The nature of comedy is drastically changing, and memes might be the savior
“Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!”
That statement used to bring the family together and give people a rush of giggly-excitement as they sat down to watch comedic players and the celebrity guests on Saturday Night Live. The comedy variety show served as the epitome of humor and wit. Now, rather than sitting on the couch and watching live television on NBC, comedy’s wake comes in the form of meme sharing via social media. This evolutionary process of change points to old ways of comedy dying off and new avenues being born.
This pandemic has changed the majority of industries, and the comedic one is no different. Although SNL’s kingdom is still very much intact—and comedy is still very much alive—the industry has shifted significantly from mainstream into niche audiences surrounding a singular figure as a result of more active social media users.
Youtuber Cody Ko, known for his sense of humor and social commentary videos, seems to be a good example of this. In the past, a comedian of Ko’s stature would be well known in the comedic community. Yet because he does not have ties to any major network, his audience is much more niche. They are either Youtube subscribers or fans of an influencer, whereas in the past, his audience would have been that of the network.
The comedy world used to be for those who managed to get discovered within the channels of possibility; shows like SNL and channels like Comedy Central, NBC and ABC would cultivate talent. Now, social media has paved the way for the comedic world to discover talent through different avenues.
Meme pages such as @Daquan, @Bitch, and @F*ckJerry are also a relatively new phenomenon, which have cultivated millions of their own followers. Each of these meme sharing pages showcases how our society’s sense of humor has evolved.
The word “meme” itself comes from the Greek word, “mimeme,” which means, “imitated thing.” In essence, memes become popular just as SNL did in its glory days because they imitate modern society and show the follies of everyday life. It is no secret that “The best comedy comes from living experience,” as actor and comedian Rob Reiner put it.
The experience of living has drastically changed since the pandemic occurred last March. We stay home, we lack socialization, and the “best comedy” we are seeing comes from TikToks, Instagram Reels or meme pages.
Whether it be a coping mechanism for dealing with the pandemic or an addiction, people across the board have been spending more time on social media as of late.
“Between 46% and 51% of US adults were using social media more since the outbreak began…” according to the Harris Poll conducted between late March and early May. More social media use inevitably leads to more comedic content being shared.
However, we cannot give sole credit to the shift of the comedy world to the pandemic; changes in what society deems acceptable have also significantly impacted the comedic world.
Comedy from 2000 – late 2000s
In the past, the name of the game for comedy was big box office hits. From “50 First Dates” to “Zoolander,” “Wedding Crashers” to “Mean Girls,” these Gen Z classics spoke to what audiences wanted to hear.
These comedic gems serve to showcase the empire of SNL, with the majority of comedies having a former or current SNL star involved in the process. “50 First Dates” for instance, stars Adam Sandler, a former writer for SNL. “Wedding Crashers” features a scene with legend, Will Ferrell — and the list goes on. However, the days of Jim Carrey and Steven Martin’s slapstick personalities drastically changed when Instagram was launched in October of 2010.
From 2010 to 2020
The world has become a different place since that day, as the launch of the social media giant has reshaped the way we consume our comedy.
A poll done by Higher Ed Experts concluded that the majority of prospective students spend their time on social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and Youtube (with TikTok being a new addition). Being a student myself, I can say that the majority of humorous content that I see comes through meme accounts on social media. Given that these are all recent developments, it’s difficult to gauge the historical impact that they have made thus far.
It’s nearly unquantifiable to explain how drastically things have changed in the last two decades, as social platforms like Youtube and the introduction of streaming services such as Netflix revolutionized both the culture and the way in which we consume both comedy and humor.
Even the SNL Empire now posts the week’s episodes on Youtube to keep up with the changing consumption of media. It is no longer a “Live” occasion.
Somewhere within this social rift, somebody decided to throw some text onto a photo in the hopes that others would find the content funny. It did not take long before memes became an integral element of social media culture.
But the concept of memes did not originate with the invention of the internet or social media. Rather, memes have been long used as propaganda tools throughout the 20th century. Writer Brady Gavin explains that before the internet came along, “Memes tended to have political or cultural significance and their popularity lasted much longer” than it does today.
Comedy of the present:
In today’s world, memes have very short life spans on the internet before they lose their relevance. But as Brady pointed out, they are no longer as deeply embedded in the fabric of our culture as they used to be. Thus, comedy as we know it finds itself at a unique point in time. It will never disappear from society, as people will always rely on humour in their lives. Yet, the shifts in how people consume their witty content are also impacting our collective perception of humour.
With distrust circulating in the stand up comedy world because of men like Louis CK and Chris D’Elia, we will most likely continue to see a rise in video-based social media content that intends to make viewers laugh. In the same way that Vine leads to TikTok, I think that TikTok may lead to the creation of a new platform, where humor will be at the heart. Perhaps that may be the solution to the stark polarization that has driven society apart on social media, as it may possibly remedy the distrust that people have towards the content that they find online with a humorous, lighthearted twist.