Comedy Needs More Titles Explaining the Entire Joke
Also, my book's out.
My book Everything Abridged is out, so I’m in an excellent mood. Here’s a free bonus article.
Welcome to the golden age of online comedy. There were challenges on the way, like the murder of most outlets by Zuckerberg and Kinja. But as Something Awful died, Something Better emerged. An era of perfect, retweet-friendly titles.
The brilliance of these titles? You don’t have to click them. The entire premise is shrink-wrapped, sparing readers the journey between setup and punchline. We have essays perfect for Twitter previews, a second thing, and maybe even a third.
Of course, every movement has critics. I can hear them now. “Why kill the joke before I’ve even seen it? Why make satire one-note by design? Why does everything sound like the same 2010 CollegeHumor list? Why am I so dumb, and made of straw?” The answer, every time, is the power of simplicity. The best writers and audiences are simple.
Good humor’s relatable, and modern titles recreate the familiar joy of a well-explained joke. They gently pull premises apart like the colors of a rainbow. This lends each piece the universal appeal of a street sign or propaganda poster. It took time, but we’ve finally liberated comedy from surprise.
Here’s a better question: why limit perfect, expository titles to the internet? When will other comic mediums catch up? Every year, I see new books and films without the punchline laid out in the title. They usually give me a piercing migraine, with occasional tightness in my chest. The same goes for classics, which let jokes sneak up on you like a predator.
For example, I could never stand A Modest Proposal. It’s considered iconic satire, but there isn’t one infant in the title. Today we’d call it Yummy Yummy Irish Babies in My Tummy, making the piece accessible to the masses. Editorial would cut out all the boring stuff in the beginning, and hone the rest down to the best eight lines about grilling. Perfection.
Granted, fixing every pre-like button title would be challenging work. The kind publishers pay young double-Ivy humorists eight digits a year for. I don’t know where to find such a wunderkind, but I’ll ask my contacts from Princeton and Columbia if they know anyone. Preferably from somewhere like Jamaica, to lock in the diversity bonus.
For now, let’s imagine it’s me. My first priority would be Seinfeld. Terrible title. I’d call it Comedy Man Causes His Own Problems Alongside Similar Friends and Talks About It. Bang! That’s a firecracker. No one would think it’s a show about nothing, because my title interprets it for them.
Jonathan Swift’s not the only author I’d give some tough love: Catch-22’s a trash title. Sure, that’s the name of a joke in the book. But the idea isn’t spelled out in exacting, click-friendly detail. My edition’s called Yossarian Wants to Live, but Is Forced to Fly Dangerous European Theater Combat Missions While Pursued by a Murderous and Agile Prostitute. It’ll fly off the shelves, whether it wants to or not.
Miss Lonelyhearts is a similar non-effort. What it gains in intrigue, it loses in me getting bored and watching SmackDown instead. It’s important to respect your audience, and remember you’re competing with elbow drops. Which is why I’d retitle Miss Lonelyhearts as Christ the Nineteen Thirties Were Depressing, Load Up on Klonopin Before You Read This Bad Boy.
And Blazing Saddles? They left Black Cowboy Outperforms Racists right on the table.
I could go on. Bald Child Faces Ennui with His Sweet Dog. Dave Chappelle Makes Sketches Without His Opinions on Gays. Warren Ellis Really Hates Tony Blair. Hey, What If Two Guys Intentionally Made a Bad Play. And my masterpiece, You Won’t Believe the Best of All Possible Worlds. I’m ready to bring the comedy canon kicking and screaming into the present.
Or we can live in the past. But tell me you’d walk past Richard Pryor’s timeless I Lit Myself on Fire and it Sucked.
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