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Published on December 12th, 2008 | by Sharilyn Johnson


Beat 360? Yes we can.

I’ve been around comedy long enough that the inevitable has happened: my entire social circle — whether in Toronto, in New York, or back home in Winnipeg — is somehow involved in comedy. I have to think hard to come up with names of friends who aren’t standups, improvisers, writing classmates, producers, etc.

The only downside to this? Everyone is funny. Everyone in my world is just as quick, creative, and hilarious as I am. It can make you feel, well… average.

This week, I got a much-needed reminder that not every human wandering the Earth can write a joke.

I’ve gotten into a habit of watching Anderson Cooper’s AC360 on CNN. I’m not exactly an Andy fangirl (holla anderloads!), but I enjoy it. One of their nightly segments is “Beat 360”, where a wire photo is displayed along with a humourous caption written by one of the show’s staffers. They follow this with a (hopefully) better caption from a viewer, who has beaten the staff member in the ha-ha department — thus beating 360. It’s not totally unlike the Dennis Miller Live segment “The Big Screen”.

The results aren’t too bad. The random staff member contribution is usually pretty strong for a non-professional, and the viewer entry isn’t terrible either.

It wasn’t until this week, though, that I ventured onto the AC360 blog and saw the raw materials. The photo, posted early in the evening, is commented on by 200+ viewers by the time the show airs. These are CNN viewers, so save for a few travellers trapped in boarding lounges, they’re intentionally informed and presumably pretty smart.

But these people cannot write jokes.

It’s not hit-and-miss. It’s not a case of a ton of so-so jokes. No, it’s truly appalling what some people think is funny. And when someone does have a decent idea, the phrasing is all wrong.

Don’t believe me? The most recent ones are here: http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/category/beat-360%C2%B0/

I pity the poor production assistant who has to sift through all these nonsensical punchlines every night. But at the same time, if you want to give your comedy ego a little boost? There’s no better activity than doing exactly that. It’s a very strong reminder that simply thinking up a funny line, making a good reference, and nailing the wording is not a common talent.

I’m going to try contributing as often as I can, because it’s a quick and easy writing exercise. I’ll let everyone know if I ever win a Beat 360 t-shirt for my efforts.


About the Author

is the author of the book Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z. Called "one of the city’s most discriminating comedy critics” by NOW Magazine, Sharilyn has been covering comedy for longer than she cares to admit. She served as the comedy reporter for Winnipeg's Uptown Magazine for five years, and was the host of the radio show Laugh Tracks for three seasons. Her work has also appeared in the Toronto Star, the Winnipeg Free Press, The Apiary, and on CBC Radio's national comedy programs LOL and Definitely Not the Opera.

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  • The Colbert Report A-Z

    Third Beat editor Sharilyn Johnson presents the ultimate fan guide to The Colbert Report, available from all major booksellers including amazon.com