How has Humor Changed in Media?

Tom and Jerry episode: Jerrys Cousin
A great example of early slapstick humor, based around the physcial gag of a large hand, and a confused target.

Warner Bros Entertainment

Tom and Jerry episode: “Jerry’s Cousin” A great example of early slapstick humor, based around the physcial gag of a large hand, and a confused target.

Let me ask you a question, what happens when you cross a dinosaur and a pig? Before you google the answer, I want to take a second and explain why this joke may or may not be funny to you, as humor has gone through a long and drawn out process to get to where it is today. The forms in which it has existed have changed greatly, and the actual term has had more definitions than one might expect.

What was the original purpose of humor?

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Humor actually started as a defense mechanism for early humans, so that they knew when it was time to relax, or when it was time to run. Laughing was the original form for this, and helped a lot to actually protect early colonies of humans. When the day was done, and it was time to calm down, they could sit in their caves, by the fire, and tell stories and jokes until sleep was possible.

Does humor fulfill the same purpose now?

If you ask someone what the purpose of humor is, chances are they will say something like, “to be funny”, or a similar remark, but there may be more to humor than what meets the eye. Having a sense of humor can be important to coping with physical and mental challenges and adversity that you might internally face. It also acts as a social lubricant, or an ice breaker that can help to reduce the stress set on by trying to meet new people.
Education and humor, no matter how different they seem, actually blend seamlessly into one another. Think about that one teacher that you had, that knew how to make you laugh. Chances are that you learned more in that class than in most others. Even students that make jokes can be helpful in the learning retention of their fellow classmates. The only problem is the slippery slope that it leaves behind, where it seems that the educator is no longer in charge, but instead the “class clown.”

How is humor represented in media before the social media revolution?

To see how media was represented in media before the advent of social media, we can look at television, and specifically the phenomenon of the laugh track. Almost universally disliked now, the laugh track was once a key to humor in television. It relied on the concept that laughter makes a show more homely, and can make the viewer have more fun, according to the BBC, which is true. The only difference between actual laughter and “canned laughter” is exactly that though, real laughter is sporadic and wild, but canned laughter is the same thing every time it just doesn’t feel natural. This is not to say that there is no purpose to a laugh track, but most of the time, a show is made worse by it.

Easy ways to tell if a show is going to have a laugh track, is to look at the genre of the show and the year it came out. If the genre is Sitcom (Situational Comedy) and the year is anywhere from 1970-2010, there will likely be a laugh track. Additionally, if the phrase “live studio audience” is included anywhere, canned laughter will be present.

Slapstick comedy also played a big part in the humor of early media and television. Shows like “Tom and Jerry” employ it to get what is sometimes called “Cheap Laughs” by using primarily physical humor in ways of physical exchanges between two or more characters in order to provoke laughter in the audience.. Not that there’s anything wrong with this approach though, as it has withstood the test of time, and performs very well with younger audiences. Modern shows still use it for it’s fast pace, and overall ease of access for kids of all ages. Modern shows also now must include warnings about this ease of access though, as some things seen are easily replicated and dangerous.

What makes jokes funny?

Going back to the joke at the beginning with some more perspective though, the answer is “Jurassic Pork”! The joke in play is easily understood, and because of that it is wide spread. I hate to be the one that ruins the joke, but I have to explain why it is “funny”. The humor here is due to the allusion (For you English students, that is Allusion with an “A”, meaning reference to a popular figure in culture.) to “Jurassic Park” mixed with a pun. While it is true that this specific joke is rather simple, this formula for a joke is easy to use, and can be comical if it is original, instead of grabbing the top joke off of Google.
However, allusions and puns are not the only source of humor though. There are many types of humor, but there are 7 main types and they are as follows: Farce, Deadpan, Dark, Slapstick, Screwball, Anecdotal, and Ironic. Other types like self-deprecating do exist, but some consider these to be offshoots of the main 7. Farce is exaggerated humor, that often comes off as someone trying too hard to be funny. Deadpan is also called “Dry” humor, and is common in shows like “Parks and Rec” where characters tell a joke in a very humorless tone. Dark humor is seen as a “bad” type of humor in public places, and is mostly taboo. Self Deprecating humor also fits in here in most cases. Slapstick, is physical comedy, as discussed before. Screwball is when someone takes an unexpected approach to a normal situation. Anecdotal is someone telling you a funny story. Finally, Ironic is when something extremely different happens that is expected.

How has humor changed over time, thanks to social media?

Humor is still changing though. No longer are we in the age of slapstick, or the age of slow paces ironies that we experienced from the 90’s till the late 2000’s, but instead thanks to social media, and websites like YouTube, humor is speeding up. This really emphasizes the cyclical nature of what makes us laugh, seeing how the return of fast paced humor is imminent. Slower jokes are becoming less popular, and slowly fading out of the public eye. Comedians like Bo Burnham, and John Mulaney are taking full advantage of this, following their fast paced style.

What should change to accommodate changing humor?

Humor will always change, and shows will accommodate the current situation. While this does sound great, I believe that there is a fundamental flaw with the process by which we make television, and the constantly changing sense of what makes something funny. Due to the long process involved, most shows cannot properly include jokes that would relate to current events, or memes that are not “dead”. A few shows, thanks to either their fast animation style, or off the cuff writing ability, such as “South Park” are able to keep up, but most cannot. This leads me to believe that television should stick to jokes that are more set up, and take a slower approach, and leave the fast jokes to media that can quickly adapt to a new environment.