Gen Z Humour: Why Do We Delight in Absurdity?

By Tanisha Annamalai 

Humour is an indispensable part of our lives. We share intimate and memorable moments with our loved ones through inside jokes. On a bad day, humour helps us to lighten our mood. It is also an essential “life skill”– 90% of men and 81% of women consider humour to be a crucial quality in a life partner. Yet, today, especially in the case of Gen Z, humour has taken on quite a dark, quirky spin. Interestingly, this might have to do with the chaotic times that we live in.

Gen Z has managed to find their own unique sense of humour under the bleak circumstances of an uncertain economy, climate change and a global pandemic. No longer is humour solely used in cheery and light-hearted situations, we also use it in times of tragedy and misery as well.  

Humour is an enduring part of our lives yet it has evolved with time. Photo credit: Unsplash | @priscilladupreez 

Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are flooded with memes that showcase our unconventional (and at times, wry) sense of humour. Injecting sarcasm and feigning nonchalance has become a daily staple of this generation when it comes to coping with stress.  

For example, there is a Tik Tok inspired by a person’s failed dream college journey. It consists of images of them crying to a remix of the song “Hit the Quan” by iLoveMemphis. What was originally a pitiable situation turned into a relatable Tik Tok that people could laugh about together.  

So, why are Gen Zs such optimistic nihilists? Why do we joke about adverse situations? Where did this unique sense of humour come from? The discussion surrounding Gen Z’s humour is not a new one. Many articles have been published under this topic and people from older generations have taken a keen interest in dissecting the logic behind our absurdist, self-deprecating jokes.  

A brief Google search will yield many articles attempting to dissect our generation’s humour. 

Gen Z’s humour has often been described as niche and maybe even nonsensical, with older individuals not being able to grasp our jokes. Usually, this is because the humour is rooted in pop-culture references such as “pulling a Debby Ryan”, a “familiar fruit moment”, a vault of Nicki Minaj memes, Indian reality television and more. The list is endless! 

Disney star Debby Ryan has found herself the subject of the latest wave of memes online. Photo credit: Girlfriend

Some of this humour is seemingly absurd and can only be understood within our generation’s context. Have you ever used the ✨ sparkling emojis✨ as bracket icons to make comments sound sarcastic? You might have also noticed internet slang such as “OK, Boomer” and “CEO of …” that have recently gained traction.

In Singapore, @/highnunchicken on Instagram is a household name when it comes to Gen Z Singaporean humour. Its artists harness simple comics and one-liners to create mischievous jabs. In the wake of Covid-19 which has resulted in many unpleasant upheavals to our lives, its artists have created a playful portrayal of the ‘Work from Home’ situation.  

A good-natured jab at the WFH situation during Circuit Breaker. Photo credit: Instagram | @highnunchicken 

Aside from taking the edge off stressful situations, members of the Gen Z community also use humour to hold important discussions about socio-political issues, express themselves and much more.  

At this point, some of you may still be confused about how our generation’s humour works. It’s understandable; getting used to it may take some time. If you are unfamiliar with the many references thrown at you, you can look at a few social media accounts that might help you to comprehend Gen Z’s weird, dark and twisted sense of humour. Watching YouTube content creators such as Mike’s MicCasey Aonso and Kurtis Conner and Tik Tok users such as spencewuah and nmillz would be a good start.

Understanding the humour of this generation is key to unlocking important conversations and bridging gaps with people from other age groups. Gen Z is known to be a very connected generation and a big part of our shared identity is how we joke about topics. Though the memes and jokes may be transient, this sense of humour is what unites us as a generation.