Let’s talk about making better memes, shall we?
Let this be the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Memes for Dummies.
One of the biggest problems people who mature past age 12 have with the world is other people with a cringy sense of humor. Quite often it begins with dad jokes of a relative, or an annoying kid at school.
Were you that kid? Are you that cringy annoying family member to people on the internet today? Is your family on Facebook secretly wishing you’d leave the internet in peace? Now that I’ve made you paranoid, let’s talk about what makes for good memes.
Humor for many is difficult to define. The categories are a bit easier. Generally, good memes are referential humor, as opposed to taboo or slapstick humor, where the former is often frowned on and the latter relegated to AFV and terribly unfunny laugh tracks. I won’t claim to be an expert or define humor for you, but there’s a certain easier aspect of humor with memes I want to highlight: context. One of the factors that makes a joke or a meme successful is it’s ability to resonate. This means that it has to: 1) Connect with your target audience and 2) Not have to explain itself.
Most people aren’t that witty and are very bad at context, so their “memes” will be too explanatory in a way that isn’t funny. In fact, many of them will lead with the punchline as title, to the tune of crickets. I’m here to address that and other pitfalls by example.
The key challenge is that you want the joke to be reasonably obscure so it dawns on the audience, but not esoteric as possible. You’re going to have to learn to walk the line; it’s a spectrum where you’re going to have to make a choice. An introverted joke for a few friends is most likely to get the best laughs, but only from these few. An extroverted joke for the whole world can get the most small laughs, but in the larger pool you have terrible odds that anybody cares at all. Personally, my recommendation is to avoid attention-seeking memes altogether. They are a time waste, just as casinos are a money waste. If you do get your 5 seconds of fame you’ll be forgotten. Be the kind of person who makes a meme intended to make just 1 or 2 buddies laugh, without being terribly obscure.
Show, don’t tell.
I had a friend, famous for a particular post, pass on a “see what people say you’re known for” conversation starter. Rather than referencing the obvious post, I think I got a few smiles by referencing another one. My response? SCHLORP
As a timeless example of subtlety in a joke, the better you understand Shakespeare, the more you may appreciate his cleverness. He embeds ironic or subtle jokes! They too frequently go over people’s heads, like this one:
My liege, and madam, to expostulatePolonius, Hamlet
What majesty should be, what duty is,
What day is day, night night, and time is time,
Were nothing but to waste night, day, and time;
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief.
The following are some rules to get you thinking about how you can improve your social media meme posts.
DON’T crop off comic artist handles; try hard to credit them
DO avoid illegitimate watermarking sites or even crop them off
Stay away from iFunny, 9GAG, r/funny, and other mills that spew mindless content for half-laughs, with watermarks. They’re soul rot.
See this artist’s frustration. He is articulate and demonstrates the problem.
Trust me when I say anything of value you find there, the same can be found closer to its source in the telephone chain; you aren’t missing anything. They post many very old memes mixed with the new, which some of your peers saw many years ago. I’ve even seen them post ones from 90s chain emails your grandma may have seen. Look up your favorite comics’ artists and follow THEM on social media instead.
DON’T attach text or title to a picture needlessly
DO come up with your own caption or crop off whatever text you can
Stop putting the punchline in the title. Most importantly STOP putting laugh tracks on your pictures. Nothing kills a joke more than “HAHA THIS IS SO FUNNY 🤣🤣🤣” or “THIS IS SO ME” or “I CAN HEAR” or “RELATABLE” doesn’t matter the format, stop introducing your “meme” to death. An article title is (only?) ok if it is the meme.
DO use text that is easy to read
DON’T use IMPACT FONT.
For the love of Kilroy make it stop. Have some basic typographic sense. People are getting really tired of random pictures with nonsense in big letters.
DO find the most original sources and templates you can
DON’T use terribly jpeg-artifacted images
DON’T try to make a point
DO aim to make people laugh
Ideologues can’t meme. I want that to stick in your brain.
So we’re clear, ideologues are people who belong to cults of an idea (activists). Politics is always a mixed bag when it comes to humor, but it’s always ruined by “comedians” attempting to persuade people to their side or disparaging their perceived enemy. Ironically, politicos who put the most effort into memes have the least success. I’m writing this in an election year and we will continue to see a lot of very not funny “memes” with entire manifestos injected into a picture. There will be exceptions that are funny, but they are most likely to be by people making jokes at the expense of their own “side”. This is often somewhat rare in that environment.
As long as your goal is to do anything other than to evoke a recognition and smile or laugh out of an audience you genuinely care about, you’re probably not going to have a lot of success.
If your goal is to get the most friends and approval and lots of little hearts, you’re not only going to fail but you’re wasting your time. The few people who don’t fail at that tend to sell their moral character and principles to maintain the attention, too. There are plenty of ways to make content your peers will enjoy, and maybe even grow your own brand, without removing credits or adding/keeping laugh text. Have faith in your own memes enough to not give or keep their explanation. Learn to crop, do so respectfully, and maybe learn some basic image editing apps. A little less laziness goes a long way.