Every morning I log onto Twitter and check my newsfeed. Here is the first tweet I saw today:
Conan O’Brien @ConanOBrien
“I hear that in order to expand “The Hobbit” into a trilogy, they incorporated some of my pornographic Gandalf fan fiction.”
While Twitter is known as the number one news source, there is a growing trend of humour being seen into these short infotainment blurbs. It seems only logical that Twitter would be used for comedy. As pointed out by social media analyst Jeff Bullas, the e-business’ name comes from the word “twitter,” which translates into “chirps from birds,” which essentially means “a short burst of inconsequential information.” What is shorter and more inconsequential than a joke?
Consider this pop quiz:
a) A way for comics to promote their shows, albums and peers.
b) An interactive tool for comics to receive immediate feedback from niche audiences around the world.
c) A way for an aspiring comic of any background and with any level of experience to ease their way into the industry and measure/understand their talent/potential.
d) All of the above.
The answer is d) all of the above.
There’s no denying that Twitter is a nifty tool for anyone who thinks they might have a shred of a joke-telling future. Twitter first and foremost allows someone to send out a message to a wide range of people – such as fans (and potential fans). It allows people to make contact with otherwise inaccessible comedians that they may admire, which in some cases has resulted in aspiring comics being mentioned by their idols.
Consider budding Hamilton comedian Zak McDonald who took the liberty of tweeting his long-admired role model, stand-up comic Doug Stanhope. This is a conversation they had on Twitter:
Zak McDonald @ZakMcDonald
“@DougStanhope any chance you could acknowledge my existence?”
Doug Stanhope @DougStanhope
“Done. Now off to hotel bar for a white russian on day off. @ZakMcDonald “any chance you could acknowledge my existence?”
Neat tools like these give struggling comics the encouragement they need in order to get and stay in the game. The popularized use of hashtags allow comedians to categorize their work by place, topic, or event and in doing so locate niche audiences that they may have otherwise had to travel around the globe to find. Favourites and retweets, which measure how many people approve of and share the joke, provide any Twitterer with an idea of how their messages are being received.
Hamilton-born comedian Clifford Myers (@Cliffalus) acknowledges Twitter’s role in measuring his success in writing jokes. With Twitter, he is able to receive instant feedback. “It’s nice to know what jokes work and which ones don’t,” he says. By incorporating all of these comedy aids, Twitter is warming the pool of comedy and enticing people to test the waters.
Twitter does, however, neglect to capture a key aspect of traditional comedy: performance. “The stage is not a 140 character platform,” Myers explains. “Grammar jokes, double entendres, and one-liners only go so far on stage.”
For traditional comedians who are paid to not only write but deliver a joke, Twitter is seen as restrictive and isolating. It cannot replace the exhilarating feeling of being on stage, looking at the faces of your audience, going through a well connected routine, waiting just the right amount of beats to say the punchline, and being embraced by laughter.
However, these thrill-seeking, professional comedians are few and far between. What we are seeing now is a surge in mild-mannered weekend jokers – and these jokers are putting the wit back in Twitter. Now that the anxiety of climbing on stage, forgetting your jokes and being booed is nonexistent, different skill sets are gaining value. Twitter comedy is less about timing, tone and expression and more about the sentiment that remains when you strip those presentation factors away.
Part of what allows everyone to join in on the fun is the removal of middlemen – middlemen that have unrealistic demands for the 21st century comic (such as exposing parts of his or her physical body to ridicule). Twitter is turning comedy into a user-friendly, do-it-yourself industry. Twitter comedians are self-editing, self-publishing, and self-publicising. Unlike a traditional vehicle of comedy like television, movies, radio, or live performances, Twitter comedy is made available to anyone with an internet connection. Experience is only an asset, not a requirement.
Take for example the Twitter handle @MormonProbs (Mormon Problems). They tweet jokes that poke fun at society’s perceptions about the Morman religion.
Regardless of the quality of that joke, “Mormon Problems” is employing every one of Twitter’s features that attract comedians. They rely on their niche audience’s knowledge about Mormons, the use of the hashtag #ThingsYouDontSayToMe, the ability to avoid content regulations, and the security of anonymity. While Myers has been doing stand up since his teen years and has acquired a little over 9,000 followers on Twitter – nothing to scoff at – @MormonProbs has acquired over 20,000 followers, and when you search for “comedy”, their handle is at the top of the results.
By loading its site with nifty communication aids, transforming exposure into something that is done from behind the protection of a computer screen, and being accessible to everyone, Twitter is encouraging mass participation in a field that is usually left to the bold and the fearless. In this day and age, in a world where over 500 million people in the world are on Twitter, everyone really is a comedian.