Or, "Why a Hugely Popular Joke is Also and Always a Good One."
It's time again to pull a topic from my comments section and lay it out in a dedicated post, because some things require too much explanation for a comment conversation. Our topics today are the star, the +1, the promotion, and the roundups.
After Tuesday's Roundup, an anonymous MBA reader commented with something along the lines of (and I'm paraphrasing here), "isn't this blog somewhat tedious and redundant?" and "you got two guys starred" and something about Deadspin commenting being a disappointing activity. It wasn't nearly that snarky - it was a pleasant comment, and so I responded with something to the effect of, "yes, they're tedious, but they allow us to have a bigger, more interesting conversation about mechanics, and no, I never ever ever ever ever got anyone starred or suspended or promoted or banned."
Initially, the important part of this exchange was the notion that blog critiques played a role in anyone getting starred, because it's obvious (to me) that there's no causal relationship whatsoever. There have been a few recent starrings that I can think of: Norm_de_Plume, who I mentioned once (and whose name I misspelled, regrettably, and to my eternal frustration) and only after he was starred; DJ Jazzy Jeff Weaver, who for a stretch was beyond doubt the hottest commenter on Deadspin even before he was starred; Rare Endangered Vuvuzela, who has been around for a good long while and who we have mentioned from time to time; and Raysism, who was starred during a DUAN conversation about how he should have been starred already.
But there's a larger point than whether my criticisms played a role in these specific starrings, and it's why I chose to steal the THERE ARE NO LAUGHS . . . line directly from our profile of AzureTexan; some commenters get it, while most other commenters do not yet get it. The it here is hard to define - Steve_U gets it, Tanfastic does not yet get it. Vodkanaut gets it, Paolo.Lex never did and probably never will. It is (roughly) an understanding of the kinds of punchlines that make for good jokes, married to an understanding of how to package those punchlines such that the impact is maximized. Deadspin commenting is different from just being funny, because unlike barroom humor or even standup, everyone in this room has only the material from the designated post around which to form their jokes - in that way, Deadspin commenting is more like Whose Line Is It Anyway?; time-sensitive, vaguely competitive, bound to a specific externally-generated topic, and measured against aggressively high standards of excellence. It takes healthy measures of talent and instinct, but practice and experience are also essential.
I chose Tanfastic above because I think of him as someone who can safely be lumped into the category of Deadspin commenters who don't yet have it. That may sound like a knock, but it is totally and genuinely not; Tanfastic attempts to be funny and seems to genuinely put effort into his comments. With practice and care (lots of care), Tanfastic will become a good commenter. Scanning the vast majority of pink commenters and, frankly, most of the unstarred commenters, it seems to me Tanfastic is in a good percentile based entirely upon those characteristics.
The commenters who adhere to that basic rule of Deadspin commenting, the one that goes be funny, usually just need practice to refine what they do before they eventually become solid contributors. So, you stick to the rule for a while and hone your craft and before too long, you're a good commenter. A cobra.la.la.la.la.la.la or BillBelichick or GaryOaklandAthletics - perfectly capable of submitting worthy comments on a daily basis. For some commenters, there next appears to be a certain turning point when their jokes become so streamlined and consistently solid that, star or no, they appear to have made another distinct leap forward. Eventually, such a person is going to become a featured commenter. And even then, after gaining a star, some commenters make yet another leap, where suddenly they have a very specific commenting voice and an immediately identifiable commenting style. Sooner or later, Mad Bastards All will probably feature this person in a Profile in Commenting.
That's more or less the timeline of becoming Gamboa Constrictor or Phintastic or Eddie Murray Sparkles. Follow the rule, hone your craft, develop your voice.
When you think of the Deadspin commentariat and the way jokes are appreciated, think of a cut stone, like a diamond. I know nothing about diamonds. I walk into a jewelry store or a museum, I see a jewel, it sparkles, I like it. That must be worth a million dollars! It doesn't have to be the fucking Hope Diamond. It could be a piece of glass for all I know. I like that it sparkles.
That's the experience some Deadspin readers and commenters have when commenting or reading comments: huh huh huh, he said "boobs". There's nothing in the world wrong with that. A joke that makes you laugh is good. Most jokes on Deadspin are worthy in this way.
Now, when my (hypothetical) fiance walks into a jewelry store, she sees carats and clarity and color and cut and things called Pavilion angle and Crown depth. She sees these things because she spends an unseemly amount of time studying and researching gemstones - she knows from sparkling. While I'm pressing my nose against the glass and fawning over cubic zirconium, she's zeroed in on the one diamond in the whole joint that combines all those specific characteristics she's looking for in a truly valuable, truly worthy diamond.
And that's the experience a long-time Deadspin reader or commenter has on a daily basis; casually sorting through less refined jokes in pursuit of the ones that combine all those specific characteristics you're looking for in a truly worthy comment; premise, set-up, punchline, structure, timing, originality, creativity - a winner is a winner. Hang around Deadspin long enough, and your standards for a great joke will go through the roof. You will become the comment pro.
So, yes, the Roundups are usually redundant. Why? Because a winner is a winner, and a comment that gets 15 +1s is worthy of 15 +1s. It's subjective, but it's only so subjective. In the same way that a high quality diamond is rated with a high degree of objectivity, a great comment meets a certain set of criteria. Recording them can be tedious, but it's also kinda fun. The Roundups are meant to accomplish 3 things; 1. to chronicle the noteworthy comments of the day in an easy-access one-stop-shop sort of destination; 2. to provide (hopefully) useful feedback and ideas to Deadspin commenters; and 3. to enable a broader discussion of the mechanics of humor. You'd never read our mind-shatteringly long essay on the striking similarities in function of terror and humor if we didn't both give you context for that conversation and draw you in by catering to your need to read about yourselves. So there.
What followed from there in our little MBA comment conversation was a reply that suggested that the starring process seems arbitrary. This conversation has taken place in my comments section before, but it's worth drawing a distinction again, and as plainly as possible, because this can be confounding and frustrating for new readers and commenters:
Who is featured can seem inconsistent and arbitrary. As previously noted somewhere, the method of starring a commenter has changed over time, from a totally mechanical but nonetheless arbitrary system that rewarded activity and longevity to a more subjective (but not so subjective) system that rewards successful joke-making. There are any number of long-time featured commenters who achieved this status before the current system was in place. They don't always joke. Some never joke. This inconsistency can mislead and frustrate the hell out of new commenters, but it is what it is.
The starring system has plenty of rhyme and reason, and all you need to do is look at the most recent round of starrings to see that. This may be hard to believe, but as a long term reader and consumer of Deadspin comments, the distinction between a feature-worthy commenter and everyone else is crystal, crystal clear. You don't necessarily have to be my "fiance" to discern the difference, but it helps. DJ Jazzy Jeff Weaver had a comment promoted. No big deal. DJ Jazzy Jeff Weaver had 3 comments promoted on the same day - still not a big deal. DJ Jazzy Jeff Weaver went days and days and days and dozens and dozens of comments in a row without failing to be funny, without embarrassing himself, without shaming the noble art of joke-making - I promise you everyone who was paying attention thought the same thing; "this guy has it."
My point is, there is no such thing as "influencing the process", nor is the process inherently arbitrary. The same reason that a hugely popular comment is inescapably great applies to a great commenter rising to the surface - it's not all that subjective. I highlighted a commenter because he is great, and he was starred because he is great.
And finally, I'd like to once again briefly delve into the topic of Deadspin's commentariat as a group of catty, sniping, elitist jerks: my experience of this is the exact opposite. I've found the commentariat to be nearly defined by their communal, mutual, reciprocal support and interest in creating and sharing a good laugh and a good time. Yes, there's a lot of sarcasm and there's even been some mild hazing, but it's all genuinely in good fun. The response to laziness or hostility can be sharp, but the obvious deterrent is to avoid laziness and hostility. The rules of commenting are so simple and straightforward. Willful ignorance of those rules and standards is an act of hostility. Getting and staying on the good side of this group is startlingly simple - take pride in your creations and respect the one rule.
And that's just about all I have to say about that.
Friday's Roundup will be up later. Enjoy the miraculous weather.