In Praise of Venmo Humor

From elaborate emoji jokes to randomly charging Ben Affleck tiny sums of money.

A Venmo app screen with laughing emoji all over it.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Venmo, Thinkstock.

In less than a decade, Venmo has fundamentally changed not only the ways in which money changes hands, but even the language we use to describe that exchange. “Venmo” as a verb is common parlance at this point, and with the cashless movement gaining steam in urban centers, it’s unlikely that’ll change anytime soon.

There’s plenty about this shift that’s concerning, like, say, the fact that anyone can download all 200 million public transactions from 2017 by clicking on a link. Designer-activist Hang Do Thi Duc did just that, and followed the stories of five Venmo users in a data visualization—one of whom included a “cannabis retailer” whose entire business was laid out in emojis and code words. But besides the miserliness that Venmo encourages, and the social panopticon it engenders, the app is good for one wholly pure thing: succinct humor.

For reasons unknown, one of the primary features of Venmo beside sending small sums of money is a social feed of all your friends’ payments. And since each payment requires a caption—some of which, like “electricity bill,” come precoded with emoji translations—the feed ends up resembling early Twitter, where getting off a joke in as few words as possible is the highest form of humor. Making your way through your friends’ minor cash flows as you wait for the train results in the tiniest of payoffs; despite the fact that Venmo captions have no apparent character limit, the best instances of humor on the app combine short lines of prose and weirdly specific amounts of money.

This person sporadically charges friends tiny sums of money in the form of a “friendship fee”:

Friendship fees.

When one of my Slate colleagues who shall not be named Venmo-pays her husband, she comments giant blocks of emojis with one single emoji that’s different from the rest, like a mini-game of Where’s Waldo?:

Blocks of emojis with one single emoji that’s different from the rest.

There’s the guy whose Venmo payments are paired with absurdist bits of trivia, apropos of nothing:

Random fact.

The fact that people of large or small celebrity use Venmo like the rest of us plebeians makes easy comedic material for the enterprising scroller. See: people paying Sean Spicer small amounts of money for things like hair transplant donations.

But it’s hard to beat this Venmo user, who sporadically charges and/or pays Ben Affleck small sums of money for reasons that range from “I just read The New Yorker article about how you are sad” to “The Accountant is so good”:

Venmo exchanges between a random guy and Ben Affleck.
Ben Affleck denies a Venmo request.

And then occasionally, Affleck replies. In this case “it” is, of course, The Accountant:

Affleck replies via Venmo to Max Geller and says "Did you actually see it, or do you just live in a garbage town where it doesn't come out until next week?"

As our cashless overlords continue to gain access to more and more of our lives, at least we can take a bit of cold comfort in the fact that the revolution will be, at least sometimes, hilarious.