Waiting on the Bus

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Posts Tagged ‘comedy’

Why fast talking YouTubers are killing comedy

Posted by Steven on December 10, 2010

When i got my Dell Studio XPS a year ago I was keen to include a monitor with a built in webcam on the off chance that I wanted to create a couple videos and place them on YouTube as a way of testing partially developed comedic material in front of a worldwide audience. My mom was intrigued by the idea because theoretically we could talk to my brother from his college dorm room and would allow her and my dad to keep an eye on him. Even if he gave only short evasive answers to every question they could at least determine if he was drunk or high. He has yet to talk to us via webcam even once. however, and with my parents now having renewed confidence that my brother will be able to remain motivated and focused enough to ignore outside distractions and graduate in high standing without the threat of a monthly interrogation looming over his head, the webcam’s potential has gone largely untapped, having been forgotten by everyone except for me. I did post a couple of videos, which you can see here and here, but I quickly discovered that my stuttering kept me from talking in the rapid fire setup punchline style used by the comedic video bloggers, supposedly because of viewer’s short attention spans.

By the time I had figured out what I was going to say and overcome any sudden disfluencies brought on by the pressure of having to talk as fast as possible, forty seconds would have already elapsed in the video and the camera’s unwavering, uncompromising eye had already captured my embarrassing stuttering episode in all its gristly detail. This forced me to start over again with no idea how many takes it was going to take to record the video, and given that I was able to do a fluent take, whether it would have the proper amount of energy and emphasis on certain lines to be funny. After a few unsuccessful attempts I’d get discouraged and wonder if I wasn’t just better off writing it down where nothing could get lost in translation. I wasn’t about to truncate something that worked better in long form just so I could get it on YouTube. Unfortunately most of the popular comedic video bloggers, whose content is assumed to be of the highest quality on the site, ignore this fact when creating videos. They’re so busy trying to adhere to the number one rule when trying to attract viewers to their channel, namely, no video must be longer than 3-5 min and other conventions imposed by other hit videos, that many annoying symptoms appear during the humor’s presentation which keep it from leaving a lasting impression.

Perhaps the most annoying habit adopted by today’s successful comedic video bloggers, including Phil Defranco and Natalie Tran, is they all talk as though someone is holding a gun to their head and can’t help but barrage the viewer with, “Like this video if you were stunned by the opening sequence” annotation balloons at the beginning of the video, followed by a flurry of quick jokes and onscreen graphics that correlate with whatever topic is being discussed, all being delivered in a series of quick cut segments that are edited together to form one coherent video. The majority of the time these visuals add little to the presentation and are just another thing trying to compete for your attention and prove to you how funny this person is supposed to be.

How funny these videos actually are is something that’s never really considered by most people beyond liking particular videos and writing the occasional comment on ones they thought were really funny, but the next time you watch the latest video from one of your favorite self made video blogging comedy gods on YouTube, try and count how many jokes actually register with you at first watch, regardless if you laugh at them or not. Since the jokes are being delivered so fast I’m willing to bet it’s a relatively small number and you’ll feel like you just watched a robot recite programmed punch lines. You’ll also likely need to watch it at least twice to get an accurate joke count. This suggests that the fast talking comedy phenomenon isn’t undertaken solely to compensate for viewers short attention spans but also so viewers are forced to watch the video multiple times to fully comprehend everything, thereby driving up the video’s hit count.

If asked what exactly motivates them to make videos, the video bloggers on YouTube upon whom fortune has smiled would go the politically correct route, saying at the most basic level, they’re just trying to convey a message to their audience and entertain them, and that they’d still make videos even if there were no guarantee of hits and receipt of a certain percentage of the overall ad revenue generated by their videos. However you can bet it goes a long way towards inflating their egos and making them hesitant to change an otherwise stale formula, even when users may call for it through a comment mutiny of negative feedback.

Giving the audience time to react to a joke has been a fundamental part of comedy for years, either in the form of dead silence when somebody bombs on open mic nights at their local comedy club, laugh tracks on sitcoms, or the awkward pause used to accentuate the uncomfortable nature of some jokes. This technique was first popularized by The Office in the US and serves a nearly identical purpose as a laugh track without being as obtrusive. When a performer doesn’t give the audience this necessary time to react to a joke they come off as a mix of insecure, arrogant, and disinterested. By laughing at a comedian , the audience is in effect neutralizing the anger that often fuels comedy and showing the comic that they empathize with them, thus validating his or her beliefs and keeping them from feeling as though he is nothing more than a rambling, spiteful idiot. The sketch comedy videos do a better job of respecting the audience by limiting any potential quick one liners to one character and giving other jokes time to develop before a “please subscribe” balloon appears to remind you that they’re ultimately just after subscribers like the video bloggers, but at least they’ve created something that has some staying power and won’t become outdated the day after it’s released, which is the main reason I would hesitate to create a YouTube personality for myself even if I didn’t stutter.

I don’t need that constant pressure of having to come up with something quality nearly every day when the average user doesn’t really care about quality, and YouTube only furthers this notion by promoting every video that has one or more of the following elements: dancing, old ladies, pets doing something out of the ordinary, young children with a five octave vocal range, kids playing instruments, auto tuned mash ups of already popular videos, parodies of pop culture icons that have been ripped to death, among other things. Why should I even try to achieve some level of online fame when it is tenuous at best and I’d have to deal with an ever-present fear that I’d be trumped in popularity by a video of a cat nosing a ball of yarn through an obstacle course in a matter of weeks?

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Posted in comedy, humor, YouTube videos | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Dickinson-Whitman poetry slam no 1

Posted by Steven on January 8, 2009

Spring semester has started up for me and after a weeks worth of classes, I think I can say I won’t have any really tough classes. I have Logic, Sport Psychology, Computer Communications, and American Lit. I’ve always believed you can get a rough estimate of how tough a class is going to be just by looking at the teacher’s syllabus. If its 4-5 pages including a simple outline schedule for the class, you shouldn’t have a rough go of it provided you work hard. If however the syllabus is over seven pages with long paragraphs, ten dollar words, a lot of bolded underlined text and includes a schedule that indicates what you should have for breakfast on exam days, you’re screwed. Humanities, one of the most difficult classes I’ve ever had, was run by a teacher that handed out a 16 page syllabus and told us that important items were in red–the whole thing was in red.

Anyway in my American Lit class we’ve started out this semester reading some poetry from Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson and it reminded me that I’ve written many poems, but only a few that I thought were any good. To me poetry’s too complicated, too focused on things like rhyme scheme, rhythm and meter, tone, and understated significance. Sure technically you’re allowed to write in free verse and just say FUCK IT! but really–what’s the skill in that? 

I’ve decided to post some of my best poems on here for all to see. I’m not really a poet and I think the typical Haiku is a Japanese equivalent of a sneeze, but I think in the following poems I really caught lightning in a bottle. They all rhyme and attempt to tell a meaningful story. They both have a dark, sarcastic sense of humor and will spit in the face of any Shel Silverstein poem you may happen to find during your nostalgic conquests. Remember: even though you may be falling up in life, you’ll still end up on your ass.

Here’s the first poem written about 4 years ago. It started out as a free write brainstorming exercise in my creative writing class. We were supposed to write poems that conformed to all these conventions and I ended up rebelling, writing this poem. Once I started writing it, I got into a rhythm and found I could actually rhyme other words besides cat and bat. I really started to enjoy myself. I finished it in one night and posted it on the Storymania website. The place where you could say my “online writing career” started in the fall of 2002. Before that I had just written two journals about my middle school years. How are they? Well let’s just say they’re like my journal entries on here, just a lot less focused, filled with bad aside jokes, and a love triangle of sorts.

This first poem is called Is That My Fat Talking Again?

The pizza is calling my name.
It calls, but I believe I can resist its playful tease.
Or can I?
The pizza wishes to suffocate me beneath layers of cheese.
I try to resist, but the pizza seems to insist that I eat it.
Oh, what agony, what pain.
Why do I fear weight gain?
But food is the only person or thing
That doesn’t think I’m fat.
Every chair I sit in groans or squeaks.
The ladies whistle and call, “Hey Fat Cat.”
No one understands the pleasures of food.
My meals always end so soon.
All my friends know my job.
When we go out to eat
They eat and drink and chat.
Then I interrupt and ask
“Are you going to finish that?”
 I eat so much; I can barely get out of my seat.
I tell my friends stories, tall tales really.
They say, “You’re kidding, you really ate all that in one sitting?”
“Yes it’s true.” I say. This time I’ve bit off more than I can chew.”
Then somebody always says “Why don’t you go marry an elephant at the zoo?”
I have considered this, many a time
But I always end up looking for the nearest elevator sign.
I know my unwillingness to exercise will lead to my demise.
I’m getting fatter all the time.
I’m breaking scales left and right.
By know my weight must be out of sight.
I ask all the ladies out, they all say no, I think I’ll pass
Not after last time, when you passed gas.
I say, “Well what if we just hang out and chill?”
“I guess that’s OK, as long as you don’t eat the dinner bill.”
And if I ever do get a date she says, “What have you been eating? It smells like you’ve been cheating?”
“No I haven’t.” I sigh. “Are you going to finish your pie?”
 Oh the jokes, when will they cease?
 I know I’m obese.
Children laugh and ask their mothers “Mommy is that man pregnant?”
“No Billy that man is a dunce.
 But he does look more pregnant than I was at nine months.”
I am not sure what to say at this.
It feels like I am falling into an abyss.
Maybe women are really what I crave.
Ah who am I kidding? I couldn’t get laid in a cave.
I stare at the pizza, trying to resist, but I give in.
For fat I will be fat I have been.
Is that my fat talking again?
I stumble home, barely making it through the door
It’s always such a chore.
I crash on the couch and turn on the TV.
I put down the remote in shock.
I can’t believe what I’m seeing.
Some guy thin as a rail looks like he just escaped from the local jail.
“Are you overweight? Do you eat constantly?” he screams.
 “It doesn’t matter how much you consume
You can lose 150 pounds by June
using my amazing formula!
All you have to is pick up the phone and call this number!”
Suddenly I want ham, turkey, and cheddar.
So what if I’m fat, I’ll hide it all beneath a sweater.
Is that my fat talking again?
I watch the TV a little more.
Until I am convinced.
After all people who have used this formula haven’t been the same since.
I decide to pick up the phone.
Who am I kidding? I’ll always be an overweight baboon
I’ll never lose 150 pounds by June.
Is that my fat talking again?

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