Comedy Hack Day is a themed hack-a-thon put on by digital agency Cultivated Wit, which is itself composed of former staffers from satirical news rag The Onion. According to Cultivated Wit, the first Comedy Hack Day began some years ago as an attempt to unite awkward comedians with awkward software developers.
Fittingly, to this day, the hack-a-thon still attracts its fair share of nerdy and funny people with questionable social skills. However, with a growing number of participants, it has also gained the attention of a handful of sponsors, including (to the joy of Los Angeles’ attendees) California’s own Lagunitas Brewing Company.
Besides the free beer, what makes Comedy Hack Day different from a typical hackathon is that its participants work on humor-oriented projects. A good example of one of these projects is the app Me, The Internet, which claims it ‘makes the news interesting again by injecting your name and picture into every news article.’ While reading The Times, a user of Me, The Internet might suddenly see a headline about her most recent speech delivered to the American people, alongside a smiling photo of herself.
This past December was the first time that the hack day had been hosted in LA, which made for an especially ridiculous tour de farce. It seems Los Angeles is a perfect place to round up funny entertainers and brilliant technologists, perhaps because it is both a popular destination for aspiring comedians and home to the tech-friendly Silicon Beach. Yet beyond turning out a wealth of eager participants, Los Angeles also provided the event with some suitably eccentric quarters — namely, at the former location of Howard Hughes’ private airport, which is now YouTube’s LA production space.
Thus, the hackathon took place adjacent to a helicopter-monument erected in memory of Howard Hughes. As the first night wore on, the studio teemed with humorous hackers hunched over MacBooks, seemingly oblivious to the bustling of well-established YouTube creators in the background. Once the clacking of keyboards subsided, each group of participants gave a public demo of their product in front of a live audience and a panel of celebrity judges, the latter of whom had the final say on which project received the event’s coveted grand prize.
The judges at Comedy Hack Day are instructed to look for teams with both strong tech and an entertaining presentation. Winners of past Comedy Hack Days served as exemplary models for them. For instance, earlier in 2014, at a Comedy Hack Day in San Francisco, the grand prize went to a wearable, voice-activated Furby.
The winner of this year’s Comedy Hack Day LA went to an app that certainly lived up to the standard of having a side-splitting presentation. Dubbed ShtTalk, it was a messaging application for people who tend to go on their phone whilst in the restroom. The app is location-based, so a user could chat with others in nearby lavatories.
For their demo, the creators snuck one of their teammates onto the stage with a fake ceramic toilet bowl before the presentations started, placing him underneath a large sheet. He sat motionless and undetected through five other teams’ presentations, and when the time came, one ShtTalk’s presenters removed the sheet in order to reveal the app’s ‘typical user,’ leaving the audience shocked — and in stitches.