The Internet and the collective boredom of people at work have arguably redefined comedy. With online comedy content juggernauts like Funny or Die and videos of people failing on YouTube, watching videos online has become a common pastime of this generation. Blogs, podcasts, and memes all created for the purpose of being funny and entertaining have, together, almost made for a new era or movement in how people get a good laugh.
However, as the term “viral” has seeped its way into the nomenclature for entertainment marketing companies, many comedians, sketch groups, etc. constantly seek the million-views-on-YouTube or the thousands-of-followers-on-Twitter as if that’s the proverbial gold at the end of the comedy rainbow that will get them a show on TV. Whether that’s true or not, what intrinsic quality that makes something go viral is still largely a mystery. The concept of Search Engine Optimization, more commonly referred to as SEO, has come about as a way to increase the “searchability” of anything on the web. With this in mind, people producing comedy content now actually take steps to be topical, use every possible tag they can think of, and more annoying tactics to have what they posted be seen, even have it go viral.
SEO has definitely affected what comedy is and has, quite possibly, ruined it.
That might be an overstatement, but just think for a minute about how many folks try to spin an event, news, etc. into something funny so they can get views/hits. How many more times are we going to see an Obama impressionist rapping? How many times are we going to hear how the Real Housewives of City-That-Should-Be-Ashamed-of-Itself is so amazingly bad? Do we really need to have the Tony Awards live-tweeted? All of these are instances of SEO forcing comedy to be shoehorned into something that may or may not be actually funny.
Perhaps, I’m embittered from the 5 hours-plus of comedy that I watch every single day as I write for Laughspin.com and the Comedy Bureau. Yet, there can be no denying that originality in comedy posted online has suffered from this phenomenon. Many Funny or Die “exclusive” sketches these days feature celebrities just for the sake of featuring a celebrity, as opposed to going for the funny. It used to be that one didn’t have to filter through Funny or Die to watch something for a good laugh, but such is the case if you want to get to something really funny like Dan Savage posing a new threat to Rick Santorum.
As Google’s magic algorithm bases search results on specific keywords, many people will tailor their comedy, as opposed to just being funny without relying on specific references. Essentially, the issue here speaks to the ongoing debate between comedians, writers, etc. on forcing jokes out of reading a newspaper versus finding observations they personally think are funny, then making a joke out of that.
That isn’t to say that topical comedy can’t be hilarious. Paul F. Tompkins has made quite a stir this year online not only with the Pod F. Tompkast, but with his recaps of American Idol for Vulture as well as a redub of a clip from Cake Boss on Hulu’s The Morning After.
Consider, now, the “planking” craze. Though started elsewhere in the world by bored teenagers, the hilarious comedy duo, the Walsh Brothers made one of the first American planking videos because they just thought it would be really funny to lay flat in awkward places. Their instincts were right, and ever since debuting at their own live show at the UCB theater in L.A. a few months ago, it has definitely gone viral. In fact, they’ve been featured on Fox News, parodied on Jimmy Kimmel Live, and have inspired a Funny or Die PSA wherein Hollywood takes a stand against planking.
Planking has since begun to wear out as a joke because of too many people wanting to jump on its “keyword bandwagon.” As is often said, with “cool” often killing itself as soon as everyone finds out about it, SEO has made the same true of many things that go viral.
With all of that being said, comedy hasn’t been ruined by SEO, the Internet, or even the lackluster line of summer comedy releases this year. Comedians, writers, performers, etc. will always find their way to be heard, but hopefully there will be better ways devised to find something like Kurt Braunohler’s World Wild of Animals rather than finding it in this post.
One last thing: having “comedian” in your profile name on Facebook only makes you look silly and less legitimate as a funny person.