Made for niches, online humor is changing comedy
The internet is the epicenter for comedy in 2019. Social networks like Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram thrive off of user-generated content. As with all of modern civilization, the best way to garner popularity is through two things: hot takes and comedy. People, television and films have all been able to harness the visceral reactions of human laughter through threading the needle between both.
Stand-up comedians like George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Sarah Silverman, among countless others, took their talents to the stand-up stage. Comedy in the pre-internet age took guts to hone craft, book spots and refine jokes. The internet has ushered in a new form with several iterations. So, as I put on my old head cap, I’ll try and explain the concept of internet jokes.
First off, the internet is obviously vast. It's a disparate infinite collection of words, images and videos relating to any topic known to man. The internet democratizes information so that everyone can conceivably learn anything. The immense depth of the internet creates intense niches.
A niche can be a subreddit or Twitter account dedicated to a film. Or it can be a Tumblr account focused on a specific feeling of a certain task in an exact location that maybe only 10 people relate to. In other words, the internet functions as a collection of many communities. This is no different than the various audiences and crowds in comedy clubs across the country. An internet joke must know its audience, no matter how big or small.
Ok, so now that we established the concept of the niche, the second most crucial element is the medium. There are multiple mediums for comedy on the internet, and also two definitions. A medium can simultaneously be the platform the joke is on and the form that joke takes in picture, text or video.
The three main platforms are the aforementioned Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram. Twitter thrives in text-only or text-plus pictures or videos. Tumblr excels at memed images. Instagram is for images and humorous captions, low-fi memes or Instagram stories/live.
Twitter jokes are funny because of sardonic wit and a recognition of “knowingness,” either through niche knowledge or mass appeal. Everyone’s Twitter looks different. There’s “Black Twitter,” “gay Twitter,” “film Twitter,” “political Twitter” and, my favorite, “fashion Twitter” (salute Four Pins).
Each of these Twitters is a collection of accounts and influencers dispensing information for their community, often through jokes. All of these disparate niches intersect frequently based on current events. That's the magical and miserable thing about the internet: We all experience the world in vastly different ways.
Recently, these niches came together. The “Twitter meet my dad” meme that erupted on April 1 was a hilarious case study in internet joke culture. Every realm of Twitter contributed to the meme and trend. For those unfamiliar with the meme, a user starts with the phrase: “My dad is (insert age here), (insert facts about an older man, often hilarious). So Twitter meet my dad.”
The tweet is then paired with photos of a famous person. The joke is making fun of the middle-aged men through either strange photos or playing off the celebrities' public personas. The best of them for my personal niche were of Larry David and Jeff Goldblum.
If you use Twitter, I'm sure you have your favorite accounts. I’m currently giggling at a tweet from Hunter Harris (@hunteryharris) of Vulture. Online humor is designed to be for a specific audience to quietly laugh to and share with their in-the-know friends. It's the breaking up of a monotonous culture through the exact same comedic tactics that gave rise to the style of comedy it employs.