In Search of the Perfect Neg

Previously, I wrote about “negging” and how guys do it wrong. After I shared the post on Facebook, a sizable and heated discussion erupted, so … I might as well stoke the flames and write more about the topic.

One person asked for some examples of effective negs. This was my answer:

It’s always going to be contextual. You can say the exact same thing to two different people, and it’ll be “done right” with one person, and “done entirely wrong” with the other.

I stand by the answer, and that’s why I’m reluctant to start throwing out example comments. Because ultimately, that’s not how flirting or banter works.

Nevertheless, I did come across the perfect neg just the other day, and it was uttered by none other than Carrie Fisher. Here’s the exchange, as told by The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson:

“There’s an old story that the only direction George Lucas would give was ‘Faster, more intense.’ So, one day on set, I was giving Carrie this long, drawn-out, pretentious direction,” Johnson says. “She just nodded and nodded and I came to an end. She just looked at me for a second, and with perfect timing she said, ‘So, faster and more intense?'”

To me, this comment is perfect because it’s far more than just a dig at Johnson. If anything, it’s a dig at George Lucas. And that is why the comment is both scathing and funny.

Breaking it down, we see that it’s actually an inside joke — a privileged piece of knowledge that Fisher and Johnson share. It’s not a comment that Fisher can make to just anyone, because most people wouldn’t even get it.*

That’s the key here. It’s anything but generic, and it demonstrates that Fisher and Johnson have a connection to each other that most other people are not privy to. At the same time that Fisher is teasing Johnson, she’s referencing this shared connection they have.

And of course, attraction is based in no small part on shared connections. If you read my post about the callback and why it’s so effective at building rapport between two people, this is the exact same principle.

Now, at this point, many of you are no doubt thinking, “Okay, yeah. So how exactly am I supposed to come up with something like this when I’m talking to someone I just met?”

And my answer is …

“You can’t.”

Realistically, you’ll probably never come up with a remark both this deadly and this hilarious to someone you just met 30 seconds prior. That’s why you should probably get to know someone first before you even think about teasing them.

At the same time, it is still possible to banter with and playfully tease someone you barely know (I’m purposely avoiding the term “negging” now, since it’s far too loaded). You just have to be good at reading people. You have to be able to figure out, after only a few glances or comments, what you can joke about and what you need to stay away from. In this respect, successfully bantering with a stranger is considerably more challenging and risky. But, it is doable with practice and experience.

This is an entire skillset in itself, by the way — one encompassing several elements of the Social Savvy Sage curriculum. So you can bet I’ll be writing a lot more about this in the future.

Ultimately, remember that the purpose of flirting is to build rapport with someone in a funny and engaging way. You’re not insulting them. If you choose to tease, it absolutely must be 1) in a playful, lighthearted manner, and 2) on a topic that you know with with 100% certainty the other person doesn’t harbor negative feelings about.

Carrie Fisher wasn’t belittling Rian Johnson’s direction. She was demonstrating a shared connection they had. And that’s why her comment was the perfect “neg,” or whatever unloaded term you prefer.


*The flip side to this explains why people roll their eyes at cheesy pickup lines. If it’s a comment that you can make to literally anyone, then literally everyone will see it as insincere. As seems to be the emerging pattern, I will write more about this in a future blog post.

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