Humor as a commodity

Submitted by Kelly McBride on Tue, 03/03/2009 – 2:03pmin

Session Convenor: Kelly McBride

Session Reporter: Kelly McBride

Discussion Participants: José Báez Guerrero, John Hamer, Jacob Kaplan-Moss, Jannet Walsh, Lori Rosolowsky, Nick Penniman, Tyson Evans

Humor seems to be a huge commodity on the Internet. What can we learn about humor that will help us in journalism?

We looked at these videos  (Jacob will add the list)

Questions we asked:

Is the Internet replacing the funny pages?

What’s the difference between amusing and funny?

Where the Hell is Matt Video

It’s structured like a good joke:




riffing on the punchlines

something unexpected

good storytelling – examines difference and universal

Having a point is not a pre-requisite on the Internet

Generates a huge audience (18 million)

People remember emotional response to information

Creates a MEME (a cultural idea that is mimicked)

repeatable, remixable, inside joke w/a wink

Funny kid worried about blood video

Common form of family video

there is a punchline


A form of realism and spontaneity that can’t be faked

IRAN spoof

Layers and layers and layers of visual and auditory jokes



Targeted to an audience that will “get it”

Culturally specific, assumes underlying knowledge

Assumes a collective unconscious

Invites you to revisit it

If you don’t get it, you are motivated to figure out the jokes

the path from “I don’t get it” to “I get it” is quick and easy on the Internet, eliminating the need for the background graph so common to journalism

Humor is a great conversation starter. We need to be conversation starters, not conversation finishers

Humorous voice signals: talk about this

Authorative voice signals: yell about this

Dana Milbank’s Plouffe video

Accomplishes much more than a straight story, even a funny story

Humor endears you to the deliverer

Individuals are funny, institutions are bullies. Has to come from indiv.

The notion of staying out of the story may be a disincentive to be funny

As a society, when we use humor against the powerful, we use it to unsettle. When we use humor against everyone else, we use it to reinforce social expectations.

Maybe there’s a new idiom

humor/no BS

new language of humor is emerging

relies on individuality

seems more truthful, but also more subjective

More new idioms we find, the more we connect with the audience

You have to be fast with your joke, the audience will click away if it gets bored

What’s your goal with humor? to be popular? to provoke? add perspective? document? truth?

Self-deprecating works well. Can journalists take it as well as they dish it out?

Final video: Business reporting spoof

Why is swearing so funny?

About Peggy Holman

Peggy Holman supports organizations and communities to uncover creative responses to complex challenges using innovative engagement processes. The Change Handbook, co-authored with Tom Devane and Steven Cady, documents many such processes. The book is the considered the definitive resource for leaders and consultants working to increase resilience, agility, and collaboration in organizations and other social systems. Peggy co-founded Journalism that Matters in 2001 with three journalists to support the pioneers who are shaping the emerging news and information ecology. Peggy’s latest book, Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval into Opportunity, supports people facing disruptions to invite others to join them in realizing new possibilities.
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