Digital Humor by Alleen Pace Nilsen and Don L. F. Nilsen

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Digital Humor by Alleen Pace Nilsen and Don L. F. Nilsen

Computer Trouble Shooting


Brian Willams Raps on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show


And look how far we have moved away from books,



The First Digital Communication— With Real Digits

Evolution of the Cell Phone

The QWERTYUIOP Principle

  • It is commonly believed that the QWERTYUIOP keyboard was invented in order to slow down the typist and keep the keys from jamming.
  • Actually, only the first part of this belief is true. QWERTYUIOP was invented not to slow down the typist but rather to speed up the keyboard by keeping the keys from jamming.
  • When typewriters were first invented, the letters that were used most often frequently jammed together, so the QWERTYUIOP keyboard was designed to separate these letters from each other.
  • Nevertheless, today, whenever something is designed to slow us down rather than speed it up, this design is said to be following the QWERTYUIOP principle.

Millenials and Beyond

Intentional Cell Phone Humor:

Accidental Cell Phone Humor

Everybody is now a news photographer for Hurricanes, Meteors, Floods, Police Actions…

and how far we’ve come with photos.


  • With a cell phone, we are able to escape the moment.
  • This increases our social audience, and allows us to transcend.
  • But is it always a good thing?

We’ve gone from talking to texting --at the game --and at dinner

--at the Art Museum --and in the car.

BRB: Be Right Back!


  • Memes allow us to combine pictures with text.
  • The text in the top part of the meme gives us the historical context.
  • The text in the lower part of the meme gives us the ironic spin.

Memes give new meanings to old events

“Lazy College Student” meme

Philip Fry from Futurama

Philosoraptor Memes are named after Velociraptor dinosaurs.

Photo Bombing

A New York Times photo of students in BYU’s computer animation program Can you spot the photo-bomber?

Is this a photo-bomber?

Changes in society, religion, and technology cause anxieties that inspire new movements.

  • FRANKENSTEIN became popular when scientists began experimenting with real bodies.
  • In the 1800s American “Tall Tales” were humorous extensions of the strange things people found as they moved west.
  • And in the 1970s, urban legends made fun of people facing new and scary technologies, including microwave ovens, organ transplants, and a lack of privacy.
  • Zombies are now popular because of medical advances, aging populations and fears of biological warfare and pandemics.

The Vine Application

  • Vine is an application that allows users to take and post short video clips.
  • The teller of verbal jokes has the luxury of taking their time in order to provide the information needed to understand the joke. This is especially true in a shaggy dog story.
  • But Vines are 7 seconds long, so they require careful cutting and editing.
  • They also require the use of stereotypes, so that the information can be presented quickly.
  • Editorial cartoons also follow the 7-second rule for the same reasons.



Selfies at Oscars, Tour de France & Running of the Bulls

Selma, Alabama, 2015 Selfies on the Edmund Pettus Bridge

As new concepts emerge, we recycle old words and phrases from fantasy and science fiction.

  • Godzillagram = a huge packet
  • Munchkins = teenage techies
  • Wabbit = a mischievous program
  • Sorcerer’s Apprentice Mode = an indefinitely repeating program
  • 42 = the meaning of life, truth, and everything
  • A Trojan Horse = a program infiltrating a computer
  • UTSL = Use The Source Luke (from Star Wars)
  • Obi-Wan-Error = Off by One code from HAL (IBM) in 2001, A Space Odyssey
  • Tree Killers = paper wasters from J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings
  • Code Police or Net Police = thought police from Orwell’s 1984

Millennials and Their Careers:

People can be addicted to Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Tumblr and especially Video Games.

Call and Response on Facebook

More Call and Response on Facebook

  • ELLEN DEGENERES: “In Your Facebook”:

Example of a gender-based computer joke: “No wonder you can’t write. You’re not plugged in.”

  • (Eschholz-Rosa-Clark [2009]: 105)

Peter Steiner’s 1993 cartoon in the New Yorker showed two dogs in front of a computer. One is remarking “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

  • Peter Steiner’s 1993 cartoon in the New Yorker showed two dogs in front of a computer. One is remarking “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”
  • Even Steiner was amazed at how popular it became.
  • It not only reflected, but helped shape world-wide attitudes.

We like making fun of computers.

  • I have a spelling checker.
  • It came with my PC.
  • It plane lee marks four my revue
  • Miss steaks aye can knot sea.
  • Common spell-check mistakes include:
  • Untied States, Worth nothing that, and Fraud for Freud.


Importance of the “Rule of Three”

Because headlines are so short, they often contain ambiguities

These sentences are ambiguous; computers don’t provide “real world knowledge”

  • A cheesecake was on the table. It was delicious and was soon eaten.
  • SIGN IN A CHURCH: For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.
  • NEWSPAPER AD: Our bikinis are exciting; they are simply the tops.
  • It’s time to make smoking history!

The Nilsen family enjoying a PowerPoint or a Video Clip

Challenges in the Digital World

  • People want to create and post their own material.
  • What goes out on the Internet has probably not had an editor, a director, or a producer.
  • This results in originality and spontaneity, and also in questionable materials.

Grammatical “errors” are common as in this “Success Kid” meme.

R-Rated Internet Shows


Recent firings because of the digital broadcasting of inappropriate humor…

  • In October 2013, White House staffer Jofi Joseph was fired for posting “snarky” and mean-spirited tweets under the handle of @natsecwonk.
  • These tweets were a mix of leaking sensitive national security information, criticizing the White House policies, and insulting the personalities and appearances of national security officials.
  • In his own “apology” or maybe “defense,” Joseph called it a “parody account,” and said he was only “saying what everyone else…thought.”

After the crash of Flight 241, KTVU in northern California broadcast fake names of the pilots, which caused three men to be fired.

  • They had identified the pilots as
  • Captain Sum Ting Wong We To Lo
  • Ho Lee Fuk Bang Ding Ow
  • They claimed that the names had been verified by the NTSB, which never releases pilots’ names and certainly would not have had these names on any list.
  • The female newscaster was not fired because she was as surprised as anyone when she read the script on air.

It was inappropriate because it targeted the victims, came so soon after the tragedy, and was presented as real news. Later in fake news reports…

  • Stephen Colbert said that the names sounded Chinese instead of Korean, and “if you’re going to make ethnic jokes, you really should get the ethnicity straight.”
  • Bill Maher had fun creating the name Cok Fo To for former Congressman Anthony Weiner, who tweeted photos of his crotch to women
  • Maher also created the name Me Lik Ho for Eliot Spitzer, who resigned as New York Governor in 2008 when he was caught patronizing prostitutes. The names Weiner and Spitzer are natural set-ups for such jokes.

Even a University President Found Himself in Trouble for His Humor

  • Gordon Gee, the highly respected president of the Ohio State University made controversial statements at a semi-private meeting with members of his athletic department.
  • He objected to admitting Notre Dame to the Big Ten Conference because “You just can’t trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or a Friday…The Fathers are holy on Sunday, and they’re holy hell the rest of the week.”
  • The Associated Press heard about the statement and asked for a recording of the meeting. The upshot was that President Gee retired at the end of May.
  • He apologized, but said “I have no regrets about having a sense of humor and having a thick skin and enjoying life.”

Other High-Profile Firings Include:

  • An ESPN announcer was fired for doing a story under the heading “A Chink in the Armor” when Asian basketball star, Jeremy Lin was let go by the Knicks in February of 2012.
  • Comedian Gilbert Gottfried, who had the job of being the voice of the Aflac duck, was fired in 2011 for tweeting jokes about the Tsunami in Japan. 75% of Aflac’s business is in Japan.
  • Paula Deen, a celebrity chef on the Food Network, was fired from her television show because of using the N-word and catering “old plantation” parties that were considered racist.


  • Tumblr is a website that is part social network and part microblogging.
  • On Tumblr can be found list jokes, puns, parody, sarcasm and call and response.
  • Tumblr’s Mighty Pixie
  • (Teh Mighteh Pixeh)

Tumblr Humor

Pinterest Snow Humor

Pinterest Haiku

Video Game Inconsistency

Video Game Irony: Smiling Children as Villains

Compare Cartman on Southpark

Video Game Glitches: Photoshop & Sorcerer’s Apprentice Mode

A Vine for Old People:


In conclusion, Steiner’s joke is no longer true. Today, if you’re a dog on the web…, someone will find out.

MOOCS & Viral Videos “Gangnam Style” has been viewed by over 2 billion viewers on Youtube

GIF: Graphics Interchange Format

  • GIF Links:

Digital Humor Websites

  • BYU Computer Animation Team:

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