Michael Herrald '21
What on earth makes Bernie Sanders sitting in a chair so funny? How do you make that funny? Where do you make it funny? In my opinion, internet humor is the most puzzling, disturbing, contradictory, and funniest form of comedy we have ever had. The most important qualifier of humor, opinion, yields the vast array and diversity of humor we see today online. However, this does also mean that explicitly trying to pin down what makes internet humor funny and its origins is an incredibly tough task, so everything talked about here will be in generalities.
With that said, there are generally three forms of internet humor: satire, nonsense, and taboo. The first, satire, is by far the most common comedic theme and does not need much explaining. The second is total nonsense, humor based on sheer ridiculousness. An example of this sort of humor might be a picture of Bernie Sanders sitting in a chair from the inauguration edited into a Yalta Conference photo. Another example would be an image with extreme color contrast that just has the letter E. It is so nonsensical, so ridiculous, that it is funny. It is not a new concept in comedy, but doing so with a picture of Mark Zuckerberg and using it in a YouTube compilation is unprecedented. Of course, there are more extreme examples, but that's the general idea of it. Take one thing and put it in a ridiculous situation, and the ridiculousness is the comedy. The ridiculousness can quickly become taboo humor, segueing into the last and most complicated category: taboo humor.
Taboo humor is by far the most subjective part of internet comedy and has been since it first came about. It is nothing new by any means; from George Carlin to Bill Burr, plenty of comedians have built their careers on shock humor. If it is taboo, it will shock you to see it. The golden rule of comedy is that nothing is off-limits. Nothing. And the internet, spurred on by the power of anonymity, takes this to a new (and often controversial) level. Everyone who is reading this knows what I mean, so no specific examples have to be given.
What about generational humor? That certainly still has a role in this realm of comedy. For example, a "Facebook Meme" is usually comedy that is funny to an older audience. Usually. My father, for example, is 76 and doesn't find what falls into that category funny. Instead, he finds humor funny that is more in line with what someone of my age enjoys or someone in their mid-20s. The reality is trying to fully understand what makes internet humor funny, what makes it unique, and what makes it the way it is is mostly futile.
Satire, nonsensical, and taboo humor have existed for as long as humans have communicated with one another, but the internet has accelerated the development and spread of these types of humor beyond the wildest dreams of comedians of the past. The iceberg of internet humor is so deep I do not think it even has an end. If you don't find it funny, well, you just don't get it, and I think George Carlin said it best, "There's a humorous side to every situation. The challenge is to find it.”