The process of building a following on twitter has been of interest to me for some time. I had come to the conclusion that twitter consisted, rather strictly, of ordinary people following influential brands, be they corporations or celebrities. Recently however, I have uncovered and increasing raft of comedy accounts that are not only completely original, but invert and undermine my original assumption.
The most prevalent form of these is the spoof account. Often surreal, often satirical, these accounts capitalise on the very public images of their subjects. Be it burlesque treatment of a straight-laced persona, or an all-too-honest exaggeration of a persona or corporation with distasteful opinions or policies, when done with considered characterisation that relates to the subject (rather than being superfluous with over-the-top content, these can quickly become ‘must-follow) accounts. Here are some of my favourite spoof accounts:
@DianaInHeaven: In opposition to the overly-romantic and obsessive treatment of the former ‘Queen of Hearts’, especially in the British tabloids, the foul-mouthed Diana in Heaven rails on those that pore over her memory, from heaven. Her place in heaven also puts her in a position to explain what the dead do once they reach the freedom of the promised land.
Favourite tweets: “The members of the 27 Club are all wearing matching personalised T-shirts today. Like the weirdest stag party you’ve ever seen.”
“I’m actually having to sit on Harry Nilsson’s face so he can’t get to the remote and put his show back on again.”
@DMReporter: The ubiquitous tabloid hack ‘Daily Mail Reporter’ has been the anonymous scourge of truth and justice in journalism for some time now. Daily Mail Reporter’s articles tend to be the most unsubstantiated and alarmist published by even the Daily Mail; it would be funny if it wasn’t true. This is what the @DMReporter feed provides: it parodies the sort of ridiculous and offensive opinions forwarded by the Mail, without the sad truth that someone actually believes them.
Favourite tweets: “This week’s Daily Mail Cancer List: Mon) Enzymes Tue) Crop circles Wed) Aries Thu) Beef Fri) Apathy Sat) Tulips Sun) The gay gene.”
“SOCIETY: “aspire to be middle class or risk losing benefits” – Cameron’s stark warning to scrounging poor.”
@BPCares: British Petroleum have probably never been a very sympathetic company, but when one of their oil drilling rigs leaked in to the Gulf Coast last year, and the company and its chief executive seemed aloof and slow to clean up the devastation it created, they became arguably the most hated company in the world. This feed satirises the public relations efforts by BP and similar oil companies that attempt to varnish their activities with a painfully thin veneer of ‘caring’ about the environment and their customers.
Favourite tweets: “We don’t respect you. We care for you. There’s a big difference. #bpcares”
“We care that gas is a limited resource, which is why we encourage higher gas prices for lower consumption. #bpcares”
These are undoubtedly original ideas, but they also feed off entities from the ‘real’ world. More novel are the brand new characters that can be seen in growing numbers on twitter. This is a completely unique form of comedy where the points of reference for the reader isn’t the character’s real-life counterpart, but the up-front characterisation entailed in profile pictures and twitter bios. To create a successful comedy twitter character, without being a well-known name, is no mean feat, and here are a few of my favourites:
@BRIANGITTINS1: Brian Gittins is essentially a masked suburban creep who spends his time making strange songs and documenting his every move to create a darkly surreal chain-of-consciousness. He once spent a whole day describing an absurd series of events which saw him getting stuck in a chimney, coming face to face with pigeons therein and steadily moving up and down in an inept attempt to escape. Almost child-like, Gittins’s tweets are somewhat reminiscent of Harry Hill, in their domestically-set surrealism.
Favourite tweets: “Bloody hell, that’s the fifth pissed up helicopter pilot to fly over the village in the last 24hrs”
“I sold my doormat to the man that runs ‘The West Wittering Helter Skelter Experience’ yesterday.”
@YourAuntDiane: Our Aunt Diane is a stereotypically embarrassing sexually-adventurous family member-come-hippy. Her flimsy spiritual eroticism works brilliantly when delivered in this calm, straight way, and the way the character plays upon old-fashioned views of new-agism without descending in to sarcasm makes her a wonderfully considered and well realised comedy character.
Favourite Tweets: “At #burningman theres a saying that you havent lived until youve defecated with 100 naked strangers. Well, Ive lived enough for 7 lifetimes!”
“Terrified and aroused thinking about my tantric mammogram later today.”
@ericasfish: A rare tweeter, but worth the wait in between tweets. Erica’s fish provides a constant commentary on its life from inside the goldfish bowl . Describing its relationship with ‘the human’ (Erica) and ‘the cat’, Erica’s fish is not only fantastically surreal, but also charmingly poetic.
Favourite tweets: “The cat is asleep with a paw on her face. She is a heap of dumbness, mesmerizing and beautiful.”
“Pure stress in this house: the feeble chatter about dinner and taxes, the meowing, the prancing about of uncoordinated limbs.”
Usually, being limited to 140 characters would be a hindrance to any comedy short of antiquated gags, but on twitter it lends itself to composite characterisation which makes for strong, well drawn characters with a continually evolving comedic depth rare in all but the longest-running sitcoms. The best, and most unique, thing about twitter comedy characters, however, is the feeling that these characters are living entities. This is the benefit of twitter generally, which emphasises ‘timely’ comments about ‘what’s happening around the world’. Whereas most comedy characters can’t be placed in a specific time in relation to the ‘real’ world, twitter comedy characters can and are, affording them an air of authenticity that most comedy characters lack. At the time of writing, the twitter character may be a little-known form of modern comedy, but the trend is growing, and it is the first genuinely new comedic form to be forged in recent memory.
by David Jackson
While researching this piece, David created his own spoof account, @LibertyStat