your geeky pursuits. With the release of her memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), scheduled for August of this year, Day continues to put herself out there as a proud geek.
6. David Hasselhoff
Hey! Don’t Hassel the Hoff! Like some others on this list, Hasselhoff’s self-deprecating humour is often misconstrued as arrogance. He may be responsible for some of the cheesiest television of the 80’s and 90’s but he is fully cognizant of that fact and not above playing to it. In 2004, he was ultra-heroic as he used his mighty pectoral muscles to return SpongeBob and Patrick to Bikini Bottom in The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. In 2012’s Piranha 3DD, he was reprehensible as a lifeguard that shows indifference to those he is supposed to protect. And in 2006, he was ridiculous in the video for his cover version of “Jump in My Car”.
This year the UK can look forward to Hoff the Record, a six-part reality show spoof, in which Hasselhoff tries to “save his career”. On this side of the pond, we can expect the film Killing Hasselhoff in which a hit is put out on Hasselhoff by someone trying to win a celebrity death pool. Neither project’s synopsis gives me the impression that Hasselhoff is taking himself very seriously.
5. Neil Patrick Harris
All signs indicate that Neil Patrick Harris has the most loving, happy, and fun family life you could imagine. This is what makes his portrayal of himself as a vile, sex-crazed, womanizing, drug addict in all three of the Harold & Kumar movies so shockingly funny. In A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas, he went so far as to clear up that rumoured “homo crap”. If that’s not enough for you, I recommend you check out his performance of “It’s Not Just for Gays Anymore” at the 65th Tony Awards. Actually, while you are at it, check out all of his musical numbers from the Tony Awards. Not because they are particularly self-deprecating. Check them out because they are awesome.
4. Wil Wheaton
I have a confession. In the 80’s and 90’s, I disliked Wil Wheaton. I hated Dr. Crusher’s son on ST:TNG and, as a side effect, hated the person portraying him. That was stupid and says a little more about me than I would like to dwell on. But Wheaton turned me around. How? He portrayed himself as someone worthy of my disdain. On The Big Bang Theory, Wheaton, as Sheldon’s nemesis, played himself as arrogant and selfish. He was not above lying, using his celebrity status, or even breaking up a relationship for his own gain.
After he and Sheldon reconciled, Wheaton stopped being a villain but is portrayed as a has-been desperate for any acting work. He also talks about how many people hated the character of Wesley Crusher and therefore hated him…which makes me feel a little guilty actually.
3. Adam West
The summer of 1989 saw the release of Tim Burton’s Batman with Michael Keaton in the titular role. Leading up to the release, reports began to surface of Adam West’s disappointment in not being chosen to reprise his role as the caped crusader. Despite being 60 at the time and despite being quoted as saying he “cried for an hour”, West was taken seriously. There are even rumours that his campaigning for the role had Warner Brothers executives questioning whether a darker version of Batman was the right way to go.
West has continued to poke fun at himself and his typecasting but usually in such a serious, dead pan manner that people still struggle to interpret him. On his Simpsons guest appearance in 1992, he again expressed disdain for Burton’s Batman saying that he “never needed plastic molding to improve [his] physique”. The year 2009 saw West fall on hard times in Funny or Die’s very funny “Batman Garage Sale”. For the last fourteen years, a younger generation have enjoyed West’s portrayal of himself as the delusional mayor of Quahog on Family Guy. A 2014 advertising campaign for the game Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff even had West asking to be mayor of your town “for real”.
West has recently suggested he’d like to play Bruce Wayne’s father in Batman vs. Superman…but as an earlier incarnation of Batman that passes the torch on to Ben Affleck’s Bruce. We will have to see how much serious consideration that idea gets.
2. Bruce Campbell
If the subtitle Confessions of a B Movie Actor from Bruce Campbell’s 2002 autobiography If Chins Could Kill doesn’t give it away, the book is full of the sarcasm and self-parody that fans have come to expect. Despite having a dedicated cult following, Campbell tells his tale from the fringes of Hollywood. Campbell writes as he tends to speak, like an average guy who is both thrilled by his stardom and maybe just a little insecure that it could all end at any time. He’s willing to admit missteps along the way but does so lovingly. This is not a bitter memoir but the story of someone who is enjoying the ride.
In some ways, Campbell’s follow-up book was even more telling. Make Love…the Bruce Campbell Way is a work of fiction starring Campbell and told in the first person. It is the story of a B-lister getting, and ultimately botching, his chance in the big league. Along the way, he brings Richard Gere down with him, is abandoned by what few big name friends he has, and finds himself on the wrong end of the law.
The final component of Campbell’s self-deprecation trifecta is the film My Name is Bruce. Co-produced, directed by, and of course starring Campbell, the film makes any previous self-mocking seem like the most arrogant self-indulgence. Campbell plays himself as a washed up B-movie actor wrapping up filming on the stinker Cave Alien II. Among some of Campbell’s less than stellar moments are drinking urine passed off as lemonade by a disgruntled film crewman, shoving an autograph-seeker in a wheelchair down a hill, sharing booze with a dog from the same dog bowl, and not only abandoning the townspeople he is supposed to protect but actually shooting into the crowd in a cowardly panic. The film is absurd, cheesy, and completely over-the-top. In other words, it is pure Bruce Campbell.
I know what you’re going to say. Captain James Tiberius Kirk, hero of the known universe, on a list of humble people?!? But when you think about it, no one more deserves to top this list. Shatner’s famous 1986 SNL sketch in which he told his fans to, “Get a life!” was the mocking nudge that got the self-deprecating ball rolling. Rumoured to be difficult to work with and aloof, Shatner stunned everyone when he voiced what many fans feared he had been thinking all along. What ultimately garnered him further adoration rather than Trekkie/Trekker persecution was that he didn’t stop there. Shatner has shown time and time again that he is not so much ridiculing his fans as he is ridiculing himself. Trying to list all the times he has poked fun at his own public image is a fool’s errand but some of the more memorable include:
- Voice acting gig as Star Commander Berzerk on Eek! The Cat
- Portrayal of ‘Bill’ in Free Enterprise
- Guest role as the Big Giant Head on 3rd Rock from the Sun (including a great reference to the “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” episode of Twilight Zone)
- Appearances as himself in Fan Boys and Futurama
- Spokesperson for Priceline.com
- Host of How William Shatner Changed the World
- Participation in the reality show Invasion Iowa
- Parodying the “I am Canadian” rant at Just For Laughs
- Creation of his one-man touring show Shatner’s World, we just live in it…
- Role of Denny Crane on The Practice/Boston Legal
Plus, he’s Canadian. And we all know how humble us Canadians are.
Who have I missed? Let me know in the comments.