A binder full of lame jokes

by Brian McKim & Traci Skene on October 17th, 2012

Writing topical humor is tough. Writing topical humor on a deadline is exhausting. Writing topical humor after the fact is one of the more difficult tasks a comedian can undertake.

We had a gig– for a very short time– where we were the “creative team” for an afternoon drive radio show. We’d arrive at the station at about 9 AM, go through the newspaper (this was 1994, so the internet was still expensive, clunky and sparsely populated), single out the outrageous stories, then write several dozen jokes on the hot stories of the day. Not all of it was gold. And we quite often would hold back some jokes because they just weren’t all that good. But, after months of this routine, you get greased up and it gets… less difficult. But it never gets easy.

Which brings us to 2012. Now the internet is huge. And we’re all connected via Facebook and Twitter and cable and network television. And everyone, it seems, thinks they’re writing for a radio (or a television) show.

So, every day– on Facebook and Twitter– we’re bombarded with hundreds of jokes about incidents from the previous 24 hours.

And most of it– 99 per cent or more– is dreck. Truly awful, uninspired, boring and often illogical crap.

And way too much of it is written by comedians. It starts to get to you after a while. It’s the exact opposite of inspiring.

Initially, it might have been inspiring. Initially, seeing such ghastly gags might have given us a slight spasm of pride– a sudden realization that, no matter what we came out with, our jokes were automatically superior. But, after months and years of marinating in this mediocrity, we’re demoralized. We’re seriously considering hiding, unfriending or unfollowing the habitual offenders.

We can tolerate the occasional “nice try.” But after thousands of not-so-nice tries, we’re exasperated. We’re worried that prolonged exposure to such lame drivel might start to effect us in ways in which we’re not even aware. And we’re aghast at the low quality of some of the “jokes.” Too many of them seem to be manufactured by some sort of beta version of a computer program that purports to create jokes by merely connecting the various elements of a story into a compound sentence held together by an adverb or two and a definite article. Or they remind us of an anxious child who, upon observing the adults at the table creating humor, blurts out something that only accidentally makes sense and elicits little more than perplexed stares and shrugs.

We don’t mind the occasional attempt that fails. We ourselves have probably been guilty of that here or there. But the constant barrage of lazy, unimaginative one- and two-liners that are carelessly smeared across our screen every AM is mentally exhausting. How about a little quality control? Have you all lost your sense of humor? Is there some sort of grossly relaxed criteria for Facebook and Twitter jokes that we’re not aware of? Is this the result of too many bringer shows? Are people so utterly oblivious to the fact that a good number of these bits aren’t at all funny and, indeed, sometimes only barely logical?

Is it too many “bringer” shows– the end result of too many aspiring comedians doing too many sets in front of too many people who are all too willing to laugh at the mere effort (and totally suspend the requirement for actual wit or humor)? Has the “Everybody gets a trophy” mentality finally thoroughly corrupted even standup comedy?

Or has Facebook become the largest bringer show in the universe?

It’s disheartening. And, what might be even more horrific is that a lot of these pathetic phrases (we can’t bring ourselves to call them “jokes”) are rewarded with “Likes!” It’s infuriating!

This morning, it was the “binder” jokes. Earlier this week it was “Lance Armstrong” jokes. Every so often the race to the bottom of the barrel involves the latest celebrity death.

The overwhelming majority of jokes revolving around Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” statement were maddeningly lacking in any kind of humor or surprise. So many of them appeared to be borne simply of a desire to somehow cram the phrase into a sentence or two which mentioned the candidate’s name, something else related to the candidate and something else related to the candidate. Initially we weren’t moved to comment on it, being content to merely grouse privately about the vast waves of mundanity. But then we came across this:

My mother taught me to use breadcrumbs and eggs when cooking, telling me that for many recipes they are good “binders”…..damn, little did I know I was already in the “binder” when making meatloaf!

That. Was. It.

Marvel at the sheer below-averageness of it. The bar wasn’t just lowered with this “joke.” The bar was buried deep beneath the earth’s crust and it rests somewhere just north of the planet’s smoldering core.

And three people immediately “Liked” it!

What has happened?

It is a joke that only Pavlov could be proud of. And a joke that only his dog would react to.

It contains only one (maybe two) of the least important features of a statement that gives the creator permission to call it a “joke.” It fails on many levels. And it is profoundly disappointing.

Multiply the above joke by 500 other equally and similarly bad jokes and you can see why we’re cranky.

This rant is not in violation of our past condemnation of the premise police. Far from it. We’re not for one second suggesting that folks might be cautioned against making a joke that centers on a debater’s turn of phrase. We’re not saying that we should all be prohibited from making binder jokes– or any jokes centering on the phrase du jour.

But we are suggesting that the jokesmiths think twice before hitting “Post.” Please do yourself and your FB “friends” the small favor of beating back the excitement. Suppress the urge to quickly post the first malformed witticism that pops into your head. Try harder. In the long run, you– and we– will probably be better off for it.