Perils of comedy on Twitter. Case study: Parallel thinking, topical; see Dane Cook, Aziz Ansari

Writing comedy on Twitter carries with it some of the same perils of performing comedy in front of a live audience: The notion that the audience may have heard it all before, either through parallel thinking (or if you dared to steal the joke outright), that the material is hack, that the jokes are offensive without any redeeming value, or, worst of all, that you turn out to not be funny at all.

Twitter being a very social medium, it also has become an alluring device for comedians. Instead of jotting down ideas in a notebook as they strike you, comedians can immediately share their wit with their followers online. Twitter also serves as a real-time counter to that perpetual threat comedians face from the public at-large, that any random person will, upon hearing you're a comedian, try to get you to "say something funny." Instead of feeling cornered by that threat, a comedian now can simply point the offender to his/her Twitter.

At the same time, though, Twitter challenges every comedian to be better at their job. As tempting and as appealing as it may be to weigh in and share every thought you have with your followers, remember that millions of other people are doing the very same thing at every minute of the day. So an Apple employee lost the next-generation super-secret iPhone, and Gizmodo paid the guy who found it to publish details about it. What if you, as a joke, pretended to be the guy who lost the phone? That's what Dane Cook did on April 19:Danecookiphone

Followed a day later by this:


Cook's fans let him know about this, because last night, Cook wrote: "@azizansari is cool. comics have similar premises guys. I was quicker on the topical bc I read @gizmodo every hour. I'm a gadgeteer."

Must have been delicious irony for Cook, who has had to deal with old-tech allegations of parallel thinking for years.

They aren't the only ones to come up with the same joke about something topical, of course. As Witstream's Lisa Cohen told me during the Twitter #140conf yesterday, Twitter's threat of parallel thinking forces comedy writers to raise their game.
I agree. I had told her about something I said on Twitter and Facebook during the Winter Olympics, when I saw the same exact luge and curling jokes I had seen four years earlier, and four years before that. It's just that for many people, Twitter remains such a new way to communicate instantly with anyone and everyone, some users forget that there are millions of others thinking the exact same thing.

Before you hit send, you may want to think, am I really first? Am I really original?

One to grow on…

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

View all posts by Sean L. McCarthy →

5 thoughts on “Perils of comedy on Twitter. Case study: Parallel thinking, topical; see Dane Cook, Aziz Ansari

  1. Not everyone follows the same people, so your not always gonna see the same joke more than once. Also, with Twitter that seems to be its purpose, just write down whatever you think is funny at the moment. Topical humor is something everyone gets away with and 9 times out of 10 the joke is extremely similar to another comics. Twitter is perfect for topical humor.

  2. If I had a nickel for every time a comedian said “Bush is so stupid” / “McCain is so old” / “Obama is so black” / “Tiger Woods” / “facebook” / “homeless people” etc….

  3. I don’t know if it makes comics “better”–but it does force them to be faster if they want to swim in the topical waters.
    Getting to a good idea first is becoming more important than refining the idea to the best way to present that take on a topic.
    Adding the Twitterverse to the already crowded field of late night talk show hosts and news parody/satire producers in the world has definitely made me rethink the amount of time I was spending creating topical jokes for my own act.
    Compared to that…as far as I know, I’m the only one trying to spin comedy gold out of the strands of my own life. (Now, I just have to live a life that is both universal and personal, and not just a parallel life that some other comedian might be living.)

  4. I’m fascinated when I come across parallel thinking, either between myself and someone else or two other comics. 6.5 billion brains can’t have 6.5 billion unique thoughts. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to suggest that the best way to stop the volcano from erupting was to stop putting alka seltzer in it.
    It’s interesting because it’s something of a writing exercise. People on Twitter might write jokes about the same topic but they’re going to arrive at them in slightly different ways. There’s nuance and rhythm within each syllable. Literal parallel thinking is very rare, or it’s stealing.
    For me, putting topical stuff on Twitter is mostly so my brain can stop wasting time thinking about it, and to try and bypass the low hanging fruit that is where most of the parallel thinking occurs. I’m already focus grouping tweets for this year’s Shark Week.
    Now let’s just be glad all 6.5 billion of us idiots aren’t on Twitter. Yet.

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