As I was struggling with a joke in one of my posts last week, Om was kind enough to remind me, “Dude, you’re not funny. So don’t try.” And after the initial sting subsided, I realized that he’s right. But it got me thinking about who is funny, and what makes something funny — especially with online video, when a million other wannabes are constantly vying for your attention.
Funny is the only way to describe CollegeHumor‘s Internet Commenter’s Business Meeting — and its sequel. In fact, both videos packs so many clever jokes in under three minutes, they compel multiple viewings. The first Meeting has been seen 930,000 times since launching last month, and Meeting 2 has been seen 182,000 times in just three days. Given our previous discussion here at NewTeeVee, I’d say these qualify as “hits.”
I wanted to find out more about what makes something funny and if there’s a trick to making something funny online. So I called up Dan Gurewitch, senior writer for College Humor TV (CHTV). He wrote Meeting 2 and co-wrote the first Meeting with Streeter Siedell, CollegeHumor’s front page editor.
Obviously, when creating comedy for attention-deficit-afflicted online audiences, shorter is better. “I don’t have the patience. I want to watch something I know from the title will be good,” said Gurewitch. The title, in fact, is key. Just as The Onion starts with headlines, CHTV starts with a title that will not only grab your attention, but give you a sense of what you’re about to watch. A perfect example: Facebook Off. “The trailer combines Face/Off with stealing each other’s Facebook identity. You read the title, you know what you’re getting. The next minute-and-a-half is that joke,” explained Gurewitch.
This reinforces Gurewitch’s belief that what works best online is concept comedy. “A lot of humor on TV comes from character development. Online is the concept. No one’s figured out how to do character development online.” That’s a good point. We spend hours getting to know TV characters, and just minutes half-paying attention to characters online.
Another important rule: know your audience. Both episodes of Meetings were released online and are about people online — specifically the cast of characters that inhabit every talkback forum across the web. CHTV is making jokes in the vernacular of its “people.” Plus, they’re situations that online audiences in general can relate to: not having your comment get posted, childish taunts, sexual innuendo, etc.
It’s the ability to relate — to connect — with a joke that people enjoy. As a result, CHTV fills its videos with pop culture references. “We’re blatantly nostalgic,” Gurewitch told me,. “I wrote Where the F*ck is Carmen San Diego which is Where in the World is Carmen San Diego via The Wire.”
The Face/Off, Facebook, Carmen San Diego, and The Wire examples are also important. CHTV’s demographic is males 18-to-25 years old, so the references have to click with them. “We’re not going to go back and make a 70s joke,” said Gurewitch. “We go with whatever’s popular.”
And for a business, popularity is key, which is why CHTV taps into the rich vein of pop culture to fuel its jokes. “Really clever, stand-alone sketches don’t do that well on the Internet. They’re not the kind of videos that go viral,” said Gurewitch. “For us to stay a money-making business, we need to make sure videos have a lot of popularity.”
With hits like Internet Commenters Business Meeting, that shouldn’t be a problem.