Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Profiles in Commenting: Hatey McLife

Or: From Hell's Heart, He Stabs At Thee

Commenter Profile Link: Hatey McLife
Commenter Style: One-liner-y, ice cold, savage, spartan

I want to talk some more about structure, about how the creator of a joke (or the teller of a story) leads the reader/listener, through timing and syntactical/grammatical choices, to the exact point where the punchline (in the case of a joke) or the meaning (in the case of a story) can be delivered with maximum impact - or, how the creator/teller doesn't do that.  I also want to talk about degree-of-difficulty, and self-discipline, and consistency in a persona.

I like to think about exactly when and how a joke delivers its laugh. Let's take a look at this comment from Bevraj of Choice in a recent thread.  As commenter SavetoFavorites notes among its many complimentary replies, it's a stripped-down, clockwork-perfect example of premise-setup-punchline humor.  The first two lines do their work of setting our expectations, and then the third line subverts them.  If you're like me, there was the tiniest little cognitive beat (maybe so brief that it couldn't have been measured) between the reading of the third line, and the laugh: in a fraction of an instant, your brain goes back and pulls up that first line again, along with the picture being captioned, and re-interprets "under the bridge guy" in a new context, and then you're laughing.

That's an example of a joke that fairly helpfully leads you along to the laugh: it walks you to the spot, makes sure you're facing the right direction, and then hits you with the funny. In that regard, it is also an example of the kind of joke that Hatey McLife does not make.

There are lots of one-liner specialists on Deadspin. Eddie Murray Sparkles and Steve U, the site's top two commenters these days, both deal primarily in one-liners. One-liners, in general, tend to be a more austere brand of joke, given the limits their form imposes on their creator's ability to carefully set things up. Many very good one-liner-type jokes have a distinct kind of timing, where you read (or hear) the line, and then there's a pause (like in Bevraj's comment from above, this pause can be very brief) while you sort of retroactively assemble the setup in your head, and then everything clicks into place and you laugh. That's very different from the way a joke with a more developed setup works, where you're primed to laugh as soon as the punchline hits.

Still, even among the one-liners, many of Hatey's comments - including a healthy number of his very best ones - qualify as extremely austere. If you think of a joke as a little mental vacation, then one like this one from AzureTexan, with its generous setup, fundamental silliness, and vivid imagery, is an all-expenses-paid trip to Disney World; this one from Hatey, on the other hand, is like being air-dropped onto the lower foothills of Mount Everest with nothing but a pair of cleats and a windbreaker. You will get to the laugh or you will not, but you will be alone in either case, and if you freeze to death along the way, Hatey will not care.

That's not a criticism, either - and this is where persona, and disciplined maintenance of a persona, come into play. Hatey's whole thing, from his handle to his avatar, to the blurb ("Hatey McLife was shat out of hell.") that was his ever-present status in the pre-redesign days when user pages had statuses, to the extreme stinginess with which he hands out promotions and +1s and so forth, to his general non-participation in that casual after-hours cocktail party that is DUAN, is of a piece with his persona as an ice-cold, razor-sharp, merciless machine pumping out ice-cold, razor-sharp, merciless jokes. The only times that persona breaks up at all are those rare occasions when one of his comments contains an obvious error in spelling, grammar, or syntax - and those occasions are noticeable, sharply dissonant, and a little bit disorienting: Hatey is not human and therefore should not make human mistakes.

That persona and its consistency help to make Hatey's acidic one-liners effective, in a way that they might not be if another commenter made them. This is something we'll get much more into whenever I get around to profiling MarkKelsosMigraine, David Hume, and others, but with Hatey as well, familiarity with a commenter's body of work impacts how you respond to new additions to it. MKM's once-in-a-blue-moon "olive oil voice and guinea charm" jokes, for example, pull off the seeming paradox of being funniest to those who are most familiar with them - it's easy to imagine that, to those who haven't seen them popping up here and there for such a long time, the warm and appreciative response they get every single time they appear might seem confounding. Hell, they might not seem funny at all - worse, they might seem like norbizness-y crap, a quote for its own sake.

That dynamic is at play with Hatey as well. His best comments are plenty funny all on their own, but part of what makes them work for those who are familiar with him is the high-wire he-did-it-again! response. That's just the nature of things: it also explains why, the more time you spend reading Deadspin comments, the more you want to punch norbizness in the face.

Depending on your perspective, you can see Hatey's approach as containing either an incredibly high degree-of-difficulty, or a shamefully low one. You can admire his ability to deliver biting humor in such tiny, economical packages; to relate the content of an article to some far-flung reference via a twist of language that transforms it into something ghoulish, or mean, or depraved, or shocking; to have continued doing this at a fairly consistently high level for years and years - or, you can see the austerity of his typical comment as a sign of laziness, a stubborn refusal to put care into packaging his jokes in a way that makes them as genuinely funny as they are challenging and dark; you can wish that he focused as much attention toward making you laugh as he seemingly does toward making you gasp "Jesus Christ!"

You can treasure Hatey or you can roll your eyes at him. You can also be sure that he doesn't give a fuck.

Commenter Rating (out of five stars): ««««

No comments:

Post a Comment