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Has SEO Ruined Comedy?

The Internet and the collective boredom of people at work have arguably redefined comedy. With online comedy content juggernauts like Funny or Die and videos of people failing on YouTube, watching videos online has become a common pastime of this generation. Blogs, podcasts, and memes all created for the purpose of being funny and entertaining have, together, almost made for a new era or movement in how people get a good laugh.

However, as the term “viral” has seeped its way into the nomenclature for entertainment marketing companies, many comedians, sketch groups, etc. constantly seek the million-views-on-YouTube or the thousands-of-followers-on-Twitter as if that’s the proverbial gold at the end of the comedy rainbow that will get them a show on TV. Whether that’s true or not, what intrinsic quality that makes something go viral is still largely a mystery. The concept of Search Engine Optimization, more commonly referred to as SEO, has come about as a way to increase the “searchability” of anything on the web. With this in mind, people producing comedy content now actually take steps to be topical, use every possible tag they can think of, and more annoying tactics to have what they posted be seen, even have it go viral.

SEO has definitely affected what comedy is and has, quite possibly, ruined it.

That might be an overstatement, but just think for a minute about how many folks try to spin an event, news, etc. into something funny so they can get views/hits. How many more times are we going to see an Obama impressionist rapping? How many times are we going to hear how the Real Housewives of City-That-Should-Be-Ashamed-of-Itself is so amazingly bad? Do we really need to have the Tony Awards live-tweeted? All of these are instances of SEO forcing comedy to be shoehorned into something that may or may not be actually funny.

Do we need a cover of Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind” by one of the currently working casts of ‘Les MisĂ©rables’?

Perhaps, I’m embittered from the 5 hours-plus of comedy that I watch every single day as I write for and the Comedy Bureau. Yet, there can be no denying that originality in comedy posted online has suffered from this phenomenon. Many Funny or Die “exclusive” sketches these days feature celebrities just for the sake of featuring a celebrity, as opposed to going for the funny. It used to be that one didn’t have to filter through Funny or Die to watch something for a good laugh, but such is the case if you want to get to something really funny like Dan Savage posing a new threat to Rick Santorum.

As Google’s magic algorithm bases search results on specific keywords, many people will tailor their comedy, as opposed to just being funny without relying on specific references. Essentially, the issue here speaks to the ongoing debate between comedians, writers, etc. on forcing jokes out of reading a newspaper versus finding observations they personally think are funny, then making a joke out of that.

That isn’t to say that topical comedy can’t be hilarious. Paul F. Tompkins has made quite a stir this year online not only with the Pod F. Tompkast, but with his recaps of American Idol for Vulture as well as a redub of a clip from Cake Boss on Hulu’s The Morning After.

Consider, now, the “planking” craze. Though started elsewhere in the world by bored teenagers, the hilarious comedy duo, the Walsh Brothers made one of the first American planking videos because they just thought it would be really funny to lay flat in awkward places. Their instincts were right, and ever since debuting at their own live show at the UCB theater in L.A. a few months ago, it has definitely gone viral. In fact, they’ve been featured on Fox News, parodied on Jimmy Kimmel Live, and have inspired a Funny or Die PSA wherein Hollywood takes a stand against planking.

Planking has since begun to wear out as a joke because of too many people wanting to jump on its “keyword bandwagon.” As is often said, with “cool” often killing itself as soon as everyone finds out about it, SEO has made the same true of many things that go viral.

With all of that being said, comedy hasn’t been ruined by SEO, the Internet, or even the lackluster line of summer comedy releases this year. Comedians, writers, performers, etc. will always find their way to be heard, but hopefully there will be better ways devised to find something like Kurt Braunohler’s World Wild of Animals rather than finding it in this post.

One last thing: having “comedian” in your profile name on Facebook only makes you look silly and less legitimate as a funny person.

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  1. Stu Pickles says:

    Can we all agree that RayWilliamJohnson should have his intestine ripped out and splattered across Argyle and Selma?

    Or at the very least, banned from YouTube for having very bad YouTube videos.

  2. Tim says:

    Nice use of a gratuitous gratuitous tags tag.

  3. Mike says:

    What a boring, pointless, empty article. Trying to generate content where there is none is killing the posts on Nerdist. Nothing worse than a comedy critic. Get a job.

  4. Beau says:

    Great article! I can relate to the “viral” issue when it comes to our animated project, Scottish Ninjas. While working with a production company in LA, they told us “is there a way we can have these videos get a million views? That would really help our cause.”. Oh, is that all? At festivals, conventions, and public events the cartoon is a smash! But on the internet, we get modest views because we don’t know how to break into that stream of traffic. We have no desire to force our concept to no longer be true to itself in favor of search engines. Looks more more hard work rather than internet trends is in our future. 🙂

  5. Ladnil says:

    Two things:

    1. Whenever an article’s title is a question, the answer is “no.”

    2. Lackluster summer comedy releases? I hope you’re talking about albums, because Hollywood has been just fine. Bridesmaids and Horrible Bosses alone should make this summer a good comedy summer in movies.

  6. jonah says:

    It might just be me, but you don’t really seem to be saying much at all. Pretty much every point you make is completely negated in the following paragraph.

    Almost everything of quality on the internet is found through recommendations, not Google searches. I don’t watch certain TV shows by going to Google and searching for the word “tv show”, I take recommendations from sources that I trust.

    And I doubt comics are constantly thinking about SEO. They just want to share their views on things, and if the Tony Awards happen to be on tonight, then they’ll likely have something to say about it. No one goes to google after the Tony Awards and searches for “funny jokes about tonight’s Tony Awards”, so why would you say that comics try to pander to that crowd?

  7. Candice says:

    I don’t think that Sturgeon’s Revelation (“90% of everything is crap”) applies more or less today than it has ever applied, except that the 90% figure is perhaps a bit low in some cases. I do think that we’re more likely to actually encounter the crap than in the past, because based on the nature of the internet there aren’t necessarily as many filters to pass through between creator and audience. Which is why word of mouth via trusted sources (e.g. something like this post) is still the best way to find that other ~10%. I would never even consider sifting through Funny or Die myself. I’m not sure what better ways could be devised, really…

  8. Tony Bullard says:

    Article Title: “Has SEO Ruined Comedy?”

    Article Summary: “With all of that being said, comedy hasn’t been ruined by SEO…”

    Funny that, in an article about SEO ruining comedy, you’ve used a cliche that has ruined so many other forms of media.