What happens when creativity meets the corporate internet money machine?

Our focus groups are telling us that lists about Duck Tales and sexual innuendo are testing well with millennials. 1,000,000 views! Comedy genius!

George Carlin would often pepper his routines with biting lists. The words you can’t say on TV. The revised version of the Ten Commandments. The people, he rasped, who ought to be killed. Each of Carlin’s lists worked as a pad from which he could launch his trademark social commentary. And some of his most memorable and scathing material can be found in those litanies. But what if Carlin had decided to do nothing but lists? What if his whole spiel was essentially just a list of lists?

All of that material would suddenly be restricted to one medium–comedic thought limited to a gimmick, a pony show; it’d be Gallagher’s watermelons; it’d get tired real fast.

Looking at ebizmba.com’s summary of the Alexa Global Traffic Rank for comedy websites, we can see Cracked (“America’s only humor site”), eBaum’sWorld, and CollegeHumor in the top 10 most popular comedy websites, as of August 2015.

And we at Rooster have read these for years, especially Cracked–the photos, the essays, and, of course, the lists. But click right here, and you’ll see that the latter is basically all the site is now (assuming, they haven’t changed their ways after this article). This also the case for eBaum’s, CollegeHumor, and a number of other comedy-themed sites. 

Seriously, as this is written, the main pages of these three top 10 comedy sites are composed almost entirely of what are known as a listicles–articles that, like pieces of Carlin’s standup, itemize and rank material to provide a springboard for critical yuks.

What’s more, we’ve noticed that some of these lists, everywhere throughout internet “comedy,” don’t even convey an attempt at real humor: “5 Insane True Stories That Change How You Picture WWII,” “7 Video Games with Clever Clues that Gave Away the Plot,” “21 Fascinating Photos from History,” “The 8 Best Easter Eggs from Google Maps” (Come on!).

These may be popular among general readers, but why are these on comedy sites? “17 Genius Shower Thoughts.” Oh wow. Think anyone’s in stitches?

Lists get a lot of attention. Apparently, they’re the internet’s crack, and believe us, we know the temptation. But the overuse of this viral medium is killing internet comedy. And in pure snarky internet asshole fashion, we’ve created a list of how it’s doing it.

1. A “Comedy” Monotone

It’s Oliver List!!! Get it? Cuz it’s like Twist, except he jumps off a cliff at the end. Humor!

Comedy is all about innovation. More than any other medium, it has to subvert its audience’s expectations. Great comics, like Bo Burnham and Louis C.K., are always playing with the way we receive and interpret material. Kind of hard to do that when you marry yourself to a constant list style. Try to navigate through Cracked’s actual homepage for a while. You’ll eventually start tearing ass through thousands of pictures of “top tenning” douchebags making weird faces in the hopes of finding something different.

2. Comedy That Tries Hard to Be Popular Isn’t Good Comedy

For years, Carlos, aka Ned, gained popularity by aping popular ethnic styles and stealing jokes.

It follows that since comedy often relies on the unexpected, the strange, or the unconventional, not everyone’s going to like it. Check out Larry David and Ricky Gervais
talking in this interview about standup audiences. Comedians can judge themselves by which audiences they appeal to. David and Gervais say that they will often scan the audience for people who, they hope, won’t laugh at their material.

Many comedy websites are branding lists as wholesale comedy just because lists are a popular article format right now. But just because something is in a popular format, doesn’t mean it’s going to be quality material. As the great hack, Mencia would say, “Dee dee dee!”

3. You’re Giving the Mic to the Wrong People!

When you standardize comedy and solicit any person with a pen to come up with some weird list, you’re manufacturing, not crafting, jokes. And by favoring one form of comedy over others, you’re stifling individual voices and styles. It’s a slippery slope to the way the blandest humor is written. You’re one step away from a popsicle stick punchline at this point.

In closing, these lister sites should favor more variety. We know you want money. We do too. But you have to draw a line if you want to keep that all-important description of “funny.” We can remember George Carlin’s routines. But we can’t remember a single list we read from your website last week. That’s a problem.