For those who don’t know Vine is a video sharing social network in which the videos are only six seconds long and continuously loop. Why six seconds? In an NPR article the creators stated they didn’t really have a definitive answer; just that it felt right. Never the less, Vine is huge, really huge and doesn’t show signs of slowing down. But what may have caught many people off guard was the huge amount of creative force that came with it. There have been many series made through Vine, stop motion animations, but by far the most prominent side of Vine is the comedy. The comedy scene on Vine is nothing short of huge. There are comedy Viners with followers in the millions, and no shortage of funny Viners. So much so, that there’s a market on Youtube for compiling several or all of a Viner’s vines. A lot of these people have even been dubbed “Professional Viners”. Before you give the old person thought of “ugh seriously? kids like this?”. Keep in mind there are professional Youtubers, and professional internet people in general who make genuine and great content. Vine is no exception, Viners make great content. Will Sasso, Batdad, Klarity, KC James, Kingbach, Eric Dunn, just to name a few, make content that is genuinely funny to a lot of people. They’re not “professional” in the sense that they get paid for it (by the service the video is hosted on). They’re professional in the sense that they upload regularly similar content and have amassed huge followings and popularity for their work.
Anyhow, this all got me thinking about how the Vines are made and how they relate to traditional comedy mediums. A lot of these comedy vines are not just things that happen, they are crafted and planned. Then I began to think about how they are able to be so funny in such a short amount of time. Then I thought about how this sort of delivery requires a plentiful amount of skill and knowledge of comedy. This form of delivery is almost entirely different in execution, from mediums before it. This made me think about how, maybe this could translate into other forms of comedy and other forms of expression. Essentially honing their comedic skills.
Brevity is the soul of wit. Creative people, when given limits, have been able to make amazing works. The Triple-A games industry in recent years and the movie industry has shown that just because you throw money and the latest tools at something, doesn’t guarantee a quality product. I’m not saying that creative individuals can work under any conditions, or that some visions don’t require access to certain resources. There’s a big difference between being fully constrained in your creative ability, and being placed in a box and finding alternative solutions because of your creative limitations. You can’t make a movie on a budget of zero dollars. Finding new and creative ways to reach a goal, and refining their work (sometimes for the betterment) so that it can meet the limitation, but still hold it’s quality. It’s a staple of creative people to find a new effective way when presented with a challenge. I’m also not saying that extravagant resources can’t be used to further the quality of a work; just that in order to do that it must be used effectively, and must not lose sight of the core principals of what makes a work good.
A great example to look at when discussing brevity’s effects on the creativity process are British sitcoms. Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I am not saying the production’s brevity is the sole reason for their quality. Like anything, there are many contributing factors of production, and no single factor defines it. But we’ll be taking a look at this aspect because of its relevance to Vines.
First, British television runs for a much shorter time; usually six episodes a season and anywhere from 1-6 seasons. Whereas American sitcoms are producer oriented and focused on lasting longer than 100 episodes; milking it for all its worth. American sitcoms are usually handed off to a group of writers, by its creators, for this curation process. With British comedies, the scripts are almost always written and developed by one or two people. The BBC is also publically financed so there isn’t the need for gigantic return on investments like with American networks. And while the shortness of British comedies means that the creative capacity of its creators won’t be wrung out like a sponge, it’s still a limit none the less. You have a short amount of time, so you better make it meaningful; every episode needs to count. Parts of the script need to be cut, reworked and refined down to fit the time frame. It is essentially cutting the creative fat. This focus on a smaller amount of episodes also means a more holistic narrative is told throughout the show’s entirety. Whereas American sitcoms are long, strenuous, and dry experiences. The focus on a small creative team (writers) is a good one as it allows for more synergy, fluency, and communication. It allows them to be connected and understand each other better; which in turn allows for a more collective and focused result. All parties know what the other is thinking and wants, and allows that to take place since there won’t be that much conflict of interest. Whereas with big writing staffs it’s harder to communicate, link up, and cooperate. Eventually, it’s all just static. If you’ve ever tried to work on a school project with six people versus working with one person, you know the difference. If you’re only given so much space you need to make each moment great, and advance the plot in a meaningful way, or else you’ve just wasted a sixth or more of your show that season.
Secondly, British television doesn’t show advertisement in the middle of the show. Allowing the flow and story of the episodes to remain fluent and constant. But it also means that the writer has to fill in those extra air time minutes with quality content that works with the rest of the show.
Third, there is the simple fact that British shows consistently have smaller budgets. Forcing the creators to think of new and inventive solutions to achieve their goals.
So how does this relate to vines? Well, Vine is nothing but brevity. The entire platforms selling point is its six second limit. This limit is a challenge to creative people, almost a dare in a sense. Sure it’s easy, as the observer, to look at vines as something just slapped together. While this can be said for some of the “in-the-moment” funny vines, the same can not be said about the sketches. What we don’t see when we watch these vines is the failures and the work just to get it right. We don’t see the work on the pace, rewriting, shortening, delivery, the refining process. We don’t see all this input, just the final product. The six second limit forces it’s creator to extreme focus on the comedic sketch. They only have six seconds, so they need to get it just right. The six seconds forces them to constantly focus on timing, delivery, display, inflection, pronunciation, speech. The six seconds not only makes them focus on the time, but the delivery has to be just right in order to be funny. The tone, pronunciation, and timing all have to be incredibly precise because of this extreme pressure. Essentially training themselves to be better at these vines as time goes on. The results show, these people get more famous and funnier as time goes on and they learn to better use these aspects and become more familiar with them.
Author’s note: when I talk about comedic timing I am referring to the use of rhythm, tempo, and pausing to heighten the comedy. While here I’m defining delivery as how pronunciation, inflection, and tone are used in speech and action to enhance the comedy. Even though, yes, they’re traditionally used to mean the same thing. It’s simple and brings a lot of clarity to the discussion. Plus, to me, it doesn’t feel quite right to say “delivery” when referring to “timing”.
As stated before, comic timing is the use of rhythm, tempo, and pausing to amplify the comedy of a joke. The use of pacing is especially crucial in making a vine. Go too slow and you get cut off; go too fast and you risk the vine not being comprehensive or coming off flat. The use of delivery has to fit just right with the timing and the six second requirement, or else the whole vine comes across as flat. Rhythm is interesting for a vine. Where most other mediums allow for change in rhythm over a long period of time, the rhythm in a vine must stay constant throughout its entirety. The rhythm, while doing this, must also cooperate for what’s going on the vine and with the six second limiter. Same goes for the pacing, it has to match the content in addition to the six seconds. It’s a type of constant farce if you will.
The real outlier here is Pause, commonly referred to as Beat. The Beat is used, most of the time, to allow the audience to fully grasp what has happened or been said, fill in blanks of thoughts, and form expectations (usually to have them defied). I used to think this lack of beat made it easier, but then I realized it’s another form of brevity. The six seconds creates a lack of pause in the vine; cutting out all of the grasping, blank filling, and expectation forming the audience would do in any other medium. This makes the creator put a greater emphasis on the other aspects of timing and delivery so that it can make up for this lack of beat, and deliver the joke and concept better.
What helps with this lack of beat, is the loop feature.The loop feature helps the audience better understand the joke if they didn’t get it the first time.
This constant reimagining and reworking are what I think makes Vine such a good training ground for comedians. This constant pressure and focus on the mechanisms of comedy trains a type of comedic sense, even if the creator is not acutely aware of it. So maybe, possibly, this knowledge and training can translate well into other mediums. What do you think, can Vine help make you a better comedian?