There's no formula for what makes something funny, but there are a set of expectations that people have when they press play on a video that's supposed to be funny. Taking these expectations into account will give your videos the best chance of getting more "LOL"s than "WTF"s.
We've come to know the funny video audience pretty well at Comedy.com. Here's five things that viewers expect when they're told a video is going to be funny:
They expect the unexpected. One of the key elements in making people laugh is surprise, and this is especially true in Web videos. When people click play on your funny video, they are expecting you to shock them in some way. If you don't, they're going to be disappointed.
They expect you to get to the joke quickly. When people watch a funny video, they want to laugh and want to laugh quickly. They don't want to watch 30 seconds of credits roll by, and they don't want to watch four minutes of buildup to a single punchline. In some ways, Web comedy videos are like standup comedy: If you can grab the viewer with a quick laugh in the first 10 seconds, the chances are they'll stick around to watch the rest of your act.
They expect it to deliver on the promise of its title. Video titles not only entice people to watch your video, but they also frame the viewer's expectations. If you title a video "Funniest Karaoke Performance Ever," you'd better be sure that the video you're posting can live up to that hype. Otherwise, you're just asking for people to trash your video because it didn't live up to the bar you set yourself. The expectations of a video titled "Funny Karaoke Performance" will be much lower -- and therefore the viewer's more likely to enjoy it in that context.
They expect it to make a point. With the exception of "viral" videos where somebody happened to shoot some footage of a guy falling off a skateboard or a drunk girl wiping out on a stripper pole, most funny videos that work are making some larger observation about the world. It's become increasingly difficult for random sketch videos to gain much traction online, at least partly because audiences expect comedy creators to have something to say in their videos.
If you're setting out to make a funny video, you should think about who or what target you're going after: politicians, Justin Bieber fans, Myspace, "the man," whatever. It doesn't really matter what the target is, but people will be more likely to rally behind your video (and its humor) if they feel it's about something other than just making them laugh.They expect to share it with their friends. There's a reason that funny videos tend to go "viral" more than any other genre of video. It's because laughing is a naturally communal experience; as soon as people see something funny, their instinct is to share it with their friends. When somebody presses play on a comedy video, they want to love it enough to send it to all their friends and share the laughs. It's up to you to give them something worth sharing.