I made my jokes into an NFT (so you don’t have to) | Sebastian Bloomfield tries to sell a Non-Fungible Token of his material

I made my jokes into an NFT (so you don’t have to)

Sebastian Bloomfield tries to sell a Non-Fungible Token of his material

Non-Fungible Tokens, or NFTs, have dominated the news headlines recently due to both their somewhat inexplicable worth coupled with their apparent intangibility – such as the recent sale of the NFT associated with the original ‘doge’ meme photograph for a record breaking $4 million.

As an avid memeticist myself, from the point of view of joke-as-meme, rather than as a explicit replicator of the art, this bizarre goldrush piqued my interest immensely. What exactly is an NFT? What rights does it give the creator and potential purchaser? How does one go about creating an NFT for a piece of digital content? Is there any point?

Who are you and why should I care?

I understand that most of you may never have heard of me (something that is not necessarily conducive to creating a profitable NFT) so a short introduction is in order – I am a final year PhD student specialising in stand-up comedy as well as a stand-up comedy performer myself, performing for several years in character as Johnny F. Monotone among others. The jokes in question I have turned into NFT’s are from the video, embedded below, of me performing in character at the Chortle Student Comedian of the Year competition in 2012.

Also, as a final disclaimer, I am not sponsored or funded by any of the platforms or websites mentioned below – this was the route I chose in creating an NFT but is far from the only valid one out there.

What is an NFT and what does it do?

A Non-Fungible Token is, to use the technical parlance, a digital signature that is unique to the blockchain it is part of. This token, in turn, can be ascribed to digital or real-world assets almost like a certificate of authenticity – only one entity can be the registered owner of an NFT at a time, therefore creating uniqueness in a medium that is otherwise easy to duplicate.

Does this mean owning an NFT gives you complete ownership of the item? Not really, all owning an NFT means in practice is that you own an NFT – that NFT may be tied to an asset, but you don’t automatically own all of the associated copyright, intellectual property or derivative works. A useful analogy is to think of a baseball card signed by that specific baseball player – the card is not unique, nor can you stop them making more cards, but the signature of that player on that card is.

So what does this mean for jokes? Does minting them as an NFT mean I can never perform them again? Well, in order to answer that question, we will need to define what asset exactly the token is being tied to.

What is a joke?

A joke is the very definition of an ethereal concept. What is a joke, really? Is it the scrawled bullet points in the comedian’s notebook?  Is it the carefully transcribed and worded ‘official version’ that has been road tested and audience forged? Is it the hurriedly scribbled notes on the back of the hand as a performance prompt? Or is it the carefully crafted syllables tripping from the tongue in concert with the perfect pose, expression and inflection that cause gales of laughter from the assembled spectators?

Philosophically, the answer is not so simple – if one considers the initial bullet points as the genuine article and ‘proto-joke’, at what point did they change from a concept to a joke?

A joke needs structure, deliberateness, a narrative – trying to tell a joke and realising you only have a concept, devoid of the narrative punch needed to invoke laughter, is a situation I am sure many comedians have found themselves in at an open-mic night. The transcribed official version presents its own set of metaphysical challenges – if you change one word, is it the same joke or a different joke? What if you change the target? The setup? Does the official joke only exist if spoken as those words in that order, or is it open to interpretation? Does the punchline ‘The Aristocrats’ make everything said previously officially part of The Aristocrats canon?

The notes on the back of the hand are almost the opposite to the official version. At that point the joke is in the realm of memetics and semiotics, existing only as a signifier on the performer’s hand and as a potential joke in the performer’s mind.

Here the joke is neither conceptual nor predetermined, but idealised – held unheard in its latest iteration in a state of unsullied potential. It is this definition of a joke that is the most ephemeral but potentially the most pure, combining as it does the intent to perform with the expectations of performance to create the joke in its essence – however the joke is delivered, enacted and received.

This leads on to the final definition of the joke as performance, anchoring this essence back to space-time by the circumstances that surround its telling and reception, pinning it a time and place that serves as its own unique identifier by being unrepeatable.

This however leads to its own set of sociolgical questions. If an audience doesn’t laugh at the joke, is that the fault of the joke, the comedian or the audience? Is a joke that fails to get a laugh still a joke, or is ‘jokeness’ predicated on humour? Who defines funny, the audience or the comedian?

For the purpose of creating an NFT however such theoretical vagaries will not hold up – something needs to be defined as the attached asset(s) that the purchaser has access to. For these assets, I decided to include a signed, handwritten transcription of the joke, the captured audio waveform of the joke saved as a PNG image and an edited clip of the performance of the joke itself (including audience reaction).

For me, this represented a balance between the physical and the performative while still tying the token to a time and place – to possess the token is to possess the joke as it was told in that place and at that time, in performative clip, audio visualisation and handwritten, signed transcript.

How do you create an NFT?

At the time of writing, creating an NFT is by no means a trivial task but there are several platforms that will help you do so, and I would recommend you carefully read through any setup documentation they have available. The platform I chose  was opensea.io, but this is by no means the only obe available.

To create the tokens themselves, I needed three things – a cryptowallet, an opensea user account and some Ethereum cryptocurrency (ETH) for the initial setup fee if you want to list the NFT for sale.

As I was a newcomer to cryptocurrency I decided to use the recommended metamask wallet browser extension, which is reasonably easy to set up and links directly to your opensea account to enable ETH transactions. The ‘seed phrase’, created when you create your wallet, should be written down and stored securely offline if possible – this is the last chance saloon of restoring your wallet and any attendant crypto coins if your hard drive was to fail.

Setting up the opensea account was straightforward and tied directly into my newly created wallet, from there I was able to create a collection of my jokes as can be seen here.

For each item, I was able to upload any files I wanted to display, choosing to have the transcripts as the static image and the edited video recording as the attached video. When creating or editing each item, you can provide ‘unlockable content’ which is only revealed to the owner of the item. For this, I created eight Google Drive folders with an individual sharing link to each, then added the relevant files (video, image and transcript into each). This means that the owner of the NFT has access to the original files and can download them as they see fit.

Everything up to this point had been at no cost to me except time, but for the sake of completeness (and with no illusions that it will sell) I decided to list one of the jokes for sale to see what this would involve.

To create a personal trading contract for your wallet on the opensea platform you need to pay a one-time ‘gas’ fee, which involves purchasing a variable amount of ETH (in my case the total came to £42, but can fluctuate between $50-$250 according to the beginners guide) and using this to pay the fee directly.

The metamask wallet allows you to directly purchase digital currency using a debit card or Apple Pay which greatly simplified the transaction, but the volatile nature of cryptocurrency meant that I was usure of the final price until I had almost committed to pay. One other point to note – it took several attempts to pay the ‘gas fee’ between my wallet and opensea, ending the first few transactions by telling me it had failed, however no digital money was lost so I persevered and was finally rewarded with a completed transaction.

When listing you can do a limited time auction with a reserve (in the same vein as eBay) or as a fixed price – in both cases however, the pricing is based on whatever currency you choose (and choosing currencies other than ETH requires another gas transaction).

I set a price of 1 ETH. That means the price someone can purchase the performance of one of my jokes for is (at the exact time of writing) $2,458.89 – rather a steep price for a relatively obscure comedy scholar, though percentile fractions can be put in with 0.01 ETH being equivalent to $24.58.

Is it worth it?

As with anything, your milage may vary. With the current number of listed NFT’s on opensea numbering 21,868,844 creating an NFT now is not so much a needle in a haystack but a needle in a sea of needles.

If you are interested in creating a lasting (but not currently legally enforceable) token that marks your ownership of a joke or performance, the only barrier is time – when you create an NFT, it is assigned to your user account, and you become the timestamped owner of that token.

If, however, you have dreams of selling your hard-written jokes I would say you either need to be a household name selling the first performance of one of your best known jokes or a viral marketing guru able to promote and sell yourself to the nth degree.

For the rest of us, it is an interesting academic exercise that means I have spent £42 so you don’t have to.

• Sebastian Bloomfield is a PhD candidate at York St John University. 

Published: 18 Jun 2021

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