In the 1920s, JEM Rubber Co. invented the whoopee cushion -- a magical, air-filled device that (when strategically placed on a chair) could make it seem like your friend farted right at the moment he sat down. Comedy would never be the same.
It would take roughly 80 more years for another event of this proportion to shake the humor world, but somewhere in the 21st century, society fully embraced the Internet, and comedy was forever changed for better and worse.
4 The Good: The Internet Put Production in the Hands of the People
This is the obvious one. The Internet is democracy. People have the power and all that crap, but it's true. We've already begun to take it for granted, but even a decade ago, if you wanted the world to see your schtick, there were fewer choices. People went into stand-up comedy or joined improv groups. They waited to get to college, where they wrote for humor mags, building portfolios for television. Or they just bugged people at water coolers, being "funny" all the time until someone discovered or murdered them. There was a series of uncertain hurdles before you could ever come close to seeing a significant audience.
But comedy sites, YouTube and even personal blogs changed that. There were more ways to put yourself out there, and for much smaller investments you could create a decent product that could be as big as virality would take you. (Hey, remember a time when the word "virality" didn't exist? Y'know, like ten seconds ago before I just made it up.)
Take a guy like Cracked's own Michael Swaim. A few short years ago, he was just a funny college student hanging out and occasionally raping stray dogs. If there were no Internet, his comedy troupe Those Aren't Muskets would probably have been reduced to performing only on Friday nights at the close of their 12-step programs. But the Internet allowed Mike and director/enabler Abe Epperson to create skits directly for the Internet, putting content like this and this in front of increasingly larger numbers of people. And with the glory of the Internet, even an aging talentless hack like me could write a script with Michael, producing this:
And even though I'd only uploaded my first YouTube video months before, I started making videos of my own. And that's why, to this very day, I am still referred to as "That guy. The one who hates the Black Eyed Peas." Comedy on the Internet was available to all. (Swaim and I represent all of humanity in this point.)
3 The Good: Provided New Comedy E-Fodder
There's an even more basic impact the Net has had on comedy: the role it's played as comedic subject matter. To see that, you need to go no further than Cracked.com. That's right, go no further than Cracked.com. The rest of the Internet is mostly just porn anyway, so don't sweat it. Oh, and MapQuest, but you probably have GPS on your phone now, so really, why leave here? I've written hundreds of columns. Have you read them all? Hold me and tell me I'm pretty.
Oh, so anyway, as I was saying, so much of humor on the Net is about the Net. Most of Swaim's show Does Not Compute comes straight from the World Wide Web to your home. (With almost no trace of the dozens of dogs sacrificed to Michael's creative process.) And then there was his wildly popular "Internet Party" video. Most of my favorite Cody vids have also been about the Net. Videos like his Chat Roulette and Twitter songs, not to mention what I consider to be the funniest video ever on Cracked:
A Helpful Tutorial on the Most Difficult Video Game Ever -- powered by Cracked.com
There are a couple of reasons the Net is such good comedy fodder. For one, if you're reading humor online, then you have the Internet. So right there, the audience is likely in the loop regarding what you're talking about. Also, on the off chance you're tackling something the audience is not hip to, well then getting in on the joke is only a hyperlink away. Like if I told a joke about how many furries it took to screw in a light bulb and you didn't know what a furry was, it wouldn't be such a big deal because you could just click the link back at the word "furry" and find out. I mean, you could if I actually put the right link in, instead of tricking you into watching some of my online content, but come on, give me a break, I'm embedding everyone else's stuff! In any event, let's turn the page for the points that actually motivated this article.