Thursday, February 9, 2012

Comedy is king on Twitter. Professional humorists and armchair standups alike have amassed legions of followers that hang on every 140-character quip.

Twitter humor is a brand-builder, a great writing exercise, and if you’re really good, it might even land you a job (but probably not, so settle down).

So, what does it take to get laughs at this 24/7 digital cocktail party? We asked some of the funniest tweeters around for their tips on cracking wise in the one-liner Renaissance.

1. Start by Being Funny in the First Place

Bill Corbett knows a thing or two about landing short quips. He's a writer/performer over at RiffTrax.com, and an alum of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the show that invented this stuff.

"First bit of advice: Be a funny person. There may be nothing you can do about this one.

Second bit of advice: Try to understand the short form, and be playful within it. Not everything needs to read like a classic "premise, punchline" joke...But understand that tastes vary wildly. Not everyone will think you're hilarious, and some dicks will make sure to tell you so. Don't worry about it.

Third bit of advice: Really, there are no rules. Ignore my second bit of advice and go back to my first."


2. Follow Funny People

Josh Hara is a cartoonist who draws, tweets and Tumbles his hilarious observations. He suggests stocking your own feed full of funny people first.

"If you are already a bit funny in real life, the next best thing you can do is follow a bunch of funny people. You'll learn so much about how to write jokes just from reading jokes all day.

When you read really good ones, you'll spend a considerable amount of time wishing you wrote it first. Then, once you move on and settle on the fact that you're an entirely worthless human being, you'll do your best to smash your square peg of a brain through the round hole of wit the next time."


3. Focus on Content, Not Retweets

Jake Fogelnest knows a thing or two about Internet comedy. While he's been writing TV for years, he was recently picked as a curator of Tumblr's LOL tag. It's literally his job to find funny things on the Internet.

"The most important thing is to not worry about the results. Don't get obsessed with how many followers you have, who is following you, retweets, favs, etc. Don't let the external validation become the thing. All that stuff will come. You can't start tweeting towards it, you know?"


4. Mix It Up

If you're not following Megan Amram, what's wrong with you? The LA-based comedy writer (whose jokes have graced the 2011 Oscars and the Disney Channel sitcom A.N.T. Farm) is on everyone's "Funniest Tweeters" list.

"As my mom has ACCURATELY concluded and tells me often over the phone, the tweets that seem to be the most popular are TOPICAL or SEX-RELATED.

I think the jokes that work best are little surprises. I try to mix very accessible jokes with super weird ones that make me laugh. I also love wordplay, but I try to reserve the wordplay tweets for only the very best puns."



5. Test the Waters, Get Feedback

Jen Statsky is a writer for Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, and credits Twitter with helping her hone her delivery and ultimately scoring the job. She admires the sheer versatility of 140 characters.

"There's absolutely no limit on the type of jokes people make [on Twitter]. You can use it for observational humor type stuff, topical jokes, entire feeds that are parodies of a person or a fake persona...It allows you to write whatever type of joke you're feeling at that moment, and instantly have it read by people, rather than if you just jotted it down in a notebook.

It's also such a great tool because you can easily see what people respond to via RTs and favs and all that, which you really don't immediately get if you're just writing on your own in a script."


6. Develop a Unique Voice

Lauren Ashley Bishop is a comedian working in LA, but she "comedes all over" according to her Twitter bio. She has a distinct Twitter voice that rarely includes capital letters or punctuation.

"my voice on twitter is more of a caricature of myself than anything, things i would say if there were no morals or consequences in the world. that's fun for me to explore. jake gyllenhaal would also be fun for me to explore.

i get a lot of words yelled at me for not using punctuation, but that's a part of my voice...it has a purpose. i use punctuation like a rest in music - i want you to hear it exactly as i do in my head. if there is no comma or period there is a reason. some people think it's lazy but i've murdered all of them."


7. Be Bold

Mary Charlene has built a following 30K-strong with a wit that's not afraid to bite.

"Don't be afraid to tweet about something you think might offend people. That can get you attention in a good way!"


8. Don't Force It

Writer Rob Delaney crushes it on Twitter with the absurd and observational. He recommends that if a joke doesn't click in 140 characters, throw it away.

"Don't work too hard on a tweet. When you see people trying to, for example, synthesize two current news stories into one 'clever' tweet, it can get pretty clunky and their labor is obvious, rendering their tweet unfunny."


9. Create a Character

Travis Helwig is an "unemployed writer" who keeps a low profile on Twitter. But his alter ego, Your Friend From High School, has amassed over 60,000 followers. She's the cringe-worthy, hometown idiot we all have in our social feeds.

"When I started writing FFHS, it originally followed a larger story arc with multiple characters told through the eyes of this character. But as the followers grew, the nature of the account changed. If I wanted to keep growing, I had to understand that most people would not go back and read every tweet I had written. This made a larger story more difficult. So when the numbers rose, I abandoned the narrative, for the most part, and tried to create easily digestible, more retweetable content. That's pretentious-bullshit-speak for jokes. I started writing one-off jokes."


10. When All Else Fails...

Stand-up, author and political satirist Andy Borowitz has accrued nearly 185,000 followers of his biting wit. His secret?

"You only have 140 characters in which to construct a clever joke. And since 'penis' uses up 5, that leaves you with only 135."