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Hit 'Send' And the World Laughs With You

Or the movie of a frail old lady pushing her walker through an urban wasteland, looking nervous. A couple of punks zoom past on a scooter and grab her handbag. They stop to taunt her, holding up the handbag. She pulls out an electronic device and presses a button. Boom! Her handbag explodes, vaporizing the punks.

"The level of technical sophistication is unbelievable," says Schaffer, the "Office Humor" author. But he worries about the effect of Internet humor on a far older form of humor dissemination: jokes.

"People don't tell jokes anymore," he says. "The oral culture is dying out."

Ramick has noticed the same thing. "People I know don't tell a lot of jokes," he says. "They'll say, 'Remember those jokes I sent you? I really liked the second one.' And you'll laugh at that."

But Dundes saw Internet humor as a boon to the kind of people who were too shy to tell jokes in public. "Now all you need to do is push a button," he said. "And it has made jokes more international. They go all over the world now."

Internet humor is also an outlet for people who like humor that's obscene or offensive. The kind of Xeroxed material Schaffer collected for his book now might be considered verboten. "You can't drop a cartoon on a co-worker's desk anymore because you might get fired or you might get sued for sexual harassment," he says.

Internet technology is so cheap and easy to use, Schaffer says, that it has led to a populist revolution in entertainment.

"People are taking entertainment back from the media," he says. "People are entertaining themselves and their friends rather than being entertained by professionals. And the technology is allowing them to do it."

Meanwhile, George Ramick is still sitting at his computer. His feet, clad in white sneakers, are up on his desk and he leans back in his chair, scrolling and clicking.

Click. On his computer screen a country singer croons a song whose refrain goes, "I just don't look good naked anymore."

Click. Another country singer, this one singing about the painful physical problems he's suffering -- caused by his wife, who apparently got a little peeved on the day she accidentally met his girlfriend.

Click. It's comedian Chris Rock, starring in a video that teaches black folks how to avoid getting beaten up by cops.

Click. It's a video of a guy on a stage, playing "God Bless America" by throwing little balls at the keys of a piano.

Ramick laughs. "This is what you call a novelty act," he says. "You don't see this on Ed Sullivan anymore."

He's right. Ed Sullivan has passed on to the great variety show in the sky. But the good news is: The Internet makes Everyman his own Ed Sullivan -- producing, with just a few mouse clicks, a goofy variety show that will be coming soon to a computer near you.

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