I created my Joke Twitter account in August 2013 after seeing a few tweets by @BuckyIsotope, @dubstep4dads, @robdelaney @BrianGaar and @DothTheDoth. I don’t recall what the exact tweets were, but I remember they made me laugh. And think.
I enjoy that balance. I appreciate comedy that is both shocking, sometimes random, character driven and usually with a niche understanding of a topic—Adult Swim’s Children’s Hospital, the BBC show Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place. I saw these tweets and thought “I like this. I can do this.”
I decided to try it out.
There’s a trope of anonymity within certain Joke Twitter circles. Some users want to hide the fact they are crafting jokes while working managerial-level corporate jobs. Others don’t want their face and name attached to the often graphic and dark jokes they create.
When I started I realized it was a liberating process to say things without your real name attached. There is no need to justify yourself. You are your own character. I write and publish fiction and I thought Twitter could be an exercise in character. It could be relevant “resume-building” social media experience. It could distract me from the banal process of applying to MFA programs for the second time.
For my profile, I picked a cartoon sun wearing sunglasses. I picked this image because I’ve always liked the fact that a sun has to wear something to shield it from itself. Why does a sun need that article of clothing? What combination of 140 characters would look funny coming from with a sun wearing sunglasses? It’s really its own character.
My background picture is me dressed as Scott Stapp (the lead singer of Creed) standing in a former bear cage turned picnic pagoda. During my senior year of high school, I used this picture in a slideshow to ask my then-girlfriend to prom during a chapel service. I changed words and sang the Creed song “With Arms Wide Open” in front of 500 students. Some teachers thought I was Scott Stapp for a moment. She said she’d go with me.
My display name is “warrior-poet” because I like to quote certain musicians using this adjective. “According to the warrior-poet Nelly, it is indeed getting ‘hot in herre’” or “As the warrior-poet Fred Durst says, ‘It’s just one of those days where you don’t wanna wake up, everything is fucked, everybody sucks.’”
My Twitter name is @str8outaCompUSA, a portmanteau of the hip hop phrase “straight outta Compton” and a now-defunct electronics boutique. Again, niche references. With my @ name, it’s just saying “I’m asserting with bravado that I’m from this out of business retail location.” Similarly, I’ve had picture tweets that combine kids toys or found pictures with absurd masculine assertions. I also like using wordplay and tweets with a dark tone. My top tweets can be found here.
It’s still “me” tucked behind this sunglassed sun. It’s what I think is funny. There is a certain harmony to the profile that I enjoy.
This is The Other Funny Me.
Anyone who has spent time on Twitter can tell it’s a bizarre medium. There are many cultures and sub-cultures. You’ll find many labels thrown around. Most people don’t seem to know what they mean when they use them: “teen Twitter,” “black Twitter,” “social justice Twitter,” “corporate Twitter.” Any categorization is generalized, but you start to label the cultures when you experience them. Like a neighborhood, every individual is different but the neighborhood still has a culture.
The circle I run in is often described as “Weird Twitter.” You can look up the etymology and “history” yourself. Like any label, some rebel against it, some rally for it. Some reluctantly take it on. Some don’t care at all. On a basic level, “Weird Twitter” uses jokes and formats in an (oft disarming) poetic sense—these users (usually) don’t use tweets to promote a product, champion a cause or tell you about their day. Overall, the content is absurdist in nature.
I prefer “Joke Twitter” because I don’t think “Weird Twitter” is that weird at all.
Every part of Twitter is a strange.
It’s really exciting to be noticed. When big accounts (10k-50k followers) retweet your work, you get notifications for at least half a day from people reading them. It’s fun to watch your follower count explode. You pass the follower count of people you thought were big when you started. Part of the excitement in all of this is hearing that strangers think what you say is funny—and worth sharing with more strangers.
For the moment, what you say is worthwhile.
I now have 2,157 followers. I’m still a “small” account, but am a fixture due to the time I’ve been on. I follow a lot of “staple” accounts one should follow in this circle, and they follow me.
I’ve seen accounts go from 5,000 to 30,000 followers in less than two weeks. It’s all about what bigger accounts think is funny, outside exposure (“Top 10 Funniest Twitter Accounts You Should Be Following Right Now” or screenshots shared on another social media site) or word of mouth. People talk about accounts in real life, especially accounts they think might be “serious” while having hilarious content.
You can interact with your peers on Twitter, either by replying to them or direct message (DM). I’ve met many people this way. You also tend to interact with people with a similar follower count, which usually corresponds to the time that you joined. With many of the joke accounts, you can pinpoint what “generation” they are based on their followers and who they consistently interact with. They are usually similar numbers. Many of my peers are between 2,000-5,000 followers but some have leapt ahead, or left Twitter altogether—keeping up with so many “friends” can consume your time, affect marriages, and relationships with children.
I found out a number of users were from Minnesota, where I live. Some people organize “Tweet-ups” between Twitter users. I agreed to meet two users who go to the University of Minnesota. Not unlike online dating (that’s how I met my current girlfriend of almost two years) you get phone numbers through the service and agree to meet up.
At first it felt like an online date. We actually didn’t pull out our phones for almost an hour. We talked about other users—who we liked, thought annoying, overrated. One guy who was close to 10k (some say this magic number qualifies you as a “big” account). Due to sheer numbers, you get more attention at 10k than even 8k especially if other bigger accounts deem it worthy of a retweet. An amateur user would think (in my case) that 2,157 will see everything you post. This is not what happens. Most of your peers won’t retweet just anything. It has to be a potential game changing tweet, usually a play on a joke format considered canon among users. Most users favorite a tweet, meaning they like it.
The college kid who was approaching 10k had a regimented system in place—he talked to other “big” users and they all agreed they would retweet each other. Tweeting had become—like life—a game of who you know in positions of “power.”
He made Twitter sound like a job that he was getting paid to do. He wasn’t. The only payment is attention and recognition in the hierarchy. You are who your numbers say you are. All of this didn’t sound fun anymore.
I was already disenchanted by the time I met with the college guys.
The space is saturated with so many accounts trying to do the same thing with tired joke formats. It’s hard to log on and see the same thing over and over. It’s hard to invest that kind of creative energy in something that has invisible rules. It’s hard to introduce new ideas. You have to keep up with people you don’t know to get ahead in a world where you aren’t necessarily guaranteed anything with your creativity output.
It sounds a lot like real life.
Twitter used to make me laugh every day. There is a part of Twitter where creative people go to make 140 characters funny and meaningful. Not: “i had a bagel 2day lmao.”
I started with 0 followers and months later broke 2,000 followers. I am one follower away from celebrities. Celebrities have seen my tweets, and liked them. This can be a fertile ground for comedy and creativity—if you have connections. To some I was “underfollowed.” I was told I’d “blow up” and that pretty soon “I’d be a big account.” I’m not, and probably won’t be.
Like many creative pursuits, you get burnt out or fed up. I’m tired of making jokes for free to people that are actually in this bizarre competition to do the same thing. It’s mentally and creatively tiring to compete with invisible formats and rules that you don’t really like.
I did meet some great people—I’m going to a friend’s wedding in August—but it’s hard to keep up with Twitter friends when you can’t keep up with your own. This costs time.
When watching comedy TV shows or comedians now, I understand the process of joke making—when jokes are easy to make or if they are earned. Despite some negative thoughts on being a creator of Twitter jokes, I think Twitter comedy is way ahead of any other comedic writing. The accounts I follow are brilliant and hilarious. The daily creative output is insane. Anonymous people are making jokes during their workday, for free. The payment is attention, sometimes being “Twitter famous.”
It’s a strange goal to pour your energy into.
I still follow the college guy on Twitter. He broke 10k followers. He was obsessed with becoming a big account. He is the numbers he wanted.
As for me, I didn’t get into graduate school for the second year in a row. I will try again next year. I will keep writing.
Back in the fall I made a joke combining the American Girl doll Molly with the slang for MDMA, “molly.” A few weeks later, Saturday Night Live did a similar joke. I’d like to think they saw mine. It could’ve been stolen, sure.
Maybe it was just an easy joke in a tired format.