What I’ve Learned About Self-Esteem by Letting 2 Million People Roast Each Other on the Internet

For the founder of r/RoastMe, the ultimate test of how you feel about yourself is how easily you can take a joke

The subreddit r/RoastMe continues in the great tradition of the New York Friars Club, but makes all of that ridicule much more universal. That is, you don’t need to be Bruce Willis, Charlie Sheen or Justin Bieber to be roasted, or Jeffrey Ross, Sarah Silverman or Gilbert Gottfried to do the roasting. All you gotta do is place yourself at the mercy of RoastMe’s community of nearly 2 million members, each of whom is more than happy to cut you down to size. Of course, in the process, its founder SwagMasterEDP and its moderators go to great lengths to ensure that the mocking never crosses that thin line between “comedy” and “hate.” In fact, if anything, SwagMasterEDP views it all through a much broader, more philosophical lens, considering a good roast as much an exercise in building (or breaking) self-esteem as anything else. Here’s what else he’s kinda, sorta learned while serving as the internet’s biggest roastmaster…

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There are infinite reasons why people choose to have strangers on the internet tear them to shreds. But at the root of every single one of those reasons lies the same motivation: Attention. 

Attention is the truest test of self-esteem, and self-esteem is an amalgam of many things. Most people know posting in RoastMe is going to test their self-esteem, which is what gives the subreddit that very specific zest: You might be confident and comfortable with the size of your nose, but are you equally comfortable with how close together your eyes are? The mole on your chin? Does it awaken childhood trauma if someone calls you “a somehow more alcoholic Mickey Rourke”? 

To that end, sometimes attention-seekers get a bit more than they bargained for. A very popular post on Instagram might garner 1,000 comments of mostly spam and compliments with some negative comments sprinkled in, but nothing can prepare someone for 100 percent of the comments on a post mocking them. 

Can I get roasted please? from RoastMe

Of course, some people completely lack self-awareness, so they’re immune to everything. This is arguably a worse trait than being hurt by everything. If there is nothing in the world that you question about yourself, you run the risk of being very maladapted — and you’re definitely insufferable. Finding that balance is the key to a healthy esteem economy. 

That’s why the best roasts are those that manage to pinpoint the weaknesses no one else saw. People will comb through the roastee’s post history and concoct a statement with the pure intent of affecting them emotionally.  

The people who were really made to be on the subreddit care the most about having a lasting effect on the person being roasted. Whether that’s with a great punchline or going deep into their history and finding something that speaks directly to the person’s soul — something they never wanted to hear.

Thank you for all the support! Seeing complete strangers care about my situation really warmed my heart. from RoastMe

Still, the subreddit is founded under the tenet of “Good, Clean Fun,” so no good-faith roaster should ever want someone to be hurt beyond the pale of good-natured jokes.

You often hear, “People need to have a sense of humor.” But that assumes having a sense of humor is a defense mechanism, which it is not. A sense of humor is a reflection of how someone feels about themselves and the world around them. 

In other words, a strong sense of humor is a result of confidence and emotional intelligence, not a precursor to it. 

Insult comedy in no way mirrors therapy, but it can be an extreme microcosm of practicing that self-confidence. Appreciating insults about yourself requires you to separate from the things that are being said, and to assure yourself that it has no bearing on your self-worth. That isn’t always easy to do, but it’s made easier, in some cases, by the fact that these people are strangers in an environment where this is done for fun. 

Ultimately, how people react just comes down to how they view themselves — it has nothing to do with what’s on the outside. One thing that truly never ceases to amaze me are the cases of people who get roasted while under the most extreme circumstances — some have serious disabilities, some severe diseases and some have had tragic things happen to them. The people who offer themselves up with that kind of backdrop are always the most gracious and humble in the comments. I assume that’s because they understand what true pain and suffering is, and it’s certainly not being made fun of by a bunch of sweaty redditors.

That said, being roasted obviously isn’t for everyone. While I do think RoastMe represents a non-traditional way people can band together and work through taboo things and feelings in a semi-controlled setting, some people just don’t want or need to be mocked

For others, though, there really is nothing like it. But everyone has a different disease, and that means everyone needs a different cure.