How Internet Memes Changed Humor

I remember when memes became a big thing in the early 2010s. From Bad Luck Brian, Doge and Leonardo DiCaprio holding a champagne glass while fireworks go off behind him, my preteen self was absolutely hooked from the start. The fun part about the whole thing was that you can use pretty much anything and turn it into a meme just by adding a funny text on the bottom. The playing field was open to anyone who wanted to join in on the laugh. Even I created my own memes back in middle school, and would share these with my friends. At the time, there was a plethora of different meme jokes and catchphrases that went viral, most of them distributed by the popular website at the time, 9gag. People created memes out of everything: hand-drawn cartoons, to random old family photos and even stills of movie scenes were all used to create a funny story:

an example of a derp meme by 9gag.

To get back to my point though, the early format of memes played an integral part in shaping my sense of humor at the time, and as memes evolved, so did my sense of humor. Of course, memes no longer contain large white texts at the bottom of a picture, and we no longer use the terms “derp” and “me gusta” (at least I hope we don’t), but the world of memes have expanded and evolved rapidly since its early days. In fact, memes are still very much created and distributed over social media platforms; it seems as though every week there is new trending meme on twitter. However, I’ve noticed recently that more people are adopting the meme humor into their real life conversations and mannerism as well. This is especially notable among the Gen Z collective, where internet memes or catchphrases appear in the way they communicate with or react to each other.

Vine and the new wave of memes

As I can recall, after the derp era of memes, the next wave of internet memes came mainly through vine. This was a popular, yet short lived app released in 2013 and shut down in early 2017. The premise was that users could make 6-second videos and post them on the app. Despite the 6-second limitation, the app was very successful; millions of users used the app to record moments in their lives or even went one step further and created comedy skits and other forms of entertainment. Along with these, came the new wave of catchphrases and meme videos. One of the most popular meme to have come out of that era was the “when…” catchphrase. People usually used these to comment on something that has already happened. For example, let’s say we see our dog sleeping sprawled on the carpet with his tongue hanging out, it’d be funny to say someone like “when I come home drunk and fall asleep on the couch”. Kind of like a cause-and-effect type of joke. Of course, as memes are always evolving, some versions of the “when” catchphrase started to become more non-sensical and random. One of the most viral “when” meme (and my personal favorite) was the “when your pizza rolls are done”, and the boy just whips and walks away:

uploaded by user Mr. Guppy on YouTube

This meme became so viral that people would used this even in real life. I remember there was a period of time in where my friends and I constantly made “when” jokes for every situation we saw or experienced. And these types of jokes were understood by everyone around us too. Almost everyone in school knew why the “when” joke was funny and everyone participated in it.

Another famous meme that went viral on vine was Nick Colleti’s “WTF is up Kyle?!”. Another brilliant meme that everyone started using in real life too. Heated arguments, play fighting, trying to get your friend to stop messing with you always included a “WTF is up Kyle?! Step the F up!” monologue which would making everyone burst into laughter.

uploaded by user mp4 changes on YouTube

TikTok, Twitter and the lastest trending memes

After Vine shut down, many people migrated from the 6-second platform to others, like Instagram, Twitter, and now TikTok. With this wave of migration came another wave of new memes through these platforms. Most, if not all of these new memes have similar characteristics to the derp era and the vine era memes. Twitter and TikTok especially became a place where the most viral memes were produced, some of them being short clips and others just written blocks of joke with a picture attached to it. It’s hard to say the exact origin of the latest viral memes, mostly because they are used as often on Twitter as they are on TikTok, but here are two viral memes to have recently come out:

“It’s the __ for me”. This catch phrase became popular on TikTok when people were seen throwing insults at their friends (jokingly, of course). The premise is that you fill in the blanks with a characteristic of the other person that usually gives you disgust. The trend became a viral challenge on the app, where people would say the most specific things. And that is essentially the point: make it as specific (and long) and get the other person to laugh.

Toxic Future meme. This meme was created on twitter, and it involves a picture of the American rapper Future on his phone. Future is allegedly a notorious playboy, and the premise of this meme was to create a scenario in which a “toxic” guy would find an excuse to get (back) into your life. This prompted a lot of tweets from guys using the same kind of playboy suave to either hit on girls or to just make them laugh. Of course every girl knows this is toxic behavior, but some of those lines were pretty funny.

posted by user iamprofessorex on Instagram

Internet memes: A threat to the English language?

Because of the specific context that surround most viral memes, and how people are increasingly incorporating them into their daily conversations, it can be confusing for an outsider to hear someone talk in what is often called “internet language”. Some people have tried to argue that internet language could potentially be ruining the traditional semantic building blocks of the English language. And while some of the references to memes can sound non-sensical and confusing, I don’t personally think it can ruin the English Language. Most of the time young people talk like this around their friends or close family members. I have personally never heard someone my age or younger talk in internet to someone important or in situations where they have to be serious. If anything, the growing “internet talk” in daily lives is only a representation of an ever-growing subculture: internet culture. Just like all countries or communities have their own way of expressing things, Gen Z and Millennials have their own way of communicating through memes.