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THE CUTTING EDGE: COMPUTING / TECHNOLOGY / INNOVATION : Humor on the Internet: Why Is It Rarely a Laughing Matter?

I often have a good time on the Internet, but the other day, in need of a laugh, I set out to see if the Internet could actually be funny--on purpose, I mean. Some of the stuff people do on the Internet is a real riot, of course. But how does the Net rate when it comes to out and out jokes? You know, the traditional kind, in which the point is not technology, but humor.

Well, I’m disappointed to report that the Net doesn’t seem to be very funny the old-fashioned way. Take Bodger & Grift’s Medieval Pick-Up Lines, at https://www.imgnet.com/auth/bandgpic.html. Sounds cute, right? Well, the funniest line I saw was, “What’s a nice maiden like you doing in a dungeon like this?”

Usenet, the collection of discussion forums known as newsgroups and carried via the Internet, wasn’t much better. I tried rec.humor, rec.humor.funny, alt.puns, and so forth, but found mostly sophomoric jibes aimed at some previous poster.

And beware if you have overly refined sensibilities: Racial, ethnic and sexual humor abound, much of it closer to nasty than to wicked. Alt.tasteless.jokes isn’t the only place with tasteless jokes, evidently.

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Cartoons? The Internet is full of them, many by Net denizens who write weekly or even daily for a World Wide Web page. Those I sampled were pretty awful.

Fortunately, there are several places on the Internet that genuinely are funny. It’s just that they tend not to involve the sophomoric ravings of some college student in South Dakota.

On the cartoon front, for instance, The Comic Strip offers access to many favorites at https://www.unitedmedia.com/, including Jump Start, Drabble, Peanuts and others. There’s also The Dilbert Zone, where America’s First Nerd can be found (he was my role-model when I had an actual job), and The Inkwell, where you can see some fine political cartooning.

CompuServe users who like cartoons can GO FUNFORUM to reach the service’s interesting (if not necessarily hilarious) Funnies Forum, where you’ll find cartoons, discussions, cartoonists’ biographies and more. I even found an essay by John Updike on his lifelong love affair with cartooning.

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Perhaps the single funniest site on the Internet, in my humble opinion, is the Capitol Steps home page. For those unfamiliar with the Capitol Steps, they’re a troupe of Congressional staffers who, after hours, satirize the news in song. They are often heard on public radio, but you can hear them at your leisure on the Internet, at https://pfm.het.brown.edu/people/mende/steps/index.html.

I know that’s a long address, but at least you won’t have to download any giant sound files. Just use RealAudio (https://www.realaudio.com, if this is new to you, or read about it on my home page) to click and play. The Steps are savagely funny, wonderfully musical, and they literally make a mockery of political correctness by lampooning politicians across the political spectrum (and on either side of the aisle in the O.J. Simpson case).

When U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds (D-Ill.) was convicted of having sex with an underage campaign worker, for instance, the Steps turned to Rogers and Hammerstein, singing: “Getting his tongue and lips caught in our braces, paying kids’ prices to see Lion King, these are a few of Mel’s favorite things!”

And when Shannon Faulkner dropped out of the Citadel, the Steps echoed Helen Reddy, singing: “I am Shannon, hear me roar, hear me roaring out the door, I excelled when we performed those fainting spells.”

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For some more wicked wit of the East, visit https://www.cbs.com/lateshow/, where you’ll find “The Late Show with David Letterman” home page. Head for the searchable archive of Letterman’s Top 10 Lists, which offers some of the funniest stuff on the Internet.

I searched the name Ito (as in Judge Lance) and turned up 26 Top 10 lists mentioning the Simpson jurist, including Top 10 Signs Judge Ito Has Lost Control of the Courtroom (No. 2: “That Kato dude is livin’ in the jury box.”)

I tried searching Newt Gingrich and found a long list of Top 10s skewering the House Speaker, including Top 10 Signs Newt Gingrich Has Gone Mad With Power. No. 10: “Has beaten several Democrats to death with his gavel.” No. 9: “Now claiming he invented the Fig Newton.”

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For more indigenous Internet manifestations of wit, you might try the Rainbow Humor Page at https://www.columbia.edu/~sss31/humor.html. It has a lot of the geek stuff that you might be looking for, and it also serves as a gateway to other humor pages.

Using the jumpword HUMOR, Prodigy at first seems like a barrel of laughs, but it really isn’t. In fact, the Punchline service on Prodigy, consisting of the best jokes submitted by users, has closed, although there is still an archive of jokes available. There is, however, a Comedy Bulletin Board that has jokes from users, among other things.

There is some genuine humor on America Online. Use the keyword JOKES and check out the transcripts of the “Stump the Standup” festivities Saturday nights at midnight Eastern time in the ABC Cyberplex. Some of the jokes are groaners, and many aren’t in great taste, but their timeliness, and the rapid-fire delivery, make this pretty funny.

AOL also has message areas where users post jokes, but these left me cold. There’s a joke of the day feature. The one I looked at--about sharks not eating a lawyer due to professional courtesy--was older than me, and I’m no spring chicken.

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Daniel Akst welcomes messages at Dan.Akst@latimes.com. His World Wide Web page is at https://www.caprica.com/~akst/


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