THE BLOG

The Death of Humour?

08/29/2013 05:26 EDT | Updated 10/29/2013 05:12 EDT

I've finally accepted the inevitable: the humour column is dead. What was once a common media feature is now virtually extinct. Today magazine and newspaper humour columns are rare creatures indeed.

Twenty-five years ago, there were markets aplenty. Lots of magazines had a regular humour column and most daily newspapers featured one or more humour columnists.

Back then, there were lots of opportunities to get humour pieces placed. Even 10 years ago, such publications as the New York Times and the Washington Post were still regularly publishing humour. But today the chances of such placements are slim to none.

In the fashion of the Kübler-Ross model, humour publishing has gone through its own five stages of grief. First, humour writers denied there was a problem. Then they got angry at the reduction in markets and the increase in rejections.

Next came bargaining as writers did anything to get published including giving away pieces for free just to get a byline. Stage four was depression followed quickly by acceptance.

The passage of time inevitably lead to the conclusion that print markets for humour had dried up. The sad unfunny fact is that there are fewer and fewer opportunities for humour columnists to see their work in print and actually get paid.

Sure, there are lots of venues on the web where humourists can get published. But few of these sites pay and even those that do don't pay much. And many major news sites neither pay nor take humour.

The question remains: how did this happen? How did the wealth of well-paid humour columnists disappear from the realm of print media?

Looking back 40 years, humour columns were everywhere. That was the heyday of humorists like Erma Bombeck, Molly Ivins and Dave Barry. Even the grey ladies of publishing had their regulars like Art Buchwald in the Washington Post and Russell Baker in the New York Times.

Now you have to search far and wide to find a regular humour columnist in a daily newspaper. And as for political satire, its occasional appearance in print is so shocking that it often has to be labelled as satire just so readers will recognize it as such.

This demise of funny in print has consistently been blamed on the rise of the Internet. The newspaper industry is in financial free-fall and editors can no longer afford to pay humour columnists and political satirists or so the story goes.

There's undoubtedly some truth in that explanation but it doesn't tell the whole story. After all, editorial and op-ed pages are still filled with all manner of serious commentators and political columnists. Why then no more funny stuff?

I think the answer is more generational than anything. Gen X, Y and Z are different from their predecessors and the current sad state of humour in print is nothing more than a reflection of their characteristics, interests and values.

First of all, the younger generations appear to have a diminished sense of humour. Sure, they like a good pratfall or fart joke as much as the next person. But when it comes to sophisticated or thought-provoking funny stuff, they just don't seem to get it. Ask young people to actually sit down and read 700 words and their eyes quickly glaze over.

That leads to the second reason: they don't like to read. The ADHD generations are not big on the printed word and much prefer to have their humour delivered visually, mostly in the form of innocuous YouTube videos.

Third, the younger generations tend to be politically ignorant and apathetic. Since they don't know much about history and current affairs, they don't understand political satire unless, of course, it involves a politician taking a pratfall in a YouTube video.

Finally, the opinion leaders of the new generations are overly earnest and take themselves and everything else far too seriously. Consequently, when they become opinion editors, they insist on nothing but serious columns and are immune to humour. In short, they seem incapable of laughing at anything including themselves.

Sadly, this seems to be the new reality and there's nothing that can be done to change it. It's time to accept that not-so-funny fact and move on. In the world of humour, it's now the video camera, not the pen, that's mightier than the sword.