TikTok - How does it rate as a Comedy Platform?
While I don’t like to admit it, a lot of my laughs these days come from TikTok. This is in part because of the accessibility of the app – I can easily start it up in a dull moment, something that I am not as wont to do with a TV show or movie. But there truly is a lot of comedic inspiration on the platform – evident from performers like Leo Gonzalez and Demarcus Shawn. While it is granted that the platform does offer up a lot of great comedic moments, what does the comedy experience look like from a bird’s-eye view? How is the platform as a vessel for comedy as a whole?
When considering TikTok as a way to deliver comedy, it is important to consider two key features – its user-based nature and its short-form medium. This grassroots quality gives TikTok the comedy advantage of being able to respond quickly to current events, as well as being levels of insightful/absurd that you might not find as frequently in more traditional media. This provides comedy perspectives that are both fresher and more in-tune with the zeitgeist. All of this is of course a double-edged sword – a rushed response to current events leads to a lot of noise that might benefit from distance; the structureless and grassroots nature of TikTok gives way to indulgence that might not otherwise have been there.
The second feature to consider is the medium itself – short-form videos of all different genres, easily skippable with a swipe. This medium provides a more direct line to humor – accessing the app promises something comedic in short order. On the flip side, this leads to a more crowded experience – I can pretty quickly see funny videos, but on the way to those will see cute, spooky, cool, sexy, unnerving, surreal, and a variety of other types of videos as well.
When considering these pros and cons as a comedy platform, one must acknowledge that all platforms have their positives and negatives. For comedy TV, a prematurely canceled show, or a show that goes on for too long for less creative reasons, can sour the experience of the show as a whole. For a comedy movie, the bureaucracy that can be involved can sometimes get in the way of comedic quality. For YouTube, its user-based nature can sometimes lead to quantity over quality (similarly to TikTok). What, then, defines whether TikTok ultimately succeeds as a substantial comedy delivery system?
For me, I think the defining factor, and where TikTok differs from the mediums mentioned above, is its impact on attention. Certainly, one can navigate YouTube in TikTok-like fashion (jumping from video to video in a more passive way), but one can also choose otherwise by navigating YouTube in a more directed, quality-oriented fashion (longer-form videos and targeted subscriptions are a key aspect of accomplishing that). Certainly, TikTok has a more focused "subscription" section, a-la YouTube, where you can view videos only from accounts that you follow. However, the short-form nature of most of the videos, along with the app's ease-of-use, makes it a lot more difficult to use in that targeted YouTube way, and makes it a noisy and frenetic experience that I think is unavoidable and unique to TikTok.
Like I mentioned at the start, a lot of my laughs these days come from TikTok. However, these laughs are mixed in with a lot of other things – responses to frustrating, depressing, troublesome videos included. Certainly, comedic experiences don't need to be all about the laughs. This year's season of Only Murders in the Building was one of my favorite comedy shows of the year, and it is equal parts comedy and crime mystery. However, in the case of this show and shows like it, the comedic and non-comedic are not fighting one another, but are working in tandem to create a more satisfying experience wherein the comedic ideas and characters are given more substance and power.
Ultimately, this is why I think TikTok does not reach the same heights that these other mediums reach. Sure, it has laughs, but the very nature of the medium ends up negating whatever comedic value you get from it – the laughs are ensconced within so much else competing for attention that an inspired comedic idea soon gets lost in the fog. At the end of the day, there isn’t the “deep learning”, or whatever the comedy equivalent is (“deep laughing?”) on the app, specifically because each piece of comedy is surrounded by a cacophony of other, easily-accessible, wildly different videos.
While I do not go to TikTok for the best presentation of comedy, there are still creators – like those mentioned above – and other sparks of inspiration that are truly great. There is a lot of this inspiration on the app (to be sure, material that hits my brainstem's funny bone), and my hope is that the inspiration can find its way to a context that more effectively presents it!