The acceptable method of establishing dominance in social groups varies over a lifetime. Kids take a primal approach and go for a physical confrontation first before figuring out that it is not as socially acceptable in modern society as their evolved DNA had made them believe. Sports and Dance being the second best option of showing physical prowess, helps those naturally good at it to rise to the top of the Primary and Secondary school food chain. Adult life, on the other hand, is all about projecting satisfaction. Who has the best married life? Who goes on the best vacations and dines in the best restaurant? Beyond a certain age, if you can take a dump on command, you are already ahead of most.
The time between these two phases, when everyone is transitioning and choosing their own versions of hierarchy; when the teen securing the highest grades and the hunk good at sports are both at the top, is when the divine knowledge of comebacks is imparted to the loser in both these categories along with the realization that comebacks are the only thing that can be used to dominate everywhere, from play school to ICU. Once enlightened with it, the loser goes through different stages before mastering all the versions of comebacks and gaining the wisdom of when to use what.
It is important to note that only a self aware loser can go through all the levels of comebacks I am going to mention now. The confident hero is likely to plateau at a certain point or use memorised lines to impress unassuming strangers but only a loser is gifted enough to create those lines and achieve mastery in the art of comebacks.
In the beginning, the loser is predisposed to be drawn towards self deprecating jokes and to mistake them for comebacks; they have the same effect that a comeback does and one can’t blame the loser for this confusion. The audience laughs, tension in the room is diffused, attention is shifted, everyone has a great time; the loser builds a decent reputation until he meets the Confident Idiot. It is the confident idiots’ poor sense of humour that first draws attention to the fact that just because the loser has turned an observation into a joke doesn’t mean the observation is untrue. The idiot will build on the joke, remove the layers of sarcasm protecting the loser’s insecurity and lay it bare in front of the audience. The true nature of self deprecating jokes is revealed now and the loser has to make a conscious effort to stop using it.
With all the knowledge of joke construction that the loser has learnt in the self deprecating phase, he now uses the same jokes but with an external observation. All the tension in the room is collected, molded into a sharp knife and stabbed deep into the heart of a target present in the room. The loser would start by finding a target lower than him in hierarchy and eventually punch up as he gets more comfortable with his craft. The target can effectively do nothing in response to a comeback of this kind because no one in the audience, other than him, feels the pain caused by the loser’s comeback. For everyone, other than the target, the comeback was a harmless joke that lifted the tension in the room. (1) If the target chooses to respond with a comeback, the audience would sense his hurt in his words and feel the tension in the room rise again, hating the target for taking the comeback so seriously in the first place. (2) If the target decides to point out how hurt they are by the loser’s words, there would be sympathy, but also hate for spoiling the mood of the room (3) if the target decides to respond with physical confrontation, that’s the last time they are invited to any social gathering. A good comeback is a complete win for the loser. The target is paralysed.
As the loser gets more comfortable with this, he starts doing this too frequently; getting quick laughs and feeling good about those laughs. There comes a stage when no audience is left to laugh at his comebacks as there are too many ex targets in the audience now, who remember the pain they felt when they were his target. Everyone hates the loser for constantly putting people down with words and at this point the loser has his second realization:
Comebacks are not as important as the audience laughing at the comeback. A good audience will laugh at a bad comeback but a bad audience won’t laugh at a good one. The loser needs to always have the audience by his side for the comebacks to work.
With this realization, the loser enters the last and the purest stage of comebacks. This type of comeback attacks no one. It takes the tension in the room and just turns it into a joke that can make even the attacker smile. This is the simplest of all and doesn’t require much thought. It is the simplicity of the comeback that makes everyone smile. There is no need for the loser to look at himself through others eyes anymore and he stops being a loser. In that moment, he loses his power of comebacks and becomes an average human living on previously earned reputation. The audience now laughs at whatever he says and, fully conscious of the transition, the loser turns into a Confident Idiot. The one who thinks he is at the top and is unaffected by the fact that he is not.