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?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
“I just wanted some chicken wings,” Tan Shen told the assembled media. “But once I got in there ... I decided I needed time to think.”  

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Ellen E Jones
Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay's Chris Martin “consciously uncoupled” in March  

My best and worst stories of 2014

Simmy Richman
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015