I love Twitter! None of the privacy issues or complexity of other social sites! I can tell jokes or type whatever I want, and if people don’t like it they can SUCK IT! Boom! Blocked! Who cares! And 140 characters is the perfect challenge for short jokes.
Comedians who love stand-up most (that’s me!) will be tweeting while dreaming of their next set. And sooner or later the desire will creep in… Do I tell this tweet to real live people? I wrote this joke in my underpants while eating ice cream cake and half-watching Real Housewives. Surely this is the same as when I jot genius in my notebook at the cafe, right?
I’ve tried it a bunch. I’m not normally drawn to telling short jokes on stage. I don’t like formulas. But Batman isn’t all carefully plotted throat punches. He needs a couple zippy gadgets now and then for pacing! Short bits make great for segues. Some Tweets work. Many don’t. Here’s one that didn’t!
A poll shows Eagles fans are divided over Michael Vick. Vick would love to see both sides settle their differences in a small cage, tearing at each other’s throats.
I posted this as soon as news broke that Vick would join the Eagles. The poll was new and well known. The Tweet went great! RTs! Faves! It was a grim one, sure, but I was a proud fellow that day let me tell you. Nothing feels better than online validation… except for actual, real validation.
The first time I told it onstage, I remember taking time to word it a little more organically. Man alive it tanked. Perhaps even a gentle boo occurred. This was in a set that was going great. I remember talking my way out of my hole, but I smelled my own blood in the water as I got off stage. I should have buried it there, but now I had a chip on my shoulder. This joke KILLED on Twitter! I would set it up with more confidence this time. The set was going great again… oof. Milliseconds of muffled snickers followed by silence only known previously to astronauts in the vacuum of space.
With the benefit of time to drain the self-hatred flavored adrenaline from my body, I took a look at what was wrong with me telling this joke on stage. Any number of these things that I could think of could have effected the response.
- 1) When I walk onstage you can immediately tell I’m geeky and therefore probably don’t like sports . I’m a gangly 6′ 5″, pale, be-speckled, and my head has a cartoonish egg shape that I attempt to hide by spiking my hair. Whenever I start talking about sports, you can actually hear the soft, wet rolling of eyes in sockets. So sports fans in the audience were instantly on the defensive. And that’s 99% of everyone.
- 2) You could tell from my delivery that I was a little too proud of my slam on Vick. It’s not polite to be proud while talking about hurt puppies. The setup requires the audience think I really want to talk about football. If I seem even slightly smarmy, they see the twist coming.
- 3) The punchline isn’t exactly a layer cake of delights, but it is referring to Vick’s dog fighting without so much as mentioning dogs. What if they think I’m just saying he’s mean? Lame. It’s a reference perhaps easier recalled when looking at text.
- 4) There might be more there, a longer observational bit using a more elaborate metaphor. The short version might be “snappier,” but it does not exactly bore deeply from the irony mine.
- 5) Circling back to #1, it might sound like I am deliberately and literally taking on Vick’s imaginary point of view and calling sports fans people who should fight in cages to the death.
Each time a joke has an obstacle like this in the writing, the performance is ratcheted up a level of difficulty. In other words, I probably “could” have made this joke work. The simple answer might simply be that the joke wasn’t in my voice.
Staring at text, I can imagine being cool, my voice the perfect pitch. Twitter can be forgiving like that. When it’s short and topical, it’s not hard to automatically impose a Conan or Fallon or Kimmel like air of confidence on the author. In fact, while Conan is probably too nice for this joke, I believe I wrote it thinking how sweet this jock-over-nerdism could sound. As a result, it was a case of having the wrong words in the wrong mouth.
Dan Telfer can be tracked @dantelfer
Image: Dan Telfer