Big Bang Comedy, and the Shattered Windscreen of the Internet

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I was reading an article in the New York Times the other day about niche comedy. It spoke of a drummer telling jokes about drumming to other drummers, and reminded me of a friend at university who studied maths once telling me about mathematical jokes, which made no sense to non-mathy people.

The joke was something about mathematicians not being able to tell the difference between Christmas and Hallowe’en, because Dec 25 is Oct 31. I did not laugh, because regardless of my deep abiding love for statistics, I am not a complete nerd. To be fair, he didn’t laugh either, but this was because as well as a mathematician, he was a normal human being with a functioning sense of humour.

Anyway, I think the joke had something to do with computers. This did not mean it had something to do with social media, but as we all know by now, I live for turning deeply shaky generalisations into shamelessly tenuous analogies so that I may beat the internet over the head with them until it begs for a nice cup of tea and a sit down.

Big Bang Comedy, and the Shattered Windscreen of the Internet

The whole niche comedy explosion got me thinking about my own tiny niche of bookish humour, and what the internet has ever done for us; which in turn got me thinking about politics and society.

(Bear with me on this one. If it disappoints you, I give you carte blanche to tear it apart in the comments, at which point I will get very, very cross, examine your comment for any grammatical slips, and expose you in a viral tweet which will haunt you for the rest of your life. Just sayin’)

The Comedic Dark Ages

25 years ago, comedy wasn’t really available for groups of people linked by a shared interest in something very specific. The little sector or peer-specific humour we had was generally passed around on paper, photocopied within an inch of its life, eventually rendering it illegible. Jokes passed around orally often lost quite a lot in translation, and a hell of a lot more in poor telling.

Comedians spewed out the same broad routines for years, confident that the same audience wouldn’t have heard the same ‘you-know-when-you-go-to-the-toilet-right?’ jokes twice. Others simply stole routines from their rivals and peers, figuring that whatever was said on a cruise ship leaving Southampton was unlikely to get back to the guy in Edinburgh from whom they stole it.

Mathematicians used the two mathematical jokes they knew to top and tail guest lectures in foreign universities. Drummers told their lonely jokes in bars following gigs, wishing, once they’d had to explain the punchline a second time without even a clash of cymbals to give them their dues, that bands had more than one drummer.

Big Bang Comedy, and the Shattered Windscreen of the Internet

And Irish bloggers with a penchant for bookish humour had nowhere to put sketches about narrative devices having an argument in a pub. They merely loped along, vaguely entertained by some idea forming in their head, with no clue of how to develop it into something which might entertain fellow book lovers, let alone how it might get to them.

In Which I Try To Make The Title (Sort Of) Relevant

In the beginning, the internet was a wide clear windscreen onto the rest of the world. All of a sudden, we had sight of far away people who seemed to think like us, feel like us, and like the same things we did.

Along with short fashionistas, youth culture trendsetters, cold climate survivalists and rabid cat lovers, niche comedy found direction and purpose through the windscreen of the internet. It suddenly knew where it was going, and who was waiting on the other end. It found its home. Millions upon millions of homes, in fact. Which was utterly fantastic – at least for niche comedy.

But it wasn’t long before the windscreen shattered. Internet users who found their spiritual home in the windscreen suddenly found themselves locked into one very small chink of it. It was like the Big Bang in reverse.

Niches became more nichey. Communities shrank into themselves, until the world was full of tiny echo chambers parroting back all the things they knew to be true to each other. The fact that nobody outside their particular chink agreed with them became proof of righteousness, rather than wronginess.

Big Bang Comedy, and the Shattered Windscreen of the Internet

Niches have become enablers. And people do so love being enabled. Most of us spend our whole lives looking for validation in everything from routine bowel movements, to whatever dubious job of work we did last Tuesday.

It’s ironic that a society obsessed with being liked has turned to the internet – that great bastion of ire and upset – to find out if it’s succeeded.

From Big Bangs To Compassionate Vacuums

We all know that the internet is a vacuum into which our attention, motivation, and time disappear. A vacuum is said to be devoid of matter. What matters is that which makes us human, and that is compassion. I think we have all seen evidence that social media is too often devoid of compassion.

Living life online teaches us that no matter what we say, enough faceless people from our chink of the windscreen will agree with us enough to make us feel right. Even when we have upset three people who have been brought to tears, our online interaction has become proof that we must upset people in order to be righteous. Having found our niches, we now can’t find our way out of them.

Which is a long way from comedy, when you think about it. So does anyone have any ideas about how to make it funny again?

Big Bang Comedy, and the Shattered Windscreen of the Internet

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  37 comments for “Big Bang Comedy, and the Shattered Windscreen of the Internet

  1. February 11, 2018 at 10:35 am

    Personally I like to spend time online mocking people who spend time online. I do this with neither self-awareness nor irony. It is quite niche but it keeps me happy.

    Liked by 2 people

    • February 11, 2018 at 11:52 am

      I think it sounds downright splendid, James. In fact, I can think of 39 worse ways to spend one’s time. Gold star.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. February 11, 2018 at 11:00 am

    OK, so righting the wrongness of all social media and the niche-addiction of the internet is, I would say, well above my pay-grade. But I will claim (perhaps righteously) that I have always resisted the notion of having a separate author page to convince readers that there is no Will Hahn who roots for the NY Giants, leans conservative, fancies himself a terrific wit, lives in a house with six cats, works for a telecom research firm and has already declared Tara Sparling the funniest person in a country he’s never visited. I’ve been anti-niche that way I suppose.

    And perhaps Cowboys fans, liberals, witless people, dog lovers, artists and people who think James Joyce was funny will never read my tales. Good riddance to all of them. I’m sticking to my guns.

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 11, 2018 at 11:58 am

      Got 63% the way into your comment before my vision was clouded for some reason by a sudden feeling of overwhelming righteousness, Will.

      Not to mention the fact that as a self-professed dog lover, I realised that we’re not even in the same niche, so if I’m to follow my argument through to its logical conclusion, what you said about me MUST be true.

      Now I’m overcome with uncharacteristic emotion. Excuse me while I reapply my liberal eyeliner.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. February 11, 2018 at 2:45 pm

    Reblogged this on Siân Glírdan and commented:
    Deep stuff from Tara S… Need to think of an equally cerebral response now. I may be gone some time… 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 11, 2018 at 5:32 pm

      Thanks for the re-blog, Jan, but come back soon. I can’t diguise opinionated vitriol under a veneer of pseudo-intelligence for long.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. February 11, 2018 at 4:51 pm

    Ah, but if it weren’t for deeply shaky generalisations and shamelessly tenuous analogies, where would the internet be? Real life, that’s where. And we can’t expect to find entertainment, not to speak of comedy, in that, now can we?

    Liked by 2 people

    • February 11, 2018 at 5:35 pm

      Good grief, no, Christine. If we could, what would comedians do for a living?!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. February 11, 2018 at 5:11 pm

    Hang around for a while, I’m looking for my dictionary.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. February 11, 2018 at 5:40 pm

    I love this line of yours:
    “It’s ironic that a society obsessed with being liked has turned to the internet – that great bastion of ire and upset – to find out if it’s succeeded.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 11, 2018 at 8:09 pm

      I like that you love it, but also have conflicted feelings about such abject weakness regarding said liking of loving, which pretty much negates my whole online identity. God, this whole internet thing is darn tough.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. February 11, 2018 at 6:45 pm

    I claim cluelessness regarding this whole topic, Tara. And I didn’t get the math joke. That’s going to haunt me all day. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    • February 11, 2018 at 8:11 pm

      Unless you were either a mathematician or computer programmer in the 1990s I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to get it, Diana. Take my advice and wear it as a badge of honour!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. February 12, 2018 at 12:02 am

    I’m certainly no mathematician but I’m a sucker for things like that. Dec 25 & Oct 31 are also equal to Hex 19, which sounds like a really cool Occult night club. I also used to play the drums (badly) so I kind of relate to the NY Times article. Which brings us back to niche comedy. One of the things that jokes do is to twist a subject in a new direction and usually requires the joining of dots by the audience to work. For example: “What do you call a sheep without any legs?” Answer: “A cloud”. A bit surrealist, yes, but also very childlike – most people can join the dots and see the link and it’ll prompt a chuckle or a groan. It’s a kind of reward circuit, a bit like the satisfaction in answering a quiz question or completing a puzzle. But there’s also a bit of smugness, being able to get a joke where others stare blankly. I’m not saying it’s big or clever. Umm, hang on, I think sometimes it IS clever, but only because the topic is obscure. My favourite recent one is: “There are 2 types of person: 1) those that can extrapolate from incomplete data”
    So yeah, internet, echo chambers, failure to engage outside ever-decreasing social media circles – all bad things. But I say hurrah for the ability to share terrible jokes about very niche things. I went looking for Excel jokes to finish with, but the ones I found were all shit, which just goes to show that you can have a niche working environment but you still need a bloody comedian.
    [steps up to mic] – “ahem. I once went out with a girl called Excel. I didn’t mean to, it was a complete accident. I was doing market research on shoe sizes. I asked her if she was size 1-3, 4-6 or 7-9. I wrote down her answer and boom, I found myself in a restaurant staring into her eyes. She’d turned it into a date.”

    Ayethangyow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 12, 2018 at 7:48 am

      All excellent points, Nick – particularly the sheep, although I do remember many more unmentionable sheep jokes. You had me right up until the Excel joke, at least. I’m afraid it didn’t compute with me and I’m actually in your niche there. Not trying to be funny here, but perhaps there’s just no comedy in Excel? Word 😜

      Liked by 1 person

      • February 12, 2018 at 9:48 am

        And the worst thing about niche comedy is having to explain a niche joke to someone in your niche. Sigh. Try typing 4-7 in an Excel cell and pressing enter.
        [Grumble, gripe, ruining a perfectly crafted-on-the-spot bit of niche comedy, mutter…]

        Liked by 1 person

        • February 12, 2018 at 10:06 am

          No, no, I got it, Nick, I just didn’t GET it. Then again it is Monday, my office is cold, and grumble aargh snarl hiss, etc. 😣

          Liked by 1 person

          • February 12, 2018 at 10:21 am

            Ah, Monday morning, cold office, I totally get that. I could do with my fingerless gloves right now.
            And as for the Excel Date joke, I think I’ll try it with my analyst pals on Valentines Day. I’m gonna flog this sod until someone laffs.

            Liked by 1 person

            • February 12, 2018 at 10:56 am

              You go for it, my babbity friend. It’s a tough road, this comedy lark, but we’re darn dogged.

              Liked by 1 person

              • February 12, 2018 at 11:08 am

                We suffer for our art. And possibly make others suffer in the process, but hey ho…

                Liked by 2 people

              • February 15, 2018 at 4:05 pm

                So, having not let this lie, I popped a re-worked version on my Facebook page:

                “I once knew a girl I nicknamed Excel because she kept trying to turn things into a date.”

                I got 10 Likes and 7 Laughing Smileys, plus this worrying comment from an ex-colleague: “Oh we need more jokes like this please!!! Could you make it a weekly thing?!”

                All of which proves niche comedy and my Excel joke skills are alive and well.

                So there.
                🙂

                Liked by 1 person

                • February 16, 2018 at 6:32 am

                  I’m delighted for you, All Things Babbity. However, you’ve indeed reworked it to the point we could almost say it’s a new joke, so I stand (or sit) by what I said earlier, which just proves the world doesn’t deserve to laugh, wouldn’t you agree?!

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • February 16, 2018 at 9:17 am

                    You’re a harsh woman, Tara Sparling. I just think that this proves that 1) you may be having a grumpy week, missing jaunting across the world, 2) a writer always reserves the right to edit to the nth degree, 3) I have some very weird friends.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • February 16, 2018 at 10:53 am

                      Good grief yeah. I’m the harshest. It was my dream and now it’s a reality. I’d like to thank my family, and Blog.

                      See? Not grumpy at all 😜

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • February 16, 2018 at 11:13 am

                      It’s Friday too! 😀

                      Liked by 1 person

  9. February 12, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    I’m not all that sure but feel the answer’s probably right where you said, somewhere on the other side of the windscreen.

    Liked by 2 people

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