Thursday, March 10, 2011

Profiles in Commenting: norbizness

Or: "This Reminds Me Of A Joke Someone Else Made" Is Not A Fucking Joke, You Fucking Hack

Commenter Profile Link: norbizness
Commenter Style: Jpeg-y, Simpson-y, unoriginal-y

Launching this blog, it was - and still is - our intention to focus most of our energies on drawing attention to what's good in the world of Deadspin commenting. It's my studied opinion that, taken collectively, on the average day, the Deadspin comment sections are the funniest place on the entire internet, whether you care about sports or not. These past couple of weeks haven't necessarily provided the best argument for that, as many of the site's funniest, most original, and most ingenious commenters have been out of the picture, but still.

Take for example this comment by Eddie Murray Sparkles that earned a mention in our Tuesday Roundup. I'm hoping that by unpacking it a little bit I won't suck all the humor out of it, but I want to draw attention to the fact that this simple, brief one-liner contains two distinct references, working in opposite directions: the surface statement "we are all out of accounting jokes" references the previous day's bonanza of accounting-related puns; "OD'd" and "Ledger" reference our knowledge of the unfortunate demise of Heath Ledger. Think about what these references do, blended together in this specific way: the first reference flows in one direction, and the other one flows directly against it.

The sentence makes one joke structurally, using the setup of a story about an accounting professor to surprise us with the silly ledger/Ledger bit - but it also contains a second setup/punchline structure that isn't delivered by the accounting pun, but rather by the mental process the reader will go through in reading that pun: the fact of one single sentence saying both "there are no more accounting jokes" and "yes there are," with the same words. On top of that, it also delivers the surprise of commuting our expectation of accounting jokes about the George Washington University professor who is the subject of the article all the way to the idea that the accounting jokes themselves are the joke. And, if you really want to keep unpacking, you can laugh at the idea that we're so far down the rabbit-hole of accounting references that they have become irresistible: that even in trying to say that we are out of accounting jokes, we can't help but make accounting jokes.

Ladies and gentlemen, this one-liner is a dizzying masterwork of comedy.

The reason I've gone into such lengths to unpack and map out the humor of an Eddie Murray Sparkles comment in a profile of another commenter altogether is because I want you to have that comment, and its masterful use of references to subjects outside of the topic of the post being commented on, in mind when you click on this link to a comment made by norbizness in the overnight post about Brandon Meriweather's involvement in a shooting at a party in Florida. I want you to read the post in question, then read norbizness's comment, and see if you can tell me what the actual joke is.

As far as I can tell, here is the joke:

"Neil Diamond has a song with the words 'Blue Jeans' in it. Also, I am familiar with a character from The Simpsons. Here is a video!"

Are you laughing yet?

I wouldn't single this comment out for derision if it weren't painfully representative of norbizness's ouvre, which is to post a screen-cap or embedded video from some outside pop-culture source (most commonly The Simpsons), and contribute no actual humor of his own. By my extremely unscientific measurements (basically, a not-particularly-charitable estimate), I'd say that maybe a full half of all of his comments essentially boil down to, "I have watched The Simpsons." And that's just not funny.

Look. A lot of jokes can be boiled down to very bare-bones statements that, on their own, aren't particularly funny. In fact, this is true of many very good comments. Take, for example, this one, by Same Sad Echo. It's hardly the funniest joke in the world, but it's good for a chuckle, and it doesn't take more than a glance to see that, unpacked, the statement here is, "Like Vince Naimoli, Dan Snyder is also an asshole." Turning that into something that works as a joke is where craft comes in: a little bit of incongruity, some care and specificity, and you've got something that is not only funny, but also incisive (in how it gently reminds us that, like Naimoli, Snyder's destiny is to be remembered first and foremost for being a big asshole, no matter what else he does).

And it's there - in the use of craft and care to create actual jokes, ones that actually say something - that norbizness so often fails. My partner-in-crime, Mr. Shitehawk, uses one term and one concept that I want to mention here: the term is "rent-a-joke," which is the lazy practice of deploying a pop-culture reference without adding any original humor to it (incidentally, Seth MacFarlane has made himself a gazillionaire media monstrosity out of exactly this sort of thing); the concept is that of grinding, which is when a commenter seems to prioritize churning out at least one comment for each and every post over making people laugh. I bring these up because the typical norbizness comment fits the following profile: it is likely one of the earliest comments on any given post, and it is depressingly likely to be a rent-a-joke. Those two things aren't unrelated. Here's a guy who isn't putting any effort into turning pop-culture associations into well-crafted jokes, because he's racing to get his comments out before anyone else steals the low-hanging fruit.

How can I so confidently make that diagnosis? How do I know that norbizness isn't trying his hardest, and isn't, like, retarded? Here's how: when he calms down, waits a few goddamn minutes, and gives the image-bombing a rest, he's capable of mildly-but-genuinely humorous comments like this one. You'll notice, if you look at the entire thread of that Don King post, that his contribution appears a shocking 22 minutes after the article appeared on Deadspin, and nearer to the middle of the overall thread than to the beginning. Is it particularly laff-tastic? Certainly not. Heck, it may not even rise to the level of actual funniness. But it's humorous, in that it at least shows that he's capable of conveying humor.

And it's precisely comments like that one - there aren't many of them, but they occur often enough to demonstrate that they're not total flukes - that caused me to write this resoundingly negative profile. There are plenty of commenters - some very regular ones, although most are unstarred - who don't seem to understand at all that there's a difference between saying "Here is proof that I have watched a particular movie/read a particular news item/memorized a dismaying number of episodes of a television show that lost its vitality over a decade ago" on the one hand, and making an actual joke on the other. Many of them have never produced a single comment that was not an utter failure. Those people will never be profiled in this blog, because for all I know, they are just simple, stupid people who are trying their damnedest. Norbizness is not one of them. He is a lazy hack, content an unforgivably large percentage of the time to let the work of other, funnier people provide literally all the content of his contributions.

Commenter Rating (out of five stars): X

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