One writer’s journey from twitter-hater to tweet-hoarder.
by Miles Kahn
I dream in tweets. I wake up and immediately try to recall the awesome quips of my subconscious, eager to post them to my followers. Was it something about comparing the Democrats to the rabbit in Fatal Attraction? Or maybe I was telling Lionel Richie not to get liposuction? If my dreams come up blank, maybe I’ll catch up on a new Twitter meme game (I totally nailed #BadTigerBeatStories with: “Garrison Keillor: Single?!?”). It will be thirty minutes of this before I realize I’m late for work.
Back in college I had no real internet and a nineteen-inch television that only got CBS via antenna. Faced with either new episodes of Touched by an Angel and writing, I chose the latter. It was the most prolific time in my life. No distractions. No pithy observations about what the male equivalent to camel toe is (I went with “lobster tail,” but my followers preferred “moose knuckle”). Now, though, the high of instant feedback has encroached upon my workload as I busy myself truncating dick jokes to 140 characters or less.
“Twitter is a waste of human time and resources.” At least, this is what I told John Hodgman back in January of 2009 at the offices of The Daily Show (where I work as a producer). This was pre-Ashton Kutcher and Lady Gaga’s reign on the site — the days of the early adopter. As I watched John diligently update his thoughts to yet another trendy social-media platform on his phone, I told him how silly it all seemed. Then John tweeted my thoughts to his followers — all 30,000 of them. And no less than ten seconds later, he held up his phone and I watched in real time as a flood of insults came rushing in at me. It was exhilarating, instant and visceral. His followers — the “hive mind,” as he called them — were heckling me. John was walking around town with a stadium-sized comedy audience in his pocket, eager to do his bidding. It was impressive. I acquiesced, signed up for a Twitter account, and John introduced me officially to his loyal fans. Within an hour, I had amassed over 1,000 followers.
Suddenly, my own little comedy nightclub was just sitting there waiting for me to impart my insight. I felt like Graham Chapman in Monty Python’s Life of Brian when Brian, mistaken for the messiah, is tailed by a throng of fervent followers:
“Follower: Give us a sign!
Arthur: He has given us a sign! He has brought us to this place!
Brian: I didn't bring you here! You just followed me!
Follower: Oh, it's still a good sign by any standard.”
I hadn’t had a personal audience since my high-school production of Antigone, and even then, most people were there to see the drama girls in low-cut togas. So how would I wield this new power? Standing on the mount, a crowd of eager minds staring up at me, anticipating something, anything… “My spirit animal is butter.”
Is Twitter good for comedy? That’s a dumb question. I wouldn’t even tweet that, it’s so dumb. I’ll tell you what Twitter isn’t — Twitter is not a dating site. And yet there I was, after a couple of years of tweets under my belt, asking out a teeny-tiny Twitter picture on a date, via direct message. I figured we were compatible — we had about the same number of followers and we both tweet-hated all the same celebrities. We met, and faced with a conversation that stretched beyond exchanges of 140 characters, overcame the odds. After a few drinks, I went to the bathroom, buzzing from her cuteness and my awesomely charming repartee (I correctly accused her of being on mood medication — the way to woman’s heart is always through her SSR inhibitors).
When I returned to my seat, there she was, engrossed in her phone, tweeting her status about our date. Four months later, after she eclipsed me by several hundred followers, it would all suddenly end. Perhaps I was no match for the instant gratification of her fans. Or maybe she was just out of Lexapro. Here’s the kicker: the hardest part about breaking up was unfollowing her. I’ll miss her retweeting me the most.
“Twitter is for fourteen-year-olds to send pictures of their junk to one another. Politicians shouldn’t use it. Anthony Weiner finally used it for what it’s intended for.” At least, that’s what The Daily Show’s Wyatt Cenac said to me as we got into a heated debate about Twitter’s merits. He asked me what I gained from it and after much haranguing, he finally got it out of me, the one thing I didn’t want to admit: I liked having an audience. “But you’re not even famous,” he said, jokingly, I think. He was right, though. I wasn’t famous, and that was the point.
Twitter satisfies a narcissistic itch that I just can’t scratch from my usual position behind the camera. There’s a rush in getting a flood of people to “favorite” your latest nugget of wisdom. Isn’t everyone using Twitter guilty of the same thing? We’re all stars of our own personal social-media-reality-competition-life-baking-contest shows. Twitter is the new home of the one-liner. It’s a digital open-mic night at the world’s biggest Chuckle Hut and everyone is invited. Literally everyone. And it totally paid off for me when I was named one of Huffington Post’s “18 Funny Bearded Guys You Should Be Following On Twitter.” I only hope it doesn’t go to my head.
There are days where I scrutinize my follower count as it approaches some arbitrary milestone (my 9,300th follower, huzzah!). I’ll post a tweet and instantly click the refresh button, anxiously awaiting for approval. Twitter has turned me into a rabbit, pushing on a lever in a cage. Also, writing about Twitter has apparently turned me into a Radiohead lyric. So what good is it?
Tweets have little staying power. There are no Twitter comedy albums or live tours. There is no Twitter show on Comedy Central (don’t get any ideas, Daniel Tosh). Instead, worthiness is measured by the quantity of your followers. And while every member of the Kardashian clan seems to have a following inversely proportional to their talent, Twitter has thankfully shed light on a slew of worthy comedy writers and performers who might have otherwise flown under the radar.
I’ll follow Patton Oswalt and Sarah Silverman in any medium, but without Twitter I never would have discovered Shelby Fero — an eighteen-year-old upstart who has amassed a huge following simply by being awesomely funny (“Pets are like a snooze button for your ovaries”). As of this writing, she’s just starting college, has over 55,000 followers and has retweeted me only once. So not only has Twitter turned me into a one-liner junkie, but I’m now jealous of a teenage girl I’ve never actually met, craving a mere mention from her in hopes that I can hustle some of her followers for my own feed.
It could all just be a fad. I remember Samantha Bee during an episode of The Daily Show making fun of Twitter by hooting wildly into the camera, explaining to Jon Stewart that she was connecting to her fans on “Grunter.” Politicians who use it generally sound silly — no one over thirty should ever say “Totes on Prop 18.” Celebrities too vapid to have thoughts of their own have turned to ghost-tweeters, a term that should never, ever have to have been brought into the lexicon.
Neuroscientists are already ringing their doomsday bells saying all of this instant communication gratification is rewiring our brains, making us dumber. They’re probably right. But how many of them are one of the top eighteen funniest bearded people on Twitter? Yeah, I thought so.