October 15, 2013

ZAHOS | The Filthy, Brilliant Back Alleys of Twitter

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Facebook and Twitter. Say it out loud: Facebook and Twitter. Twitter and Facebook. Status updates, news feeds, retweets, social media … There was once a time when these words had a spark of potency to them, before Buzzfeed, IPOs and the Fox News Deck. We too easily conflate Facebook with Twitter, or at least bunch them together in the same headline (“The Anti-Social Social Network??”). But while Facebook deserves censure for its ever-growing string of privacy concerns and unwavering intellectual vacuity, Twitter is too rarely celebrated for what it has revealed itself to be: A platform for a new, bizarre and brilliant form of literature.

Granted, if you just follow your friends, One Direction fans and celebrity “parody” accounts (“FillWerrell” is the worst), you have yet to leave the Facebook ghetto, or are stuck on an even more insipid avenue all your own. Of course, many of my friends at Cornell and back home maintain honest and entertaining Twitter accounts — that goes without saying. They join the wider band of users I follow, and not the other way around. Aside my friends’ often very earnest updates (usually about appreciating life, weather, etc., or stressing over work), I find the topical, capsuled comedy of Stephen Colbert, the metropolitan musings of Ezra Koenig, the inspiring cinephilia of Richard Brody, the gaming know-all of Jeff Gerstmann and the “weird, sexual, anti-comedy comedy” of Megan Amram.

It’s that last one that I would like to talk about. Amram’s off-kilter brand of humor caught my eye early on (I’ve had a Twitter since 2009, which is apparently a long time). From “Anyone who doesn’t request unlimited salad and breadsticks as their last meal is an idiot” to “Guys be honest how raven am I,” her style is about one part removed from the typical stand-up one-liner, and mostly in step with the alternative comedy sensibility practiced by Zach Galifianakis, who also once teased the grammar of That’s So Raven in his set. She landed a writing gig on Parks and Recreation from the strength of her tweets, which feed off millennial references and ironic turns of phrase to appeal to a predominantly college-aged demographic.

Amram still deserves to be ranked with the best of Twitter today, yet it is down the back alleys leading from her work where you can find the most ingenious and subversive comics on the web. An acquaintance from my early high school gaming days, @piss_wizard posts like crazy (he broached 97,000 tweets recently) on anything that passes his mind, from the crappy politics of his native U.K. and the U.S. to delirious pop culture mash-ups like “banjo kazooey deschanel.” This mad stream-of-consciousness approach to tweeting finds seasoned practitioners in @othersome and @jitka, as well. On fleeting occasions, I have interacted with these accounts and have found them to be smart, unusually self-aware young guys (one of them is a Cornell alum) who circumvent the corporate political correctness of Twitter by trolling it with apolitical, stupidly funny non sequitirs. “@tomhanks happy hanksgiving,” read an @othersome tweet you know he waited weeks until Thanksgiving to send, while @piss_wizard tweeted to the Pope, “@Pontifex when is half life 3 coming out.” And when the cool mode of irony doesn’t suit the occasion, a concise though fervent rant will do, as @jitka made clear early last year: “shut up about bacon. bacon is good but just shut up about it already please. it’s just bacon. it’s literally just bacon”

You may notice the lack of proper capitalization, punctuation and spelling in these tweets, which is about an aesthetic requirement for this school of humor. Some bloggers have referred to this body of jokesters as “Weird Twitter,” which I guess is about the right name if you had to pick one. But while the tweets may look similarly ‘broken,’ it must be emphasized that “Weird Twitter” is a simple label for a very diverse pool of comedy. Some of these masters exclaim all-caps epiphanies (@rare_basement: IMAGINE IF JAMES JOYCE COULD SEXT) while others impart narrative poetry so subtle they should be considered [hilarious] works of art (@UtilityLimb: it’s sad thinking of all the dogs in old movies that have died, but even sadder thinking of the earth we fled because of the dogs that can’t”). Some make light of (and truly love) gaming culture (@wolfpupy: burn your enemies and take the gems they drop) while others prefer to riff on film or music, like @ingmarbirdman or The Mountain Goats’ own John Darnielle, who I consider an honorary member of Weird Twitter, with his standout contribution: “When my Citizen Kane moment comes I’m pretty sure I’m gonna say ‘Nerds Rope.’” Like I said, millennial humor, even for a 46-year-old man.

Weird Twitter (not a phrase I love, but it’s easy shorthand) works so beautifully because it recognizes that the utopian pitch for Twitter, and all social networks, to make the world a more connected, knowledgeable place is B.S. Twitter secured its staying power once WalMart realized it could sell more stuff with this thing. With that acute awareness of how the Internet, and thus the 21st century, works, this ragged band of comics spews both its jaded contempt and sincere awe for the world around at or under 140 characters apiece. Ironically, doing so has fulfilled the site’s idealistic goal and united these provocateurs as they stake out a new avant-garde form of Twitter-based comedy. Leave it to @dril — a cross between Bukowski and 4Chan, and surely the greatest Twitterer today — to sum up the profound and irreverent grace of the medium: “sometimes i gaze towards the beautiful endless sky and wish that i was a bird. so that i could piss and shit out of the same hole.”