Why Would Actual People Donate Actual Money to That Potato-Salad Kickstarter?

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The internet is a weird place sometimes. Last week, a guy from Ohio had a simple dream — to make potato salad — and so he created a Kickstarter for his project. The idea was apparently just the right mix of silly and snarky, and resulted in an online jackpot. More than 5,000 people have donated to this thing, for a total of nearly $45,000. Sure, most of the individual donations are in very small amounts, but still: Five thousand people have given away real, actual dollars to be a part of an internet joke. 

But why? Why would anyone waste money on something like this? Peter McGraw, a humor researcher and author of The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, explained his theory in an email to Science of Us:

One thing that helps explain why people are donating (very small amounts of money) is that people like to be in on the joke. By contributing, they are contributing to the success of the joke. And the more they donate the more absurd that the joke gets.

It’s kind of like a transitive property of dumb internet jokes: This thing is funny. I am participating in this thing that is funny. Therefore, I am also funny.

I’m going to go ahead and expand on McGraw’s thoughts here, because I think we can assume something else about the 5,000 who have donated to this thing: These are chronic quoters, the kind of people who believe a well-timed “Milk was a bad choice!” or “STEVE HOLT!” is as funny in real life as it was in its original context. And sometimes it works! But usually, it doesn’t.