Is There A Problem With YouTuber Comedy?

14 January 2016, 17:35 | Updated: 8 May 2017, 17:09

Nicole Arbour
James Wilson-Taylor

By James Wilson-Taylor

How do you test controversial jokes?

This week, with the Nicole Arbour/Matthew Santoro controversy raging, it's important to remember she first sprang to fame in a series of comedy videos, the most famous of which was based around shaming fat people.

Nicole Arbour

Nicole of course claimed this was a work of satire, edgy comedy clearly misunderstood by the masses. Regardless of the truth, this does raise an interesting point about comedy on YouTube in general - how do you make your intention clear enough when the material is potentially controversial? 

Stand up comedians and sketch groups have an obvious filtration system when it comes to developing material; they try stuff out in front of a live audience and, if it gets a negative reaction, they tweak it or ditch it altogether. Seeing jokes getting immediate responses will always be the clearest way of deciding what works. 

But online, you can have an idea, post a video and only later receive a stream of comments letting you know the video's problems. And, chances are, the bigger the controversy, the higher the view count, which brings in a whole different kind of creator.

Dapper Laughs - 'Proper Moist'

Let's look at a TV example - controversial comedian Dapper Laughs is now effectively barred from television screens after his dating show was deemed misogynistic and tasteless. However, his particular brand of lad comedy lives on within the parameters of YouTube and Vine where he is free of any kind of outside editorial input. On the one hand, this is a huge win for creative freedom. On the other hand, it is an underlying problem within YouTube concerning their standards of practice. Dapper Laughs has also claimed his ironic material was misunderstood but without the relevant writing experience, and often only 7 seconds worth of film space, how can any potential subtleties be picked up on?

The system of editorial hierarchy in television is in place for a reason; more experienced broadcasters can help advise and oversee. And while on YouTube many comedy accounts hit the ground running, many take time to find their feet and can make for some seriously misjudged videos.

Look at when Trevor Noah was announced as taking over as host of The Daily Show; suddenly he was faced with a series of ancient tweets that were deemed sexist and cheap, yet how many comedians can really stand by their first forays into writing? You learn over time what is acceptable and where the boundaries are. And irony is always hard to pull off.

Nicole Arbour is a repeat offender and so can't really be given the benefit of the doubt. Ditto Sam Pepper and his "pranks". But what of the other, easily dismissed talents who just plain got it wrong? Bo Burnham, for example, is arguably the best stand up currently working but even he has said he is somewhat embarrassed by his earlier videos and statements.

No one wants to create a YouTube editor to have final say on videos, that would defy the point of the platform. But our advice for creators is simple:

If you have a hilarious idea, test it out somewhere first. You may find it wasn't quite as funny as you first thought.