Waiting for the Punchline: Twitter memes and jokes breed comedic unoriginality

first_imgI probably sound like an old man yelling at a cloud right now, and that’s fair. It’s just exhausting when the clever and not-so-clever jokes you used to naturally create with your friends have become increasingly derivative of social media content. The jokes pander to Twitter users, and they don’t pack the same punch or satisfaction of original material. This is not a slight at meme culture or memes in general. Again, the creation of unique, entertaining content requires a certain baseline of creativity. But if we’re being truthful here, our bar for what we reward as unique or clever has been lowered as Twitter has become most Internet users’ public forum of choice. Now, Twitter has bigger problems than its comedic unoriginality. In fact, one could easily argue that humor is the best that the platform has to offer or that Twitter is the go-to forum for free entertainment nowadays.  When I criticize Twitter, I don’t mean the site can’t be funny or entertaining or useful in any sort of way. Many of us compulsively check Twitter multiple times a day because it’s entertaining. Still, there is a distinct difference between being entertaining and being creative. It’s nearly impossible to say what I’m about to say without sounding like a dramatic Luddite but so be it. Twitter is making us less creative and less original as a collective.  But joke theft and comic hackery certainly aren’t new phenomena, and they will continue to exist as long as we keep on laughing. It’s just the way it is — it’s a hell of a lot easier to use other people’s good ideas than work to come up with your own. I’m just praying we don’t start pulling from TikTok when we try to be funny. Too late. I notice it when I hang out with friends. They can be really fun people; they like to laugh, and they make a lot of jokes. It’s just that most of these jokes — usually the vast majority of them — contain the same exact premises, subject matters, setups and, at times, even the same punchlines. It’s a kind of fill-in-the-blank, Mad Libs-style humor where taking the easy layup is rewarded more than thinking outside the box. Think of the commonly used “when you *blank* but *blank*” or “mood: *blank*” or “we stan a *blank* king/queen” setups. How many times do you hear these on a daily basis? (Katie Zhao | Daily Trojan) It’s also worth noting how so many of these popular joke structures and themes originated on Black Twitter and LGBTQ Twitter before they became the dominant Twitter humor and, in turn, became played out. But let’s not kid ourselves, the mainstream will continue to co-opt Black and queer culture until they are the mainstream. Grass is green. Water is wet. Death, taxes and idea theft of minority populations are givens.  There’s a term in stand-up comedy called “hack” that is used to refer to comedians, writers and jokes which use unoriginal or obvious devices to generate cheap laughs. It’s using tropes that you know will guarantee laughs from a general audience because they’re widely understood, even if they’re not new, original or clever. In stand-up, topics that are considered “hack” range from airline travel to the differences between men and women to impressions of celebrities. With Twitter, the culture encourages a similar kind of “hack” that values mass appeal over originality. But because hack culture on Twitter has become so normalized, it makes it hard to criticize and even harder to change.  Yes, creating something entertaining requires a certain level of creativity. But in our current age of mass media consumption, anything that tickles the funny bone’s even most surface-level demands is enough to get the job done. Matthew Philips is a senior writing about comedy. His column, “Waiting for the Punchline,” runs every other Thursday. When I say Twitter is draining our collective creativity, I’m referring to a specific phenomenon that’s existed as long as the Internet has been around but has become the norm since the explosion of social media. It’s a kind of inside joke-led Internet humor that lends itself to rewarding quips that use and lightly repurpose popular formats or slang seen on platforms like Twitter, Reddit or Instagram. It’s a type of funny predicated more on shared experience and gatekeeping than comic creativity. My mind flashes to the Vine of the guy going “haha, I do that.” And just like that, I’ve fallen victim to it, too.last_img

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