What personality type is this?
October 3, 2016 6:01 AM   Subscribe

A person very close to me exhibits these personality behaviors listed below. Is there a name for this kind of character; and, how do I learn to navigate this persona?

--Sarcasm: Often used in a funny way, but can come across as rude or jarring especially when sarcasm is unclear to a stranger. Sarcastic tone not present, just sarcastic comments.
--Opposite-day jokes: Says the opposite of what they want, often in response to a question. Supposedly a joke but the delivery is so deadpan that people who have known this person for years still can't decipher the joke.
--Deadpan: As above, sarcasm and conversational jokes very difficult to parse because always delivered with mock seriousness.
--Pastiche: Quotes characters or even character types, catchphrases and cliches, but seamlessly incorporates those voices into normal conversation so the edge of irony and sincerity isn't apparent.

A major problem with all this is the personcomes across as judgemental or critical of others although I know this not to be true; they have a compassionate heart and just maybe have never been taught how to relate well with other people through language.
posted by Jason and Laszlo to Human Relations (35 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Is this person British? It sounds like a Brit to me. I have found they often say things that come across as critical but are, in fact, intending to show affection disguised as teasing. I'm just saying ...
posted by eleslie at 6:12 AM on October 3, 2016 [8 favorites]

My adult son has ADHD and is on the spectrum, and does this regularly only without the meanness or criticism factor. I know another adult male, much older, also on the spectrum, who does it, again without the negative aspects. They are both, to varying degrees, not so good at reading social question, and use these comments to fit in to the conversation.
posted by raisingsand at 6:17 AM on October 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

I am also known for my deadpan delivery of "jokes" or sarcasm that others cannot interpret, and I'm pretty sure I'm on the spectrum. If nothing else, I have a terrible time reading social cues. The jokes are almost always either a reflexive response to feeling slightly awkward, or a desperate attempt to be funny. My social circle is pretty much limited to those who are willing to put up with it, but to my chagrin it has caused some hurt feelings. With some people close to me I've learned to say "Oh, I'm sorry, that was intended as a joke" (I'm never mocking someone's appearance or anything, just making weird, non sequitur observations.) I don't know if your relationship with this person is such that you can say, "Friend, sometimes I can't tell if you're joking or not," and/or if they would be willing to share a code word ("joking") to indicate what's going on in their head. Now that I know that it bothers people I've started to become more conscious about not doing this, though sometimes it happens anyways. Just some speculation.
posted by whistle pig at 6:28 AM on October 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

This personality type is called 'asshole.' This person uses all these techniques to mask their deep insecurities. They're like Comic Book Guy. They are judgemental and critical, they just sort of get the first shot in because they anticipate that they'll be wounded - their deep insecurities. They keep people at arm's length.
posted by fixedgear at 6:52 AM on October 3, 2016 [20 favorites]

Response by poster: How can I help this person (and people like whistle pig) feel less misunderstood? The "joking" code word is a good tactic. Others like it?
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 6:54 AM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yes, either British or a personality disorder.
posted by Segundus at 7:16 AM on October 3, 2016 [45 favorites]

To echo the above: is this person a Brit, or possibly Aussie or Kiwi? The question sounds a lot like the way many Americans react to these kinds of humours.


How can I help this person ... feel less misunderstood?

Do you know that they feel misunderstood? From the question alone that is not apparent.
posted by pompomtom at 7:18 AM on October 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

This is a pretty Rorschach question, so you're going to get very different answers depending on the scenarios people are imagining.

But ultimately, you can just tell the person directly, and if they ask for your help, then you can help by pointing out when those things happen. I'm not really seeing the need to apply a label, especially since it's someone close to you. That's just them, and maybe they're OK with that. Maybe they're OK with filtering out the type of people who misunderstand them.
posted by ernielundquist at 7:30 AM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Like fixedgear, the first (fictional) character I thought of was that character from The Simpsons. I've known people like this, and it's really a combination of the lack of social cue comprehension combined with a learned defensiveness.

By any chance, would this person be of an age where they would have spent a fair amount of time reading or posting to, let's say, the "edgier" communities on the web? While the version of in-joke criticism exercised by the British tends to sound a little harsh to outsiders, even that humor doesn't quite cut at everything in the way being anonymous on the web can. It's a rite of initiation (and continued membership) to get sniped at any time you mention a personal detail. That sort of dynamic doesn't work so well in person.
posted by mikeh at 7:38 AM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

See, I can totally imagine this question being written about specific British or ADHD or autistic or assholeish people I know.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:10 AM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Help is not help if it's not wanted.

This person might not feeling misterstood nor want your help.

Others who deal with this person might not want (or need!) your help interpreting this person.

You could flat out ask, "did you mean this instead?" Or "are you being sarcastic?"

Sometimes social awkwardness is purposefully embraced as a means of keeping a protective barrier around them. They might want or need that barrier.
posted by Neekee at 8:14 AM on October 3, 2016 [5 favorites]

Honestly, I think it's okay to say, "Listen, Clelia, when you [say the opposite of what you mean/do the deadpan sarcasm thing/etc] I often literally can't tell what you want or what you mean. This makes it hard for me to know how to respond. What kind of response are you looking for?"

The problem doesn't seem to be so much the comments themselves as the lack of clarity, and once you figure out a way to handle the lack of clarity, things will probably settle down. If you were all British, or whatever, you'd all know the script for these interactions, right? But you're not - and in a mixed-communication-style situation, I think it's perfectly okay to tell people that you're having trouble understanding what they're trying to convey.

And yeah, if this person is socially insecure or an accidental asshole, it's probably not going to feel that great to have someone tell them directly that they're not being understood. But it's not doing your actual social relationship any favors to just muddle along guessing about whether they're angry, really want worms for breakfast, are trying to make a funny, etc. That itself tends to deteriorate relationships.

Twenty years ago now, some people sat me down and told me that things I thought were funny were not. It felt really bad. It feels bad in retrospect, and we were all kids, so maybe we didn't have the skills to negotiate that conversation extremely well. But it was a turning point for me, because it helped me to stop doing some things that were really alienating people I had to work with and wanted to be friends with. Yes, people made me feel bad, and yes, I was being a rude dork because I lacked social skills and had a sad childhood. But getting called out in a fairly kind and direct fashion gave me more power and control in my life, not less.
posted by Frowner at 8:27 AM on October 3, 2016 [13 favorites]

I really really think you need to be specific about the type of scenario you're talking about. Lest people judge others as judgmental assholes based on vague third party accounts.

A lot of times, people are judged based on individual expectations. So for example, a lot of sexist people just sort of casually assume that women are incapable of being anything but purely po faced literal, so if a woman is being intentionally ridiculous, they'd have to punctuate with shave and a haircut, or possibly by doing a little jig.

Or, to rip anther example right from the headlines, people might expect a dry sense of humor from a British person, but assume that an Italian person is going to be more expressive.

Is it possible that some of the misperceptions are coming about as a result of others' cultural expectations? And if so, is it really reasonable to expect someone to accommodate other people's personal biases like that, or maybe does it help to filter out people with those biases?

If you switched this person's demographics around, would it clear up some of the misunderstanding? Because if so, maybe that's not the audience they want to tailor their messages to.
posted by ernielundquist at 8:39 AM on October 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

This comes across as a person who likes playing with language and has a sense of humor. You might not get the jokes, but they are joking. They may also not care to invite people who don't get the jokes to understand them. It doesn't sound like they are bothered by their own communication style. It is also quite possible that you are getting the most outward-facing version of this person's personality, and they are likely not like this with closer companions. It is definitely a defense mechanism.
posted by tooloudinhere at 8:55 AM on October 3, 2016 [11 favorites]

This personality type is called 'asshole.'


Your options may include very simple steps, like catching this person in a private moment and asking, "hey, sometimes it's hard for people to tell when you're being serious, have you heard that from folks before?" See where the conversation goes from there.

I have to have conversations like this with new staff I work with all the time. We work remotely, mostly, so people with highly developed senses of humor at some point have to have a very human-resources-type conversation that includes observation/question pairs like this. Sometimes people don't get it and I have to say, flatly, I would like you to try to be less funny when we're on work calls for the sake of mutual understanding. In a work context, 99% of people understand and make changes.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:00 AM on October 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

Except for the pastiche, this reminds me of someone I know. I've told others who know this person that I choose to believe that they have some kind of disorder as opposed to just being in possession of inherent boorishness.

So, the deal with the person I know is all about tone, or lack thereof. People in their sphere frequently laugh nervously or act gullible when they do this crap. All this does is reward the behavior. I have taken to simply ignoring all bullshit and have noticed much less bullshit happening in my presence as a result. To wit:


"Hey, Jane, what do you want for dinner?"
"Definitely a dry kale salad with lemon wedges."
"Er, really? Heh."
"No, of course I want a cheeseburger and poutine."


"Hey, Jane, what do you want for dinner?"
"Definite a dry kale salad with lemon wedges."
"Did you hear me?"
"Yes, but I've learned that only the second or third response contains the actual answer, so I'm just waiting patiently for it."
"Oh. Uh, cheeseburgers and poutine."

After a bunch of this Jane has learned to just stop with the dumb "jokes" that no one gets and be more straight. This only works with me, as far as I can tell, because I sort of aggressively push back at this dreadfully unfunny dry "humor." I felt the need to push back because every single conversation I had with this person took three times as long as it should because we had to dance around two or three unfunny deadpan "jokes" for every normal statement made. I just couldn't take it anymore.
posted by xyzzy at 9:01 AM on October 3, 2016 [20 favorites]

"Obtuse", "cryptic", or just "hard to understand".

This stuff is all fun and good when it's understood in context and functions as effective communication, but that's not what's happening here. Persisting, despite voiced confusion is kind of immature and annoying in my book. It's a violation of the cooperative principle.

Have you told this person you find them difficult to understand?
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:16 AM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Is this person British? It sounds like a Brit to me.

Seconding. I am English and this person sounds like me. I'm probably worse because my dad was a comedy writer. It works great with people on the same wavelength, because it's funny, but I understand that it doesn't work if you are unable to get the jokes.
posted by w0mbat at 10:24 AM on October 3, 2016 [10 favorites]

This person sounds like a friend of mine who has Asperger's (of course), and is (mostly) a good guy but takes a while to learn to interpret. We clashed a few times before I figured him out, but now he is one of my favorite people to talk to about certain things because I don't have to bother holding back the sarcasm+deadpan delivery that is my internal narrative but I know better than to keep in check.

One issue that he may be running into (and what, I think, drives some to label naturally sarcastic people as "Assholes") is that folks who aren't on his wavelength are made to feel bad when they fall for another one of his "jokes." Especially if the "Oh, I was just joking!" explanation doesn't come out with the tone of a sincere apology -- it makes it feel like Sarcastic Person thinks they are dumb or something for not getting it and so Sarcastic Person comes across as judgmental or critical of others.

Basically, as others have said, he needs to be working harder to make himself understood. If you're in a position where you can counsel him on his human interfacing skills, there are a few things that he can work on.

First, even though it makes the world a worse place, sometimes it's better to lay off the sarcasm because some people really just don't get it, and don't find it funny. This is hard though, if that's kind of his default way of interacting with the world, so the next couple of things are maybe a little more attainable. He does though really need to work hard at doing that with people who have explicitly told him that they don't appreciate the sarcasm (to do otherwise would be the actions of an "asshole").

2.) He is failing at communicating when he's joking. I bet he's not intentionally going for the deadpan affect, but maybe he's just not that expressive overall. He needs to learn some way to indicate that he's taking the piss. Whether it's a code word (as above) or something more subtle like a wink (though, he should do some practicing in front of a mirror/camera to make sure it's not creepy) or a grin (even the shit-eating variety).

[C] However he's going about letting people know that the was joking after he misleads them is not working either. He needs to be more self-deprecating. Less "I was joking ... duh", and more "My mouth made sounds without obtain authorization from my brain again -- sorry! What I meant was..."

iv. The in-jokes (patische, movie quotes, etc.) need to be reserved for when he's talking to at least one person who is of "his people." This is related to the first point, but different: regardless of whether or not he is actually being braggadocious* people are feeling like he's showing off his vast cultural knowledge, and it's rubbing them the wrong way. I have friends who I can have almost full conversations in movie quotes with -- but I've watched those movies with many of those friends. I can yell "MARK IT ZERO" at a buddy who nudges a game piece when making his** move, but I wouldn't do that to a relative stranger, even in a friendly game.

*I take full responsibility for what I did there.
**I'm realizing at the end of this comment that my thoughts about my friend are making me picture this person as a dude and using those pronouns by default. I'm hungry and don't feel like editing myself be gender neutral at this point, so apologies if he/his aren't appropriate.
posted by sparklemotion at 10:33 AM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Is there a name for this kind of character; and, how do I learn to navigate this persona?

To actually answer the question you asked, you accept your friend for who they are, or choose to spend your time with someone you actually like.

Trying to change someone to be who you think they should be is:
-not your job
-not likely to work
-kind of self centered

My first thought, like many other people here, was "he sounds British". I have several friends who fit your sketch (and who I love being around) and I think of them as "witty" not defensive. I would find it obnoxious if someone tried to change my friends' personalities to suit their own tastes.

Enjoy the time you spend with people by finding people you want to spend time with.
posted by danny the boy at 10:55 AM on October 3, 2016 [11 favorites]

Those all read like the exact same joke to me, the archetypal example being standing in pouring rain and saying "lovely weather, isn't it?"

It has to be completely deadpan, because enthusiasm could actually be genuine (some people do love rain), and sarcasm would just be whining ("oh great, more rain"). Straight seriousness is absurd.

If it's causing problems for them because people aren't getting it or if they're just not making very good jokes, you can tell them. If the way they make jokes bothers you, you can tell them.
posted by lucidium at 3:09 PM on October 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

this sounds almost exactly like me except for the movie quotes which I, despite wanting to be one of the cool folks who communicate thusly in every conversation they have, I can never actually remember the lines and so fumble them all.

But yes: sarcasm, yes: opposite day, yes: deadpan. People remark on how deadpan I am, often. But for me... it's a little incomprehensible how people get their faces and vocal tones to move so much.

I've also had people tell me I come across as incredibly judgmental, and very rude for making jokes that others don't get. But actually, I have a compassionate heart. I totally get that some folks don't get my jokes - I see it more as a failure of my own communication rather than a failure of their comprehension.

It's not who I want to be. I want to be that guy who always smiles, always has a kind word, always encourages friends and coworkers, and just really lifts the spirits and the energy of any group he meets.

But that's not who I am. I doubt I will ever be that guy. Instead, I'm this guy.

Differential reinforcement of incompatible behavior works. I usually would much rather talk about things I am interested in, like fashion, politics, philosophy etc., than if I do or don't want kale for lunch.

Talking to me about my personality problems, doesn't work. I already know how awful I am at making friends and talking to people, no hot tips are going to change my reinforcement contingencies.
posted by rebent at 3:24 PM on October 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

From my own experience, I suspect this person may have developed their sense of humo(u)r largely from television. TV comedies are full of gags like this, which are funny on television precisely because they are things you would never say in real life. On TV, it is funny to say something that makes you seem like a jerk. But in real life you run the very real risk of people not realizing that you're only acting like a jerk for a laugh unless they are already close to you. In fact, to most people, it doesn't much matter what your motivation is, it only matters that you're acting like a jerk. It took me far too long to figure this out, and, in hindsight, it certainly cost me a fair number of social and even romantic opportunities.
posted by kindall at 3:29 PM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

As others have said above, from your description it's really hard to know whether the person you're describing is someone who talks exactly like how they write their wisecracking youtube comments, or a Larry David/David Mitchell-esque god of deadpan.

You've described my entire (British/Russian) family. A typical family get together might involve my great uncle trying to convince my grandma that he just caught my sister doing drugs on the back balcony (totally made up) because he finds it funny when my grandmother in her strong Russian accent will play along and curse in antiquated phrases that she uses because she finds them (and the English language in general) amusing ("God give me strength! I'm going to kill that little bugger!"). When we reminisce about my deceased dad we mostly share affectionate but mocking stories- e.g. the time he wore the same jumper for 2 years straight to spite his sister who said it was ugly, the time he was chatting with a stranger on a ferry trip and she got sea sick and started vomiting in the middle of one of his stories. These aren't mean- we all know that they're respectively about how he was strong willed/principled and content without many material things, and about how friendly he was. It doesn't need to be said explicitly, and they're also bloody funny stories.

This style of communicating (I'd just call it deadpan) can be a mask for awkwardness, but it can also be a reflection of a worldview. My family's worldview (reinforced by both British and Russian cultures) is that life is hard, all you can do is laugh at it. Earnestness or preachy-ness would be considered more of a socially awkward "buzz kill" in these circles than idiosyncratic sarcasm. We tone it down around others of a different communication style but I'm definitely happiest in interactions where I can let this side of myself shine and people value my sense of humour and take on things.
posted by hotcoroner at 5:34 PM on October 3, 2016 [9 favorites]

I'm like this - I'm not sure what you'd call my personality type (nothing good, I hope). I use deadpan humor because it lets me mock/'take the piss' out of people without them knowing it - like telemarketers, co-workers, etc. It also lets you have plausible deniability - nobody knows if what you're saying is a joke or not. It's good if you're forced to spend time in 'hostile territory', with people who are unlike you.

That covers the deadpan/sarcasm. The media pastiche is because some people, to quote the Hold Steady, 'salvage our sermons from message boards and scene reports and we sic them on the youth'.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:54 PM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also, if they're aiming this at you, and you're psychoanalyzing them to this degree, you should leave them alone. And if you ask them if you're joking they may, theoretically, say in a deadpan voice "I don't joke" or "I don't have a sense of humor".

They also may make those asides to themselves to amuse themselves.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:56 PM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have no patience for that. If I can't tell whether I think it's a joke or not, I just take it at face value and let the communication failure be on them. It makes them have to clarify with "jeez, I was just joking, don't you have a sense of humor?"

Couldn't tell you were joking. *shrug*
posted by ctmf at 7:48 PM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would call this a dry sense of humour. It's a very Australian/British thing. I've got one myself. At times, people have thought that I'm a) a nitwit b) un-genuine. I'm aware of how it can come across and try to curb it where it's likely to cause offence.

At the same time though, that subtle humour is what I find funny. When I'm rolling with it, it's to amuse myself and try to bond with other people. I know that not everyone understands my jokes or my delivery. People who don't know me well often don't think I'm funny. People who do know me well and have the same sensibilities think I'm very funny. People who know me well but don't have the same sense of humour accept it as part of my personality, and find me mildly amusing maybe half the time.

If you don't find it funny at a particular moment, you are free to shut it down. "Are you trying to be funny, or an arsehole?" usually works on me.
posted by roshy at 8:37 PM on October 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yeah, a lot of this could probably describe me (the deadpan/sarcasm/opposite stuff, not the media pastiche). I'm born and raised in the US, but I often feel like I belong in Britain more than here. I think I learned somewhat early on to curb it because I grew up in the South where this is really not done, although my extended family is made up of people who are of the NY Jewish variety, so I feel like the whole sarcasm/irony is maybe tied into that heritage as well to a certain extent.

When I was a teen, I think I was much more prone to do this in a way that could come off as mocking or judgmental of other people, but I've toned that down a lot, although I can still be pretty blunt.

I don't think this is a personalty disorder, or even a type that you can really put a name to. It's just a way of communicating that's natural and amusing to some subset of people, but not so much to others. But in the context of a particular conversation, it's totally fine to ask, "Are you being serious right now?" or whatever if you really can't tell the difference.

Also, specific examples would be really helpful, because none of this has to be inherently critical or judgmental, and I wouldn't have assumed that was an issue if you hadn't mentioned this at the end of your question. If they really do come off as critical or judgmental, I would focus on that more so if you take it up with them.
posted by litera scripta manet at 8:47 PM on October 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

Mod note: One deleted. CiS, stop it.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:57 PM on October 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm English and this sounds exactly like me. I'm not an asshole and I have no desire to change. I like who I am. My friends and family like who I am.
If you don't like their sense of humor it's not up to you to try and change them, simply find people whose sense of humor aligns with your own.
posted by shesbenevolent at 11:12 AM on October 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm a sometimes comedy writer who grew up in America and spent the last 14 years living in England. I have a theory about this.

A traditional joke involves a setup and a punchline. If the setup does not give enough information, the joke is not funny, and perhaps not even recognizable as a joke:
Someone walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Why the long face?"
On the other hand, if the setup gives too much information, it allows you to deduce the punchline in advance, therefore spoiling the crucial element of surprise:
A horse walks into a bar. Relative to human beings, horses have longer faces. Additionally, "Why the long face?" is a common phrase meaning "Why are you so sad?" Anyway, the bartender says, "Why the long face?"

Therefore, all humor relies to some degree on the listener's life experience to provide part of the setup. You assume your listener has seen a horse and has heard the phrase "Why the long face?" and you leave those details out to make the joke work.

Of all forms of humor, irony is maybe the trickiest, because it relies entirely on the listener's life experience. You just jump right in and state your punchline, with no explicitly stated setup whatsoever. For irony to work, therefore, the speaker must be really skilled at inferring what information the listener has and how they'll process it, and there's no margin of error if the speaker gets it wrong.

So, that's my Grand Unified Theory of irony, which I believe encompasses all three possible explanations for your friend's behavior:

1. He is not neurotypical, and therefore has a hard time inferring other people's thought processes.
2. He is accurately inferring the thought processes of people from his culture, but you are from a different culture.
3. He is accurately modeling everybody's thought processs, and he knows he's being offensive and he's just a jerk.

It's impossible for any of us to know which explanation is the correct one. But if it's (1) or (2), and they truly want your help, it might be worth walking them through how irony is supposed to work, and figuring out what they can do to more accurately predict how the listener will react.
posted by yankeefog at 2:53 AM on October 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

4. He only cares about his own thought processes
5. He wants to see how other people will react
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:50 PM on October 5, 2016

6. Enjoys the attention and intentionally prolongs a simple interaction by not being straightforward.
posted by ctmf at 6:47 PM on October 5, 2016

This person sounds like me. I am not on the spectrum and am not an asshole (not all of the time, anyway). I am also not British, though I've been told that's the kind of sense of humor I have.

I would be careful assuming this person doesn't know how to use language. That could be the case, but it could also be the total opposite. Maybe you just don't get the joke. That's okay; not everyone operates on that wavelength.

You don't need to fix this person.
posted by chestnut-haired-sunfish at 8:29 PM on October 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

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