Kika Otiono Associate Editor

The Evolution of Modern Humour

By Kika Otiono, Associate Editor

September 24, 2018

The evolution of humour in modern pop culture context is remarkable. Comedy is meant to induce laughter, and refers to any discourse or work that aims to be humorous or to amuse an audience. With the rise in popularity of social media platforms, comedic videos and ‘memes’, many argue that modern humour has become ‘dumbed down’ or less intelligent because it doesn’t seem to be complex or consciously developed with the aim of comedy.

Nowadays, the rise of the ‘meme’ has reshaped how comedy is created. An internet meme is a catchphrase, concept, or piece of media that spreads from person to person through the Internet or by word of mouth. Jokes and memes tend to grow ‘viral’ or gain popularity rapidly due to the instantaneous nature of social media platforms.  In a general sense, a meme is an “idea, behaviour, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” In the modern context, internet memes are shared as videos, hashtags, images, hyperlinks, and phrases. 

What seems to be most interesting is that the humour discourse for millennials has taken shape in a much more diverse manner than is usually discussed or understood. For example, there is still attention paid to ‘traditional’ forms of media, such as stand-up comedy shows. Comedians such as Tiffany Haddish, Amy Schumer, Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, and Trevor Noah are admired regardless of their somewhat orthodox methods of transmitting humour (i.e. stand-up shows or specials). However, the platform in which the jokes are spread has transformed. There is less attention paid to their physical shows; videos and images are now the main concept, with YouTube videos featuring their material continuously shared, re-shared, and cherished. The prominence of ‘meme culture’ has evolved the humour discourse towards greater use of metaphors, implications, and background knowledge in what may be described as the equivalent of an enormous ‘inside joke’.

A catchphrase or clever joke in a YouTube video may grow into a viral internet phenomenon within hours. This yields to the rise of remix culture—an era in which the idea is combined or altered with other material to create a new product. For example, a video shared on Twitter and Snapchat on February 15, 2016 garnered thousands of views and shares in days. By February 23, 2016 “Damn, Daniel!” had been viewed over 45 million times.  The video features 14 year old Daniel Lara being filmed by his friend, Josh. The video follows Daniel in what seems to be the course of a week, complimenting his outfits. Josh—the voice behind the camera—is heard exclaiming, “Damn, Daniel! Back at it again with the white Vans [a style of footwear]!” What seems to be an amiable video between two friends has been shared thousands of times on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, with other teenagers making their own versions of the video. In fact, Daniel and Josh were invited to the Ellen DeGeneres Show and white Vans have been selling in record numbers, with sellers on EBay selling the “original” pair of shoes for up to $300,000 USD. This is a two-year old example, and what many may call a ‘dead meme’. In other words, since the ‘Damn Daniel!’ catchphrase, numerous videos and jokes have eclipsed its popularity. This is another feature of modern humour – it grows and fizzles out at an incredible speed.

Insofar as meme culture spreads within communities, it continues to invade everyday life and delineate pop-culture. Other facets of this topic are left to be explored, such as: How does meme culture unite members of the same communities and traumas (e.g. ‘Depression Memes’)? How is meme culture used as a commodity of political discourse (remember when Pepe became a figurehead of the Alt-Right)? In what ways does modern humour reflect the social fabric that it originates from? How does social media shape and/or inspire modern humour?

One thing is clear: modern comedy is not outright or explicit in its punchlines. There is an underlying exclusivity in its jokes, and the current online humour discourse is reliant on understanding the origin and meaning behind viral sensations. It’s no wonder adults unfamiliar with this process are often left dumbfounded. What makes those short videos, trends, and catchphrases so funny? The answer may lie in the ability to share a joke with millions of people around the world, and to collectively understand the punchline—even if the generation before you is mystified.

About the writer

Associate Editor Kika Otiono is a 3rd year student in Carleton University’s Humanities and Biology Combined Honours program. She currently works as Student Researcher in Carleton’s Department of Biology, for which she was awarded an Undergraduate Research Award from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). Kika is the Associate Editor for Black Ottawa Scene and has won numerous awards for her writing, academic distinction, and community involvement.

She is an avid reader and lover of rock bands, Broadway musicals, and sci-fi movies. If you would like to submit an article to Black Ottawa Scene or have other inquiries, you can reach Kika directly at [email protected] or