Whatever tenuous hold the joke had left by the 1990’s may have been broken by the Internet, Mr. Nilsen said. The torrent of e-mail jokes in the late 1990’s and joke Web sites made every joke available at once, essentially diluting the effect of what had been an spoken form. While getting up and telling a joke requires courage, forwarding a joke by e-mail takes hardly any effort at all. So everyone did it, until it wasn’t funny anymore.
Here is the full and fascinating story of how the joke has died as a dominant institution of humor.