Don’t Call It Weird Twitter

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When Patton Oswalt got the Comedians of Comedy together, they just wanted to do something different. It was a self-appointed name for a group of comedians on the same wavelength. It expanded to include the droll, nerd-humor of Brian Posehn, the neurotic, self-deprecating humor of Maria Bamford, and the enigmatic, antagonistic humor of Zach Galifianakis. The movie based around their tour is an insular, absurd documentary that chronicles the group blazing around the country playing to indie-rock clubs. What else would they be called besides the Comedians of Comedy—something so acerbic and silly that it perfectly defines their humor.

The Twitterers of Twitter doesn’t roll off the tongue as easy, but that’s as close as any name can come to an amorphous community of people who also just try to make each other laugh. Right now, it’s known to many as “Weird Twitter,” but there’s got to be a better name for it.

None of the people in this community set out to become celebrities or to use Twitter as any kind of marketing tool for another enterprise. They essentially migrated to the social network from various message boards and lesser networks to tell the kind of jokes that get bandied around within a close-knit group of friends, or jokes layered in bizarre narratives and layers of irony. They are the kind of jokes that land in the very back of the house, and people started playing around with them in what is essentially the world’s largest free online comedy club.

A long-time regular at the club is a guy named fart. “According to my app thing I’m user 14 million-something, so I’m not really sure how the username ‘fart’ was still free by then,” he says. “I’m guessing there was a previous person named fart who decided it was stupid and a bad idea and deleted their account, and I can’t blame them.”

fart is actually Jon Hendren, a writer from San Jose, Calif. who has been on Twitter since 2008. He initially used the site as a personal notebook for jokes he’d think of during the day, not really expecting anyone else to read or care about them. Some of those jokes include, “No Tweet results for ‘i’m devoting my life to the betterment of humanity’ / multiple for ‘pussy look like a burger,’” “the beard is just a fedora for a different part of your head,” and “RT if you wish falconry played a larger role in the rap game.”

As it goes on Twitter, people start following people who make them laugh. Just like there are legions of Justin Bieber fans who communicate through #belieber hashtag, or there are music fans who follow every band they like and talk about what songs they are #np, so too do people start to gravitate around a sardonic, transgressive joke style on Twitter. As the gravity grew stronger in this strange, new little community, Hendren’s followers grew. He now has about 55,000 of them. “There’s a really loose congregation of people with similar senses of humor that all got lumped into this ‘weird twitter’ category, and trying to place any number of people under a single umbrella or definition is really silly and superficial and bound to cause trouble,” he says.

Other than the lazy and reductive word “weird” itself, there are no real boundaries or rules in this community. Twitter has a habit of becoming a microcosm of formed communities that try echo the most idyllic real-life communities we’d like to be apart of. People who inform us, people smarter than us, people who are more famous than us, and certainly, a cabal of friends who make us laugh. To some, curating your online social group the most important aspect of Twitter. But should you try to define it, like the Comedians of Comedy?

“It’s people shooting the shit and telling weird jokes that wouldn’t go over as well with their real friends,” Hendren says. Last year, a PhD student named Sebastian Benthall also tried to define this community, what this group of surreal funnymen and funnywomen were even doing here. It was like studying a group of comedians hanging out in a backstage building on each other’s jokes. “Twitter is a different experience for everyone,” Hendren elaborates. “Because we all follow a different set of people who we see as being in ‘our circle’ or whatever, so a lot of really dumb folks—for lack of a more appropriate term—got really upset that they or their friends were/weren’t included. I can see why it’s controversial, but the whole thing is just really silly.”

To Benthall’s credit, there is an innate desire to want to try to catalog something new, to be new-media’s taxonomists because if you can’t understand them, you can at least explain them away. BuzzFeed writers and tacit Weird Twitter liaisons Katie Notopoulos and John Herrman exhaustively catalogued the community in their piece, Weird Twitter: The Oral History. “It’s a terrible name and annoying to use, but whatever else ‘Weird Twitter’ might be, it’s basically FYAD posters, members from ‘FYAD-lite’ forums who are all on a similar comic wavelength, and Twitter accounts they’ve found. That’s really it.”

That’s Jeb Lund, who until recently was tweeting under an anonymous account named after the somewhat infamous Congolese despot, Mobute Sese Seko. His version of the origin myth may be the most concrete one that there is. He and a group of people who used to post on the message board site SomethingAwful.com migrated over to Twitter around the same time Hendren did. The “FYAD” that he refers to is a particularly nefarious message board (the acronym stands for “fuck you and die”) where inferred hierarchies, transgressive humor, and being kind of a dick reign supreme. “There’s a reason why laughing that someone is ‘only operating on a couple layers of irony’ is a recurring FYAD line,” Lund adds.

Without going into the byzantine rules and history of that message board, its black-humored soul carries over to this group of comedians on Twitter. The idea is that you can take backroom in-jokes, touch them up a little bit, and offer them up to the public. Now, Twitter is place where @Mobute will make a joke like, “Hitler was totally a Hitler purist. Even Hitler would have said that Hitler was a real Hitler’s Hitler,” and there’s finally an audience for it.

So what was once a closed-door community of back-and-forth jokes to see who could push the envelope the furthest now exists in an incredibly public space that people can stumble upon at any moment. “There are several kind of classic FYAD references that people might make—diapers, having someone murder your balls at Burning Man, anhedonic celibacy, yearning for death—but that are funny/unfunny entirely on their own terms. The thing is, even if a lot of this is ‘FYAD humor,’” Lund says, “the members of that forum all come at things really differently. @fart really likes making jokes about diapers and being ‘in the club,’ whereas someone like @brendlewhat spends half his time mocking horseshit neo-liberalism, @bro_pair is talking about Palestine, and someone like @graeyalien is just on a totally different level from anybody.”
Which is where the idea of categorizing a group of enigmatic micro-humorists as simple as you would Music Twitter or Teen Twitter becomes problematic. Because, as Hendren points out, “Diaper Twitter is also pretty huge. As are Cuckold Twitter, Otherkin Twitter, Comedian Twitter, gosh, practically any subject has a community around it at this point.”

Twenty-one-percent of people who use the Internet are now on Twitter—it’s the fastest-growing social-media platform in the world. Inside Twitter, there are thousands of built-in and constantly-shifting narratives that have developed in its seven-year existence. Those who want to keep subverting the platform through comedy are the ones who make fun of the sexist Men’s Humor accounts and Fake Stewie Griffin accounts, who write the kind of jokes that are for, as Lund says, “people who probably rely on people new to Twitter or who prefer their comedy to be frequent, familiar, and frequent and familiar.”

So if you’re new to Twitter, @mobute, @fart, and the many people they follow and retweet may seem “weird,” like the first time you saw Zach Galifianakis tell wan one-liners over melancholy piano lines, or the first time you heard Maria Bamford do an impression of her sister doing an impression of Maria Bamford. But like the Comedians of Comedy, this group is, whether they want to admit it or not, subversive. Subversive Comedy Twitter? Naw, too clunky.

Asked for the perfect tweet, Hendren points to a joke by @ brendlewhat. Comedy isn’t always subversive, but the best comedians strive for perfection, constantly push their audience to think for themselves, and challenge the status quo. Given those characteristics as a guide, this isn’t Weird Twitter. It’s Perfect Twitter.

“Hello sir, I- briefcase full of jellybeans falls open

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