10 Second Comedy

How do you get young people to watch your content? It’s a question becoming increasingly more relevant and difficult to answer. Networks have tried many things to various levels of effectiveness. They’ve tried putting their content online for free, with the catch that it’s posted a week after the show originally airs. They’ve tried making it available on streaming services like Hulu a few days later. Some content creators have bypassed traditional networks and produced via Netflix, where their show will likely end up anyways. But one traditional-style network is diving headfirst into new media, and it’s Comedy Central.

Comedy Central was already somewhat ahead of the curve of its TV network companions. Its sketch comedies like Key and Peele and Inside Amy Schumer found a successful home in Youtube, where their 3-5 minute sketch lengths were accessible and convenient. While these videos don’t always garner hugely impressive TV ratings (http://www.theverge.com/2015/9/9/9252615/key-and-peele-finale-internet-television-youtube-ratings, http://headlineplanet.com/home/2015/04/22/ratings-inside-amy-schumer-sinks-to-premiere-low-out-of-deflated-tosh-0/) they do get millions of views and generate an interest in the programs, as well as internet ad money. Recently, Comedy Central has gone deeper into new media, creating original content for Snapchat. In fact, just last week Comedy Central renewed four Snapchat shows and ordered nine more (http://deadline.com/2016/03/comedy-central-Snapchat-nine-new-series-upfronts-1201728453/).

Now original Snapchat content is not necessarily new. Popular website Funny Or Die has been taking advantage of this for a while, but while Funny or Die releases weekly shows via snapstories, Comedy Central releases theirs through the somewhat new Discover feature. And while it might make sense for Funny or Die, a website, to venture onto Snapchat, Comedy Central has been primarily a network television stations for twenty years. Comedy Central is one of only a few other major networks to use the Discover feature, and it uses it very well.

The difference between a normal Snapstory, a collection of up to ten second videos submitted by a user and played in succession, and Discover is that Discover allows the user to interact with the video. Comedy Central, for example, will often have a few seconds of video preview play on screen and the Discover feature will allow a user to scroll down and watch that video in its entirety. Videos include sketches from past and current Comedy Central shows, videos of standup comedians that have aired on the network, and original content.

This ability to watch entire standup bits, sketches, or quick original shows gives users an immersive experience with Comedy Central and their content. Whether it be on Snapchat, Youtube, the Comedy Central app, or traditional TV, the constant presence of the network in people’s lives on a trusted and frequently used app is far from a bad thing. But Comedy Central is not the only entity using Snapchat for comedy.

Snapchat has 100 million active users every day and it is used by 30% of millennial internet users (http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/Snapchat-statistics/). This is the same equation Comedy Central saw, and it adds up to the fact that if you want to reach young people, and people in general, Snapchat is a damn good way to do it. While Snapchat started as a pretty straightforward send and receive system, the inclusion of stories, Discover, and live events have made it much greater than that. It is a window into the world of other people, and many of these people are famous.

Snapchat offers users that rare gift that has been elusive for so long, a real view into the world of celebrities. Many celebrities will share their Snapchat name with fans, and fans will get to see them in their daily routine, sharing what they choose. And some of these celebrities are comedians, choosing to share comedy.

Snapchat actually has a page of comedians’ usernames (http://www.Snapchat.codes/comedians-3), and while some may be unknown or known specifically to Snapchat, many big names like Chris D’Elia, Jim Gaffigan and Jimmy Fallon appear on the list. On their Snapchat comedians will post short skits, humorous observations, notes to fans about upcoming projects, or whatever they think is funny. In Snapchat, comedians have a constant audience, people to see what they find funny in an instant. It’s a great opportunity for exposure, and a low risk for wasting precious material. Comedians find funny things in the world around them all the time, not just on stage or in front of a camera, so Snapchat allows comedians to share that daily life funniness with their fans while still working on their creative endeavors that get released in more traditional forms like standup and TV shows. After all, comedians are people just like us, and just as we share funny things with our friends and followers, they do too.

Which brings us to the biggest realm of Snapchat comedy: us, the average users. We are the biggest producers and consumers of Snapchat comedy, and we always have been. Just look at the beginning of Snapchat and you’ll see that this is true. In the beginning, Snapchat was a simple photo sharing app that would delete your pictures after a few seconds. It sounds simple, but I remember the buzz it created in high school. It would delete the picture you sent… automatically!! No seriously it would!!

And while the first thing many of us high schoolers thought of was “BOOBS!”, that was not what was to become the core of Snapchat. No, the big draw was that it would delete that ugly face you sent to your friend, your best friend, and no one else. The big draw was sending some inside joke to one or two friends, without the risk of permanent online storage. It was about being silly and having fun with friends.

And as Snapchat has grown it has only created larger avenues to be silly and creative with people. I’ve seen friends build a continuing narrative on their snapstory, or build running jokes to their friends and followers. The new face-swap feature has created an unspoken competition in creativity that is hard not to enjoy.

Recently at an urban outfitters my girlfriend narrowly beat me in taking a picture of a $69 dollar sign. I remember looking at her caption and thinking I could have done better. I would’ve put a different spin on it, made a different creative choice, in the same way that millions of Snapchat users get to decide what combination of words or filters bring out the humor in their picture. My brother’s Snapchat is almost entirely pictures of water telling people to stay hydrated. It’s weird, silly, and probably annoying to a lot of people, but he’s using the app to do what he thinks is funny.

Last night, in the midst of celebrating the UConn women’s 4th straight national championship, I took a picture of vomit on the ground, and decided to add the “Go Huskies!” filter to it. The juxtaposition of the school’s idea of spirit and its actual practice is the source of humor in the picture. And while I love and study comedy and would like to think that I am a genius for this feat of humor, anyone could have taken that Snapchat, and whether they would know it or not, they would be thinking about what is funny about that situation and how to make it as funny as possible.

Because the unspoken goal of Snapchat is to have fun and share interesting things. Of course some people use it to brag about how good they look, or how cool their spring break is, but always at the heart of there seems to be a shared sense of good natured humor. Snapchat still has that “Look at this weird face!” element at its core. Its new video functions allow users to film narratives in an instant and share them with friends, something that in the past might have taken weeks. Its new filters allow you to show your friends what you would look like as a dog. It allows each user to share their own quirkiness and sense of humor at a level that was impossible before. Whether we know it or not, to some extent Snapchat has made use all comedians. And to the delight of all of us, Snapchat, which counts views instead of likes, allows the user to live in a comedian’s dream land where their content is unveiled to roars of laughter by all of their followers. Every joke is our own, and every joke kills.

 

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10 Second Comedy

It’s Like Being An Actor In LA But Everyone’s Mad At You

As an aspiring comedian, I believe that now is simultaneously the best and worst time to be a comedian. The onslaught of new technologies has brought with it a new media landscape and thus new outlets for comedians to create work, but it has also brought with it a host of problems.

Let’s start with the good. In short, the good thing about technology and comedy is that nowadays there are far more outlets for comedians to create. There is twitter, youtube, blogs, and more. There seems to be no end to the amount of public, readily available, ways for comedians to get their work out.

But therein lies part of the problem. When comedy is everywhere how do you, as a consumer, wade through the bullshit? How do you, as a comedian, distinguish yourself from the bullshit? With all the focus on entertainment and technology in our society there seems to be more opportunity yes, but when there’s more opportunity more people will want a part in it. Being a comedian, putting things on the internet is a lot like being an actor in LA. Sure there’s more opportunities than anywhere else, but everyone there is trying to do the same thing as you. This is just one of many problems that arise with comedy and the internet.

There is also the problem of material showing up online. Comedians live by their material. Their job is to point out things that people haven’t noticed or thought of, but most importantly things people haven’t heard. If a comedians material gets online and he’s not making money on it he’s losing business because people are hearing it for free. Comedian Hannibal Buress not only had a potential joke ruined by having it posted online, he also had a career long shadow come with it. Buress made a joke about Bill Cosby and his various rape allegations, which were until then an industry secret. The video went viral and, well you’ve read the news. While Bill Cosby seems to be, and deserves to be, the ultimate loser in this scenario, Buress now has to live with the stigma of being “The Bill Cosby joke guy”. Now this isn’t as bad as say, being Bill Cosby, but it’s still annoying. So Buress recently teamed up with a company called Yondr to ban cell phone use at his shows (http://www.avclub.com/article/hannibal-buress-has-found-way-stop-people-using-ce-219627) . Yondr doesn’t block cell phone coverage, it simply locks your phone in a sock-like container that needs a special device to be opened. Dave Chappelle has also employed Yondr at his shows(http://www.ew.com/article/2015/12/02/dave-chappelle-cell-phone-pouch-yondr-chicago).

When material ends up online it can cost more than just an annoying stigma. Just ask Michael Richards, the actor and comedian who played Kramer on Seinfeld. At a show at the Laugh factory in Los Angeles he became fed up with the audience and used the N word in retaliation. Cameras caught it and it wound up on the internet, in a damaging career hit (http://www.thefrisky.com/2013-11-28/kramer-from-seinfeld-explains-that-racist-meltdown-he-had-while-doing-standup/). Now this was a moment of anger, not a bit, but many comedians have had to deal with their material or jokes living on in the internet.

Current Daily Show host Trevor Noah knows about twitter and offensive comedy. When it was announced that he would take over the Daily Show for John Stewart most of the show’s young, liberal audience was excited about the future of the show. Noah was, after all, a young multiethnic South African host would surely present an interesting worldview and bring diversity to the airwaves. But not long after he was announced people went digging into his twitter feed, and came back with some skeletons. In his history on twitter Noah had tweeted jokes regarding jewish people, overweight women, and more (http://time.com/3764913/trevor-noah-twitter-backlash/). Noah apologized and everything pretty much went away, but for a while it looked like his new job might not be his at all.

In our age of blogging, hot takes, and outrage culture, it’s sometimes difficult to be a comedian. A comedian’s job is, after all, to think of funny things others wouldn’t. Sometimes people don’t think of these things cause they’re edgy or possibly offensive. Sometimes the comedian thinks something might be funny and the audience doesn’t. He has a bad show and maybe updates his act. But now that failed attempt at a joke might end up online, and lead to the comedian being condemned as a racist/sexist by people who do most of their art from behind a computer and not in front of a hostile audience. (I don’t have time to go into my feelings on these people, but I will clarify that I do not support Donald Trump and I think there’s a difference between being politically correct and being a dick). Such instances have somewhat calmed down since Donald Trump gave people something new to be mad about on the internet, but there was a point at which Jerry Seinfeld received media criticism for even mentioning that people were too politically correct (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/jerry-seinfeld-political-correctness-will-800912), which is kind of ironic considering Jerry Seinfeld has some of the cleanest jokes around.

There are clearly some times when a joke might not be in the best taste or even be offensive, but these trial and error instances are part of a comedian’s journey and craft. Comedy is a subjective art that relies entirely on the audience. Comedians go on stage with jokes they think and hope are funny, but they won’t know until they audience responds. Sometimes it goes well and sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s all part of the game. What the internet has done is raise the risks of an already risky endeavor and it can sometimes limit what a comedian is willing to try, which is damaging to their craft.

So today there are a million voices on the internet trying to be funny, and as a comedian you have to distinguish yourself, but also not be rub anyone the wrong way while doing so, and also make sure that only what they want to end up on the internet ends up there. It sounds like a hopeless endeavor, as though trying to be a comedian wasn’t hopeless enough, but the internet has also been the saving grace of many comedians.

From Youtube sketches to humor sites to podcasts, the internet has given comedians new ways to express themselves and find an audience. I’ve already written in my last blog about writers who have gotten hired from their twitter accounts. This kind of thing happens more and more now a days. Improv and comedy podcasts allow comedians a full range of possibilities for humor. Comedy Bang Bang, hosted by Scott Aukerman is one of the biggets comedy podcasts, and after giving hilarious performances, often playing more than one character at a time, comedians can plug their work and their audience grows.

And that’s the most important part, an audience. While the internet and technology can sometimes be harmful to comedians and their work, it also gives comedians this one thing they need. I know that if I write a blog post, or make a video and put it on facebook it has a greater chance of being seen than if I kept it to myself or showed it to friends privately. And when people like it, in addition to a sense of pride and satisfaction, I know that I’ve made someone laugh, and by extension made someone happy. And if I don’t get likes, well I made it, and I had fun making it.

It’s Like Being An Actor In LA But Everyone’s Mad At You

How do you get your funny?

 

What do you think the first joke was? It was probably something like, “How many Neanderthals does it take to start a fire?” or more realistically a series of grunts followed by a fart. It’s impossible to tell, but I would be willing to bet any amount of money that people have been laughing for as long as they have been talking. Humor is a part of our daily life. It forms and keeps together friendships, it helps us flirt with strangers, and most importantly it helps us get through the day. Our society and lives would be lost without it, and while it has been a constant in society for centuries, the ways we have taken it in have varied.

In America, mainstream comedy arose with Vaudeville shows. Performers would travel around the country performing shows with multiple acts, several of which were comedic in nature. In fact, according to VirtualVaudeville.com, “many of the ethnic stereotypes prevalent in television and film — Jewish, Irish, Italian, African American — derive from the ethnic caricatures that were a mainstay of Vaudeville comedy” (http://www.virtualvaudeville.com/hypermediaNotes/WhatIsVaudevilleF.html). Neat! Thanks Vaudeville!

Vaudeville remained popular from the late 1880’s to the 1920’s, when it fell off in popularity. Comedy was not gone with it however, as new silent film comedians like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin entranced and entertained audiences with their outrageous physical comedy and stunts. Soon films would have sound, which would open the door to a world of possibility in scripted comedy. Comedians like the Marx brothers would jump to the chance of this world of sound and craft quick witted dialogue that remains hilarious to this day. Comedy would remain one of the most popular genres of movies until the present day, while even serious movies were often not without comedic relief.

Another major outlet for comedy was radio. One of the first major comedy radio shows was Amos n’ Andy, a show about to black men that was voiced by white actors, reassuring the American public that racist caricatures did not die out with Vaudeville. Regardless of subject matter, Amos n’ Andy was a hit with its audience at the time. Radio shows and silent film proved that comedy can exist even when key elements of performance are missing.

Also since this is a class about mass media I feel like I should mention books. Comedy has been around in books for as long as books have been around.

Jump cut to today. Comedy is readily available anywhere. I can pull out my phone and find a twitter comedian and laugh at his tweets. I can pull up a video of a sketch comedian on youtube and laugh at their sketch. I can pull up a podcast comedian and laugh at their words. The point is that laughter is never more than a few clicks away, and that is kind of amazing. However, even a few years ago this was not the case. Although we have seen that comedy has always been a part of society, it may not have always been as prevalent as it is in the internet age.

Just before the internet, let’s say the mid 90’s, the main form of comedy for most Americans was television. Shows like Seinfeld and Friends were in their prime, and NBC had its fabled Thursday night comedy lineup. Late night hosts David Letterman and Jay Leno were broadcast every night. Comedy Central was still in its infancy as a channel, but growing fast. What was different then that is no longer true now, is that back then you needed to prove you were funny to someone before people could see your work. You needed to write a pilot, audition, interview for a writer’s job, etc. An aspiring comic needed to go through any number of channels before they could reach the mainstream audience they desired. Now, you can just tweet. I can tweet right now. I can post my own video to youtube.I can make a vine. I can post anything I think online, and people can see it. Granted it doesn’t have the same immediate audience as say appearing on The Tonight Show, but it has freedom and it has potential, two things that weren’t readily available back then.

In fact, it is not uncommon for comedians to find work from their twitter pages. Bryan Donaldson, a writer fro Late Night With Seth Meyers, was hired based on his twitter page (http://www.vulture.com/2014/04/guy-tweets-his-way-from-peoria-to-30-rock.html). People are becoming “Vine Stars” and “Youtube stars”, and while these may not be respected titles in the field of comedy, they are people making money entertaining people.

In looking at the difference between the comedy of a few decades ago and the comedy of today, a big difference stands out, and that is authorship. A scroll through one’s facebook feed will see a series of pictures with words on them, or memes. Memes really have no distinct author, they are just seemingly part of the internet. They appear somewhere on reddit or a similar site, and soon they have been posted so many places that the author becomes indistinguishable. If we compare this to traditional forms of comedy, it seems like an entirely different world.

In the mid 90’s people would generally watch comedy on TV or see it live. In both instances, there is usually a distinct author. On a television show an episode’s writer will appear in the credits, while in the world of stand up comedy, most performers write their own jokes and stealing jokes is a mortal sin. However, many of the ways people take in comedy today are bite sized. They are brief and anonymous, which is a far cry from the world of yesterday. Recently, instagram comedian The Fat Jew, came under fire for stealing the work of other comedians and posting it on his instagram account. The Fat Jew, “writer” Josh Ostrovsky had garnered millions of followers by posting jokes that were nearly identical to those posted by other comedians (http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/the-fat-jew-joke-theft-victims-speak-out-20150820). It seems that the anonymity of the internet does now allow for a world in which the brotherhood and codes of honor that serve in the stand up comedy world to dictate what is posted and not posted. This raises interesting questions regarding property, anonymity and other issues that were not as prevalent before the internet.

I would also say that the taking in of comedy used to be more deliberate. If one wanted to watch a movie, a TV show or live comedy, they would have to make a decision to do so. Nowadays however, comedy seems to appear out of the internet wood work. Facebook and twitter are part of many of our daily lives, and they are teeming with comedy (at varying levels of funniness). It has become much easier to stumble across comedy than it was in the past, due to the fact that many of the places we get our news and information are also riddled with dumb pictures with words on them.

While viewing comedy is less deliberate on the internet, it is also paradoxically more in our control than ever. Watching comedy has never been easier. Youtube is filled with comedy videos, posted by amateurs and professionals alike. Netflix instant stream has an abundance of comedy shows and stand up performances available to watch. In fact, Netflix has produced 26 original comedy specials since 2012 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_original_programs_distributed_by_Netflix#Stand-up_comedy). Before the internet viewers were at the mercy of television programming and whatever was at the local video store, but now we can be laughing hysterics within moments thanks to our computers. This readiness and availability of comedy is perhaps the biggest difference to the comedic world of the pre-internet age.

Although we now take in comedy in all sorts of new and interesting ways, the idea remains the same. We want something to take us away from the stress and problems of everyday life, and we turn to comedy. Whether it be on our phones, our computers, or on the television, comedy will always cheer us up and make us look at the world a little less seriously.

 

How do you get your funny?