The Very Semi-Serious Humor Lab


Click on the image to interact with a demo of The Very Semi-Serious Humor Lab prototype developed at POV Hackathon 4.

Launch the demo »
View the source code »

Team: Mark Catalano, David Chapman, Bob Mankoff, Joanna Sokolowski, Andrew Sprouse, Leah Wolchok.

About the Project: The Very Semi-Serious Humor Lab aims to be an interactive deconstruction of the beloved New Yorker cartoons that will encourage viewers to examine the science, psychology and philosophy of what makes us laugh.

Follow @VerySemiSerious on Twitter »
Follow Very Semi-Serious on Facebook »
Very Semi-Serious Film Website »
Very Semi-Serious Kickstarter Campaign (completed) »


  • Meteor JS:Our app is built using the Meteor JS environment, which is what allowed us to create a front-to-back JavaScript application. Meteor uses MongoDB as a data store. The team had never used Meteor on a project before and while it initially seemed risky to try something new, we felt it was in the spirit of the Hackathon to try new things and take a few calculated risks. It should also be mentioned that the Meteor Development Group provides a free hosting environment for Meteor apps to encourage developers to build them and we are using that hosting environment for this project.
  • MongoDB: The datastore where we keep the cartoons and the captions. Feeds out JSON so it plays nice with our front-to-back JavaScript.
  • JavaScript: Our app is built with JavaScript front to back. This means that not only are we using JavaScript on the client side but also on the server side.
  • Node: The server that sends our app to the rest of the world.
  • CSS3: We used a few CSS3 effects for animating elements and making smooth transitions for hover effects.
  • HTML5: Sockets and magic. HTML5 is at the core of everything here. HTML5 audio and video elements were used a lot.
  • Photoshop: For building out the illustrations and graphic elements of the site.
  • After Effects: We needed to composite a few video files together to create the cartoon desk effect as a part of the intro video.
  • Final Cut Pro: Editing down all the sound effects for the site so we would have video and audio synced if we ever wanted to use live video vs. the illustrated graphic of Bob Mankoff.
  • Buzz.js: We abstracted the HTML5 audio API away by using Buzz, which worked well.
  • jQuery: For DOM manipulation.
  • GitHub: None of this would be possible in the time that we had if it weren’t for great developer collaboration tools. Github gives us a rock-steady sharing platform to work from.

Mark Catalano

Mark Catalano is one of the founders of Ronik Design, a digital product design shop in Brooklyn. Mark’s background is in development and usability research. Some day Mark hopes to visit the Moon, but for now the Internet will have to do.

» Portfolio Website
» Follow @markcatalano on Twitter
» Company Website

David Chapman

David Chapman is a designer and developer living and working in Brooklyn. He owns cats, bicycles, yellow-paged books and other Brooklyn-type things.

Bob Smiling at Desk-240
Bob Mankoff

Bob Mankoff is the cartoon editor of The New Yorker. Before he succeeded Lee Lorenz as editor, Mankoff was a cartoonist for the magazine for twenty years. He founded the online Cartoon Bank, which has every cartoon since the magazine’s founding. He is the author of the books The Naked Cartoonist: A New Way to Enhance Your Creativity and the forthcoming memoir How About Never– Is Never Good for you? My Life in Cartoons.

Joanna Sokolowski (Photo: Michael H. Raines)

Joanna Sokolowski is the associate producer for Very Semi-Serious. She is currently in production on The Ovarian Psycos with her filmmaking partner, Kate Trumbull-LaValle. The film is supported by ITVS, Pacific Pioneer Fund and Women Make Movies. She received her MA in Social Documentation at the UCSC and was the recipient of the Human Rights Center fellowship.

» The Ovarian Psycos
» Still Time

Andrew Sprouse

Andrew Sprouse is a Brooklyn based software developer who most recently he led the development of the latest iteration of

» Company Website
» Company Website
» Follow @asprouse on Twitter

Leah Wolchok (Photo: Geraldine Lee)

Leah Wolchok is a director and producer who received the inaugural TFI Documentary Fund grant for her first feature documentary, Very Semi-Serious. She co-produced the Independent Lens documentary Ask Not. She received a BA in English from Yale and an MA in Documentary Production from Stanford.

Published by

POV Staff
POV (a cinema term for "point of view") is television's longest-running showcase for independent non-fiction films. POV premieres 14-16 of the best, boldest and most innovative programs every year on PBS. Since 1988, POV has presented over 400 films to public television audiences across the country. POV films are known for their intimacy, their unforgettable storytelling and their timeliness, putting a human face on contemporary social issues.