This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
If we were having a drink and I told you that I've never watched a full episode of The Office, I'm Alan Partridge, M*A*S*H*, The Thick of It, Community, Modern Family, How I Met Your Mother, Louie, Arrested Development, 30 Rock, or It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, it's very likely you'd look at me as if I just told you my granddad was a Nazi.
It's one of the most embarrassing things to admit these days, I think, not having watched any comedy properly. It's up there with opening a first date with, "Now, I'm not saying Hitler was a good man, but you can't deny he was a great man." But, hey, my granddad wasn't a Nazi, and I've only said that during a date once. Rest assured she disappeared faster than the last platoon on the very last chopper out of Saigon. I'm weird.
I don't watch comedy, see. A group of guys performing hijinks in Philadelphia offers literally no relevance to my life as I live it now, and I'd rather watch a pigeon shit into Ashley Young's mouth on loop for 40 minutes. That's funny. That's relevant. That falling pigeon shit is an allegory for all our lives and it makes me laugh. But my lack of "proper" comedic references means I'm continually made to feel like not quite as funny or fully-formed as I should be as an adult—particularly when I meet new people. Why? Do I need years of comedy watching behind me to be a funny guy?
The internet, for me, has wooed comedy down from its ivory tower and made it communal. It's flattened everything. Now, a kid who can't keep his pants on when meeting Nick Clegg is the contemporary version of a slipping on a banana. The internet has turned the whole world into a set for ridiculous hijinks. Nobody is safe. There's a custard pie around literally every corner and, for me, it's made "traditional" comedy kind of redundant.
I used to watch South Park as a kid. All the time. Now, I think it's shit. Because if I wanted to see Canadian people making fools of themselves on a daily basis, I'd follow Toronto politicians. Truth is far stranger now than fiction ever has been and the beauty of living in this Content is King society is that you actually don't have to watch or experience anything older than a day's internet cache to feel like you know what's going on. If that sounds bleak to you, it's probably because it's true.
Right now, you're spilling your coffee on your keyboard. "Dave," you're shouting. "Dave, you can watch any of those shows online, right now! I don't care if it's not relevant, it's escapism! It's art! People were being funny before the internet existed! Why can't you appreciate art?"
But hear me out. Put the coffee down, mate. Get a tissue and clean up your mess.
I am aware that not having properly watched any TV comedy makes me a really odd person. It might make me reprehensible in some people's eyes. But here's the thing: I'm not saying I'm above comedy at all. I can appreciate the sheer brilliance of Alan Partridge playing air bass guitar in a static caravan. Comedy and laughter is the reason I'm friends with the people I am friends with and if all my mates were like me, there may never be a joke again. I just find myself reacting with embarrassment when people start quoting The Office at me and I have to hastily change the topic to something like, er, books. Not that books can't be comedy—I just don't read many of the funny ones, either.
Maybe I spend too much time online. Maybe I am a lazy, feckless millennial who doesn't appreciate "the classics." But while we can—and do—argue plenty about how important it is to understand the importance of artful satire and comedy throughout history, the truth is that, today, right this second, we have the lazy privilege of living in an age where weird, funny shit can be instantly meme-fied. We can laugh at the world in real time, even if it is at dictators responsible for starving their own countries because—LOL!— he's fat.
Satire is happening second by second, on the internet, all around us. The days of the most astute, funny world analysis coming from actors spending weeks or months on television sets, performing a clever auteur's sharp vision of the world are long gone. Chris Morris's The Day Today and its pedophiles disguised as schools can't be replicated now because the real world is too fucking weird. The "there's no such thing as low culture anymore" argument is well-worn, too, but it's well-worn for a reason: There isn't. So why do people still take the piss out of people like me? Why am I such an easy target?
It's not like I'm alone in my naïveté regarding the annals of comedy. Loads of my generation are the same. For example, I have a friend who has never watched an entire episode of The Simpsons—yes, he exists—and is continuously vilified for it. He regularly browses YouTube with search terms like "the Best of Ralph Wiggum" without really knowing who Ralph is. Irony and humor is so ingrained in our share-all society that people now find things funny without having a fucking clue why. And, to be honest, I don't see the problem in that.
This person thought Ralph was Uter Zorker—which raises all kinds of fattist arguments—and, while the rest of the planet may as live chained to the fence of 742 Evergreen Terrace like hungry dogs with Stockholm Syndrome, lives in an almost entirely Simpsons-free world. He is a marvel. His brain should be preserved for science and studied for unique neural pathways.
But laughing at Ralph without knowing what Ralph represents is the epitome of the modern internet age gag and we can't fight it. We can't. We don't need to watch a whole show anymore to get the joke—people can just share the best, funniest bits and they can be appreciated, in isolation. "Normal" people are just as liable to be in front of a camera as an actual comedian these days, too, saying ridiculous things and becoming a clown. Which makes me think my Simpsons-shirking friend isn't in the minority, really. Maybe—probably—he's part of a growing majority relying on "best bits" chunks of the best comedy out there and maybe that's fine, even if we are made to feel ashamed about. Everything feels too saturated to be precious about what we should and shouldn't know before we laugh at something. And also, where the fuck do you start? At what point are you certified funny because you've seen X, Y, and Z?
As Frankie Boyle argued recently, isn't most laughter good? Even if you think it's puerile or "problematic?" Every fucker is a comedian these days. Even if you're not that funny in real life, you can now make someone, somewhere, piss themselves with laughter if you know how to cut a Vine of a dog dragging its itchy bum along the carpet to Big Sean's "Dance (A$)."
Yes, we've been looking at dogs dragging their assholes across carpets for years with shows like You've Been Framed, but we don't watch programs like that anymore, do we, except for on really hungover Saturday afternoons. We're online every single day, in front of our computer screens, laughing at stuff then clicking away to other stuff in the blink of an eye. I know so many lines from classic comedy not because I've actually watched them, but because someone has either shown me a clip of it or quoted it to me directly. I feel like I've seen them, when all I've actually seen is Saturday Kitchen and, in all honestly, I'm sick of being made to feel like some kind of social pariah because of it. That I can't possibly have lived by living the way I do.
In a strange way, not watching "proper" comedy makes every day a comedic adventure. I don't have a bank of scripted funniness because my reference points are constantly. People might quote famous comedy all the time to my blank, nervous face, and I might still promise people that I'll watch It's Always Sunny, but I know I but probably never will. Why isn't that OK?
Of course there's always room for brilliant, well-scripted comedy. Of course there is. Not everyone is like me. But can it evolve enough to keep up with the every day hilarity that is living online, when you can watch pigeon shit falling into a footballer's mouth again and again? I just don't know.
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