Week 2: What is a joke, anyway?
I continue to hammer away at the Babylon Bee headline forum, trying to come up with four quality posts a day.
As someone who tries to be funny, I’m often fascinated by what other people think is funny. The Bee’s forum is a good laboratory for finding that out, at least for this particular group of people who are fans of, and subscribers to, the Babylon Bee. They can register their approval of headline ideas by giving them an “upvote,” and it’s interesting to see how the ideas that I really like fare in terms of upvotes. Some of my favorites from the second week:
- Feather Boas, Body Glitter Fly Off The Shelves As Nation’s Drag Queens Prepare For Back-to-School Season – This got no love on the forum, one upvote.
- Study: 4 Out Of 5 People Who Support Reparations Thought They Were Being Asked If They Supported “Extra Bacon” – This went by unnoticed as well, two upvotes.
- Flip-Flops, Ratty Cargo Shorts Made Church-Appropriate By Addition Of Polo Shirt – This got some traction, 14 upvotes. It’s got more of a broad appeal than the first two; it’s not about a particular issue, just some slice-of-life humor that a lot of Christians can relate to.
- Amazon’s Predestination Prime Service Just Sends You Stuff You Were Going To Order Anyway – Even better, 19 upvotes. Again, touching the Christian humor chord with some general silliness.
- Descendants Of Don Rickles Come Out In Favor Of Reparations For Hockey Pucks – This makes me laugh and laugh, but nobody agrees with me. Zero upvotes. It’s entirely possible that nobody else on the forum knows who Don Rickles is. Ah, Fame, you are a fickle mistress.
- Opinion: All This Commercialism Is Blinding Us To The True Meaning Of Prime Day – This is my most popular post so far, 30 upvotes, but it’s not going into publication or anything. I noted when I submitted it that I would be really surprised if somebody hadn’t made a joke like this already, and Kyle Mann, editor of the Bee, agreed.
So, I’m not setting the world on fire, but I’m having some respectable success. And the practice is helping me to refine my understanding of what a joke is — both writing my own stuff and reading what other people submit to the forum.
Because you often see submissions in the forum where, though you see what the writer was going for, it’s not actually a joke. And seeing it helps to clarify the difference. Jokes can be insults, and jokes can be nonsense statements. But not every nonsense statement or insult is a joke, and not everybody grasps this.
So what’s the difference? Hard to say. It’s kind of like art — you know it when you see it.
Or maybe it’s like the sweet spot on a baseball bat. I can’t point to it exactly, but I can say it’s in this general area. And when you hit one in the sweet spot, you can definitely feel it.
But with jokes, the sweet spot isn’t in the same place for everybody. All you can do is try to hit the area that’s closest to the sweet spot for the most people. On to week 3!