Tuesday, June 4, 2019

I Said That Too!: Tweet-Saming, Comedy and Me

Every so often Twitter does this thing where it offers to show you "who you know" on Twitter, presumably by culling your contacts in a way to which you have doubtfully consented. Since most people don't run their Twitters like their Facebooks, this is an offer no sane person would ever accept.

A few days ago someone retweeted a very amusing tweet into my timeline to that effect:

I was amused by that. So amused that I decided to tweet very nearly the exact same thing several weeks earlier:

Note the disparity in response

In fact - and here's how much I get a little overboard about my Twitter sometimes - I had thought up the joke even earlier than that, after having received this prompt multiple times, and waited, poised, for the next time I could screenshot it - like trying to find Pikachu in the Veridian Forest.

Now, I want to stress that this is an utterly obvious joke to make. It doesn't take George Carlin to come up with mockingly telling the Powers That Be at Twitter that this is not an offer any sane, sensible person, (at least anyone who is doing Twitter right,) would take them up on. It's easy, low hanging fruit, but it's also satisfying.

Twitter is positively littered with instances of people coming up with the same joke totally independently and more or less simultaneously. Everybody on that app is desperately trying to be the funniest person on the planet at all times, myself intensely included.

It's no different or more avoidable than showing up to work dressed in the same blue shirt and tan pants as every other guy in the office. It makes for the occasional collision. Conan O'Brien recently settled a lawsuit with a Twitter comic who alleged that his staff stole some jokes from his feed years ago - cheap current events jokes that everyone was making at the time, but that gathering evidence to prove was simply not doable. How many nights, back during my years actually watching Late Night TV, did I see the same gag on Jon Stewart and Colbert, or Trevor Noah and John Oliver? It's hard enough to be original when you have one competitor, like alone 300 million. On Twitter, the phenomenon has a name - "Tweet-Saming." (Full disclosure, I was reminded of this after re-reading that Conan article a year later, and that sentence, plus this one, and the re-named article title are additions from January 2020 when it kinda-sorta happened again.)

Just a random tweet lots of people enjoyed, not illustrative of anything

I know people who live in fear of this, of false-accusations and misunderstandings, who search various permutations of their better jokes and replies before hitting Send Tweet to ensure an elusive kind of purity. I could never live that way. I have to be true to my instincts and yet at the same time never mask the fact that I may not be most original guy out there. I know I would never steal a joke and I know nobody would ever bother stealing a joke from me. If you see it, you assume it happens in good faith.

Of course, Joke Theft does happen, inevitably when you have so many genuinely talented funny people tossing off pithy remarks every second of the day for literally zero dollars. Some wannabe will always try to pass off some gag they saw elsewhere as their own work and ride it all the way to the top, only to find out they have nothing to say when they get the attention they seek. Some people have made it shockingly far on this strategy, although they usually get got sooner or later.
It's obvious @actioncookbook didn't steal the joke just as it's obvious I didn't steal the joke, just as it's obvious I wasn't the first one to make it. I might find myself making a copycat joke, but I would never stoop to joke theft, because what's the point?

Is it even possible to revoke 47,000 likes?

Reality check: even though I technically have 255 followers, I am confident that the number of sets of eyeballs that sees anything I tweet tops out at about a dozen, with the rest being people who follow too many people to ever see me, or inactive accounts like the now-forgotten revived Ricki Lake show from like 2011. My best original tweets max out in the mid-single-digits for likes and average between one and zero retweets. I am essentially tweeting into nothingness, and am more surprised to get a reply or a like than I am for a tweet to do absolutely nothing while I go on with my day.

Despite that seeming futility, I enjoy attempting to be funny on Twitter. It's a good outlet for me, as it is for many. A solid tweet is an artform. I like to think I've popped off two or three really good over the years. And if they're just for me, as a way of letting off steam while I'm at work, the satisfaction of doing that is its own reward.

Me personally, I'm not a professional comedian, and I have no real interest in being funny for people on a permanent basis. I was a funny kid in school, but I didn't use it to win friends, I did it for the friends I already had. Twitter replicates that experience for me. By contrast, @actioncookbook has >13,000 followers, and I bet they're a lot happier following him than if they were following me instead. I checked out his feed, he's pretty good, if not drastically different from me.

My most popular tweets, in fact, are usually sassy replies to pro wrestling journalists, prompts related to comic books, or when I hashtag my thoughts on #90dayfiance.

19 damn likes! I feel like @shitmydadsays....you know, back in 2009.

Knowing that my very best tweets will gain no more traction than my very worst (which vastly outnumber the best) is a freeing sort of anonymity. Instead, I tweet some of the most un-viral esoteric bullshit I can imagine, sometimes even dragging it out, as if I hate the idea of ever achieving popularity even accidentally, without screwing it up for myself. I enjoy being bad at Twitter as much as I've enjoyed the times when I was good at Twitter. And I find it much easier to do. Some of the things I tweet show outright contempt for the idea of being a joke anyone would want to hear (and maybe the problem is that my occasional actual Good Ones are buried deep within.) My bad tweets are a shield - "You didn't like that? You weren't supposed to, it just would've been cool if you did. Anyway, Game of Thrones..."

(The vexing part is, there absolutely is an audience for weird, bad tweets, so my only conclusion is that mine aren't weird and bad enough, or in the right way, which adds a layer to their weirdness and badness that remains on brand for me.)

For what it's worth, @actioncookbook's version of the joke was the superior phrasing. It just was. If we were in a writer's room together I would heartily endorse his version as the better phrasing. It should be satisfying enough to have my joke validated by the same premise coming up in a much more successful venue.

But... was it that much better? Was my take not good enough? The guy who retweeted this follows me. We've had exchanges, albeit more one-sided than not. I retweeted him regularly enough before he went private. And yet I am never deemed worthy by most of the fine folks who might see my tweets. I have friends who have a lot of friends, prominent people, but if they see the supposed good tweets I think I'm doing, (and it's a busy app so I can see how I'd be missable) they simply don't care.

Given the choice between relating to people and doing something aggressively unpopular like Reading Old X-Men Comics, I will happily choose the latter, and only sort of wish it could be both.

Despite my enjoyment of my anonymity, my embracing of self-sabotage, I am absolutely an all-time thirsty motherfucker. I want those likes. I don't ever, ever, ever want to catch myself crafting my online persona to court them, and it is seriously painful for me to openly admit, but I want validation all the same. I just want it for being me. It's not like I'm in it for fame, but the law of averages suggests that after ten years of tweets something I'd said would have caught on somehow by now. Even something stupid.

Come on, this one was actually kinda good.

My take has always been, if I have to work any harder to get attention than I was already going to, I don't want it. (This is why I bailed on freelancing, btw.) So I don't go out there and connect with people to try to gather any kind of following. I just write my tweets and put them under a rock and wait for them to be stumbled upon.

Here I was, happy to indulge my permanent state of obscurity, celebrating a decade of living happily in a yawning void of online nothingness, and I see someone else scoring big for being me better than I can, to an inherently bigger audience than I could hope to cultivate, partially enabled by the folks who are helping me maintain my total lack of notoriety. He gets to have it both ways, and it turns out the only thing keeping me from being @actioncookbook or more is my own innate inability or lack of willingness to reach out - which may not be as much of a choice as I thought. That's a tough one. But it's really for the best. If I were to achieve any level of success, it might threaten the authenticity and integrity of tweets like this:

You're welcome, world.

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