Millennial Humor in Steven Universe and Craig of the Creek

The new generation of cartoons are skewing their humor more and more to kids who grew up in the 90's.

If you’ve been closely watching the newest series to debut on Cartoon Network in the last few years you might have noticed a certain shift in the humor. While we all know the adult writers of these series would sneak in jokes to things they loved, as kids in the ’90s they went over our heads.

Now there are references to ’90s TV shows, memes, and games like Magic: The Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh! Millennial humor is in.

Ben Levin and Matt Burnett, creators of Craig of the Creek and former writers on Steven Universe, say it’s all about making themselves laugh and adding in little jokes they want to see. While this could be perceived as alienating the younger kids in the audience, Burnett explains they never underestimate kids.

“They know a lot of the stuff that you’re surprised that they would know,” Burnett says. “They understand so much more when they’ve got the world at their fingertips. If there’s something they see that their older brother laughs at that they don’t get, they’re gonna want to understand what that is. They’re like sponges.”

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A great example of the origin of this kind of joke can be found in the second episode of Craig of the Creek. In the middle of an adventure we quickly see one of the older teen characters at The Trading Tree where, as the name implies, kids can trade goods. With much resentment he cries out, “What do you mean you don’t take bitcoin?!”

“When we made that joke,” remember Burnett, “it was this kind of nichey joke that only us and our couple of nerd buddies were gonna understand. Now it blew up in the mainstream and everyone recognizes it. That was a fortunate coincidence.” 

Levin says when they reference things they focus on things their team is passionate about or really like. “We definitely try not to pander to kids or guess what the cool thing to say is. Then you’re inevitably going to wind up with something outdated.”

“Because of the time it takes to animate something,” adds Burnett. This means that when the storyboard artists try to add things like fidget spinners to the episode the two take them out. 

Even if the new generation of cartoons are telling jokes aimed at millennials both writers stress they never talk down to kids.

“We just talk to them the way we talk to each other.”

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Shamus Kelley is a pop culture/television writer and official Power Rangers expert. Follow him on Twitter! Read more articles by him here!