Harriet Walker: Eventually you have a whole table of people watching something on a phone

 

Share

Have you seen the YouTube clip of the sneezing baby panda? Or the otters holding hands? Or the baby who convulses with giggles as his father rips up the rejection letter that has come in the post?

If you haven't, please do come round this week and I'll cook you dinner and play them to you. It'll be hilaire.

This is how we make jokes now. And this is how people judge whether you're funny. An awkward and public forum. A fold-out dining table full of medieval jesters waiting with bated breath for a red-faced king either to roar with laughter or chop off their heads.

Last week, I went for dinner at a friend's house, a dinner that segued into the ritualistic typing of search terms and playing of internet funnies. It has become a night out, in many senses, cheaper than the cinema and more interactive than watching paint dry. You can say you spent time with people when really all you did was use Google.

"Noooo, don't make it a YouTube party!" goes the plea at many sturdy-seeming drinking sessions when someone starts to say, "Oh, have you…? or, 'Oh, I must show you…'. Inevitably half of the table starts talking animatedly so they aren't suckered in, while the other half watches the clip. Eventually, the aloof half are undone by their own curiosity, and then you have a whole table of people watching something on a laptop or a phone. Everyone apart from the new-ish girlfriend who doesn't want to be there and the old-ish boyfriend looking for an escape route. This is how we make jokes now, by saying balls to badinage. You can't replay a good gag, after all.

The danger of a "YouTube party" is that a social event simply becomes an extended version of your desk at work, or your time spent flicking through the guff of modern malaise on the bus. Entertaining has become a forum for sitting down and sharing the web clips that made us laugh that week. Which is arguably what an email is for, although you don't get crisps and dips with those.

The number of dinner parties that have been curtailed because someone couldn't think of the next link to show, so everyone became fidgety and left… It's hard to come back from simply watching things, nigh-on impossible to foster a conversation again successfully. Like avoiding looking at the TV screen in a pub: once you do, you're done.

There's the frenetic impatience until it's your turn to share. The cold, sweaty feeling as you build up the courage to butt in and say – nonchalantly, of course – "Oh, have you seen this one?" The anxiety of people's reactions, the charged moment when someone searches and can't find what they're looking for, having banged on about it for the past half-hour. The familiar high when everyone laughs at your offering. The feeling of acceptance when someone else declares they've already seen it and it's good enough to watch again. Nirvana.

I remember one night lounging around on the sofa, and the girl I lived with showing me a clip that was actually just an ad. It felt like the end of civilization. For starters it wasn't that funny, plus I'd seen it only hours earlier in between segments of an ITV drama, it being an ad and all. She chuckled away. "I just love that talking bear!" she said, shaking her head.

According to social convention, if someone tells a bad joke, you pretend to laugh. If they should tell a dull, rather meandering story with no point, no real meaning and no pizzazz, you're duty-bound regardless to comment on it, or ask them about it, or even to up the ante by telling your own marginally less boring anecdote. But when someone plays you a bad YouTube clip, it's like a fart in a lift. Nowhere for it to go, unspoken but keenly felt, a source of mutual embarrassment and indignation. You don't want to talk about it, but you don't know what else to say. You feel like it's your fault, regardless of the fact it wasn't you that broke wind – or in this case, pressed play.

You just have to try to pick up again from where you left off. By this point, the more grumpily Luddite of the group may have wandered into the kitchen. You follow them, angling to say very quickly that it wasn't you who chose the last clip. But you find them putting on their coat and checking their phone. And you wish you hadn't let your friend's new boyfriend get the laptop out, but it's too late.

So you wander back through and laugh like a drain at some pandas going down a slide.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Syria's Kurds have little choice but to flee amid the desolution, ruins and danger they face

Patrick Cockburn
A bartender serves two Mojito cocktails  

For the twenty-somethings of today, growing up is hard to do

Simon Kelner
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones