Hey! You kids! What in Sam Hill is so gall-durned funny?!

March 23, 2011

Nickelodeon Kaleidoscope: What’s So Funny?

The Big Secret, Revealed

What do kids find funny? Flatulence, it turns out. This being something I’ve always known, I attended the latest WiCM event hoping to find out what else is funny.

“What’s So Funny?” featured the results of Nick Kaleidoscope’s latest findings. Nickelodeon Kaleidoscope conducts research studies on topics relevant to Nick’s business. Topics range from fashion and style to altruism and volunteering. Andrea Strauss, VP of Nickelodeon Brand and Consumer Insights, is Nick’s resident guru on the lifestyles and attitudes of the wide audience of Nick’s many brands. Andrea has managed the foundational research beneath many of Nickelodeon’s biggest hits. This week, WiCM members were treated to Andrea’s presentation of the results of Nick Kaleidoscope’s latest research topic: humor.

This is a picture that comes up if you Google image search “research.”

I won’t speak for the other attendees,* but I was hoping to leave with the secret code that would allow me to access the humor center of the human brain. Read to the bottom to find the formula to always make kids of all ages laugh. But don’t skip to the bottom. Read every single word.

*I always thought this word should be “attenders.” Think about it. Makes sense.

The study was conducted over a two month period and collected both quantitative and qualitative data from numerous kid demographics, ages 8 to 17. Kids were asked what they found funny, whom in their family they found funny, how they viewed their own funniness compared to that of others. With 52 kids participating in the qualitative study and over 700 kids in the quantitative study, Andrea presented us with a deluge of interesting information. Because I can’t handle the responsibility of a reporter, I’ll stick with the main points.

The study boiled humor down to the following definition: humor is the “benign violation of salient norms or expectations.”

“Benign” refers to the psychological distance between the content and the audience. The content is not real (perhaps obviously so, as in a cartoon), far removed from the audience, or the audience has a weak commitment to the norm being violated.

A norm “violation” can be expressed in many ways. Some good examples are Spongebob and his physical contortions, Seinfeld’s Closetalker character, and the coexistence of Jesus and Santa in South Park.

For a norm or expectation to be “salient,” the audience must be the right age to recognize it. In other words, the norm being violated must be accessible.

Lastly “norms” can be prescriptive or descriptive (how things should be versus how things actually are, respectively). This distinction comes into play when describing the various forms humor can take.

Unsurprisingly, the study found that kids’ humor preferences vary by sex and age. Certain trends tell the story of a child’s everchanging relationship with comedy as s/he grows up. Additionally, the study identified certain market gaps that a fresh new idea might fill.

Yes, that recap was hella vague and general. But hey, this is confidential stuff. So if you don’t want to read my nonsense, guess you better build a time machine and attend the event. “But the event was oversubscribed!” you protest. Well, idiot, you do have a time machine. And if you decide to use it to attend a WiCM event, make sure you grab a couple of extra slime samples (see picture!).

Apply directly to sister”s hair. Voila! Funny!

Andrea’s presentation was full of great information, both statistical and anecdotal. But humor, Andrea assured us, is a very personal and individual thing. So for those of us who attended hoping for that magic laughter ingredient, it looks like the joke’s on us. Alas, there is no fail-safe funniest joke in the world, though one might want to simply watch Spongebob for the closest approximation; His Royal Boxiness is funny to just about every demographic (certainly including whichever one I’m in).

WiCM’s attendance for this event was impressive. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that the delivery matched the hype. Well done Andrea, Nickelodeon Kaleidoscope, and WiCM.

Until next time,

Lucas