Comedy Can't Be "One Size Fits All": When Louis CK Meets Jenna Marbles

More than half a decade ago, I wrote some thoughts about the future of comedy in the digital age. Without much modesty I can say that some of my assessments (such as the increasing use of technology and the social-media new kind of comedy) were spot-on, others completely missed the mark (the core of the comedy content is less violent than I expected). A lot of clips have been broadcast on YouTube since then, and the world today is significantly different than it was back in 2010. What didn't change was the fact that comedy was and remains the most dominant category of video online. People are watching much more comedy today, and the gap continues to grow. The irony is that we don't laugh more than half a decade ago. As President Reagan would have put it - ask yourself this: are you laughing more than you did five years ago? So how come there are many more attempts to make us laugh but our lips stay sealed?

In the other fields online the name of the game today is Personalized Content. People are willing to give up every bit of privacy in order to get the best result that is suited specifically to them. Pandora and Spotify save time once spent on looking for your favorite music. Outbrain and others personalized the news so it will only cover your areas of interest. Netflix tries that on your movie selections and Amazon on your books. The examples are endless. But, weirdly, in comedy there is a feeling that ONE SIZE FITS ALL.

All the solutions today demand time and energy from the user in order to get a decent smile. Since most of the millennials need the content in the short dead moments of the day (waiting for the bus, toilet time, in line at Starbucks etc.), the search time is a real obstacle for a good user experience.
If the user wants to laugh and searches "comedy" on YouTube, the results on the page would be sophisticated standup like Louis CK and someone being punched in the balls. Amy Schumer and Mr. Bean will share a page. Going deeper, and you will see Jon Stewart sharing a page with Annoying Orange and Charlie Chaplin with Fred with the silly voice. It's a mess. Everyone understands the personalization of the user's taste is the future but it seems that nobody NAILED IT.

One of the surprising reasons is because the new media comedy world doesn't breakdown to traditional categories. In the old days it was easy - Jon Stewart was Political Satire, Mr. Bean was slapstick, Bill Cosby was clean comedy and now is... fill in your favorite inappropriate rape joke. But how would you describe Jenna Marbles? Fred? And hundreds of YouTube stars that got huge audience of millennials and even bigger audience of parents that look on their kids ROFL in front of the screen and simply don't get it? What? These parents ask themselves. What is there? Why does my kid find it funny? The vague lines of the comic categories make it very hard to give relevant recommendation to the users. YouTube's approach is the "Spaghetti on the Wall" style - "You like cats that play Mozart, so here are some more cats and more Mozart." They are sending the user to shop around in the endless possibilities. Facebook is obviously more social-focused about it -if your grandma liked it and wrote it's hilarious you should be exposed to that as well. The rest of the comic sites (like CollegeHumor) are offering mainly their own products, which are focused, but limited in comparison to the gazillion options on Facebook and YouTube.

So I want to put my bet down on comedy's future (and of course I will delete this post if I'm wrong), it will be about changing the focus from what's in the video to what does the user get from the video. A "What's In It For Me" approach. Instead of categorizing a clip of someone getting punched in the balls as Slapstick - think of it as Schadenfreude - tag it as "I'm happy I'm not there." Instead of tagging Amy Schumer talking about dating as "standup"- think of it as "making sense of my love life". Instead of looking at John Oliver talking about net neutrality - look at it as an attempt to sound smart in front of my friends. When the focus moves from the creator to the user it completely changes the classification. It might even demand bringing psychologists on board that will cluster groups of content in that new way. Once we have a good updated categories system and combined with all the other current media evolution - we could potentially get a strong, effective system that will eliminate all the bad jokes from our eyesight/feed/watchlist. So no matter how shitty the future is gonna be, at least we'll laugh more.