Vines are the Great Grandchildren of Early Gag Films

Today, when we watch the likes of lumière brother’s “L’Arroseur arrosé” we can easily view it as a primitive and immature example of comedy simply because of the embryonic state of cinema at the time of it’s making. However, we now have similar viral videos once again coming into what we consider as funny. This is especially true when we consider vine videos. Tom Gunning tells us that the comedy of early gag films were born from their embracing of the limitations of technology. Film reels were only so long so filmmakers only had a brief period to capture the full extent of their gag. Gunning tells us this problem actually created a desirable sense of brevity to the humour  and therefore “[reflected] an essential economy of temporal form, rather than a primitive inability to edit.”

Vine embraced the limitation of time in order to create a more dynamic package for comedy, 6 seconds to be exact. However, the need for it was not in the amazement of it’s technology like that of the early audiences of cinema but perhaps out of a necessity to deliver a joke at a fibre optic speed to millennial audiences who demand a set up and pay off as soon as possible. We can see this clearly in the famous “Kelly Collins Come Get Yo Juice” vine where there is a problem situation set up within 2 seconds, a lure of mischief within 4 seconds, the payoff of the mischief within 5 seconds then the chaos to finish all in 6 seconds. This is completely following “the basic structure of mischievous preparation and laughable consequence” with even a dash of comeuppance for the mischievous character as they seemingly look at the chaos and destruction they created and utter the horrified and frustrated “Shit!” as the video ends. Here, we have can clearly see how we can relate viral videos today with the phenomena of early gag films.


  1. I like how you explain the vine phenomenon as a something being called-for by millennial audiences. It makes me wonder about what has driven us to go back to the short format of early gag films and why we find it amusing nowadays, when it is possible to record much longer videos.

  2. Where do you think the desire to return to a past ‘limitation’ comes from? Is Vine purely a response to an audience with a short attention span, or does the audience crave a return to the past? Are these videos driven by a trend of nostalgia/revival of the past?

  3. The six second time constraint is unique to vines and is what defined it as its own form. The ability to cram a narrative and structured gag in six seconds is a direct response to a demand for the absurd. Why do you think this demand for the absurd has arisen again?

  4. I like how you relate Vine to being the great grandchild of gag films, as that is truly what they are. I like how in your example you break down when the action happens by the seconds, which really allows for the reader to understand how these videos are created; and to see just how important timing is today as it was at the time of these early films.

  5. Vines and early gag films are funny in the same way. They are short, simple, unexpected, weird, and/or witty. This video scares me more than it amuses me. It worries me that the mother conducted the prank and subjected her child to physical harm just for 15 minutes of fame. Violence is less funny when the consequences seem dire.

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