Its rolling slate of cringey jokes and meaningless trivia is a familiar sight wherever there’s a captive audience – but what the hell is Giggle TV? Johnny Crawford looks into the tweet-stealing, wife joke-telling phenomenon.
If you’ve spent any time in middle New Zealand in the past half-decade, you’re probably familiar with Giggle TV. Fish and chip shops, Lotto stores, even blood-testing services allow screens on their premises to play the inanest content imaginable interspersed with ads for those very same fish and chip shops, Lotto stores and blood-testing services.
You might be the most irony-poisoned millennial in Taihape, but the second those bouncy graphics appear you will be unable to look away. The combination of cute animals, meaningless aphorisms and anti-wife content is hypnotic, transporting you from your hairdresser to your least-woke uncle’s Facebook feed. Not since the Joker put laughing gas in Gotham’s water supply has laughter been wielded so brutally as a weapon against the masses.
Giggle TV might be horrible for a number of reasons, but I am fascinated by it. There is something so accidentally funny about how bizarre, obnoxious and successful it is. These ubiquitous screens piss a lot of people off and I’ve taken a lot of flack for how fixated I am with them. But surely something that inspires such strong reactions among my too-cool peers is worth delving into.
With this in mind, I decided to hatch a plan: sit in a bar or café that was playing Giggle TV and watch it until the content cycled around.
It’s been a few years since I first encountered Giggle TV during a 2015 pilgrimage to Bulls. Waiting for one of their famous giant kebabs, my eyes were drawn to the cheeky and constantly moving font on the screen above the counter, a hypnotic mixture of orange and black. That’s when I read this forward-thinking wife joke:
“If a woman says ‘correct me if I’m wrong’, do not under any circumstances do it.”
My life was never the same again.
But Giggle TV was already a thriving venture long-before that formative foray into the Rangitikei district. In fact, according to gogiggle.nz, founder Del Shaw came up with the idea in his Palmerston North garage in 2008. He decided to divide New Zealand into a number of regions, each of them run by a Giggle franchise.
Within these regions, local businesses have the opportunity to become ‘sites’ and host a screen for free. Giggle’s revenue comes entirely from the advertisements shown on these screens. Now, there are supposedly more than 1,200 sites in Australasia that alternate boomer memes with ads for colonic irrigation. Mr Shaw must be doing something right.
My ordeal was to take place at The Brooklyn Bar & Bistro. The Brooky is a genuinely great bar and easily the most bearable place in Wellington to sit back, sink a few brews and be obnoxiously advertised at for an afternoon. I had no idea how long I had committed to my Clockwork Orange-esque experiment but luckily the content cycled around after an hour and 38 minutes.
Sitting there, I quickly learned that the largest sub-genre of meme is videos and images of cute animals. Dogs playing with toddlers quickly gave way to stock images of Bruce Lee, Tupac Shakur and #metoo villain Morgan Freeman accompanied by inspirational quotes they supposedly coined. This in turn gave way to jokes about millennials and their devices, stolen tweets and, before I knew it, this almost certainly racist number:
“Benicio Del Toro is just Brad Pitt with seasoning.”
But by far the richest content for any ironic connoisseur of hack comedy is my favourite Giggle subgenre: the wife joke.
Like gags about airplane food and coffee, jokes at wives’ expense have long been a cornerstone of hack comedy. Contributors to this long-established tradition include many of the greats: Henny Youngman, Rodney Dangerfield, Borat. Many people might think of wife jokes as a relic of a more sexist time, that today the butt of the joke is less likely to be the wife than the wife guy. As much as I would have loved for this to be the case, I suspect those people probably haven’t spent much time at a Giggle site.
I often hear from friends who date people of the same gender that straight couples appear to all despise each other. If I had stumbled into the Brooky knowing nothing about human interaction, I would have likely walked away with the same conclusion. Thanks, Giggle TV.
‘Women be shopping’-calibre jokes only comprised a small part of what I saw that afternoon but they left the biggest impression. If there’s nothing funnier to you than the irreconcilable differences between the genders then Giggle might be the advertising solution for you.
By the time I walked away from the pub that afternoon, I had developed a new appreciation for Giggle TV. Maybe those who couldn’t understand why I was subjecting myself to a feature-length rotation of Manawatu’s freshest memes just needed to put the time into truly conditioning themselves. A couple of my doctor friends had expressed genuine concern about the long-term damage I could be doing to myself by melting my brain like this, but I’ve honestly never felt better.
The most pessimistic conclusion I could have drawn from my experience is that middle New Zealand is populated by disgusting swine who will consume whatever slop gets put in front of them. I’m sure a lot of urbanites would like to use this as an explanation for Giggle’s success but it’s not really borne out by the evidence. The only people I’ve seen admit to unironically liking Giggle are the talking heads in the promotional videos on the gogiggle website. Sure, there are bound to be a handful of basics who can’t get enough of Giggle, but I suspect the truth is a bit more complicated and a bit more cynical. I think that Del Shaw has created a delivery mechanism for advertising that works regardless of how much you like sexist jokes and lazy puns.
Giggle TV functions in the same way as all those ads that used to be voted ‘worst of the year’ on Fair Go; even if it’s making you furious, you’re still watching it. Say what you will about the business model but I don’t see you looking away while you wait for your Noodle Canteen. For this reason, I think we can expect more and more sites to pop up in the major centres and I suspect they will be as successful as they are in Wairākei. Which is to say: Very.
With the expansion of the Giggle Empire becoming an inevitability, it’s time for you to shed your ironic detachment and join me in celebrating our new Giggle overlords. Let Giggle into your life and return to a time in which the two funniest words in the English language were “my wife”.
You can watch Giggle TV right here, if you’re so inclined.
The Spinoff Daily gets you all the day's best reading in one handy package, fresh to your inbox Monday-Friday at 5pm.