How I Used Twitter to Spy on My Fans, by Iliza Shlesinger

When Iliza Shlesinger released her latest stand-up special, Freezing Hot, on Netflix a month ago, the former Last Comic Standing winner decided to employ Twitter hashtags as fleeting graphics onscreen alongside her routines. Sure, she’d like to be a trending topic as much as the next comedian. But she had deeper motives than that in play, as she explains in this essay, “How I Used Twitter to Spy on My Fans.”

This essay originally appeared on The Huffington Post and is republished here with permission from Shlesinger.

But first, a trailer clip from Iliza Shlesinger: Freezing Hot, on Netflix.

Twitter is my best friend. It’s my boyfriend when I’m single, my audience when I’m not on stage and my friend when I’m alone in an airport at 4 a.m. Twitter is more than just a “social media tool” (Ugh, I hate that phrase, it just sounds like it should accompany a power point presentation on “The Power of the Internet”) — it’s a living thing with a never ending stream of consciousness.

I turn to it for comfort, affirmation and as a distraction when I’m on the toilet (don’t “ew” me, you know you do it too.)

When I watch TV, I do it with my phone in my hand. I love interacting with the show hashtags and live tweeting. One time I live tweeted the Miss America Pageant only to find out I had been watching a repeat. Oh well, the jokes were still funny. The point is TV is more than just something you view, now it’s interactive — people like to feel like they’re part of the show. Stand up comedy relies on the audience feeling like they are in on the joke — you laugh at a joke for two reasons, either because you relate to what the person is saying or because it’s so ridiculous that you can’t imagine ever thinking that. So, given that you already have an emotional connection when you watch stand up, when we were editing Freezing Hot, I wanted to make it interactive. I wanted the special to be more than just something people passively watched, I wanted them to feel that it was theirs as well, that they were part of it.

I look at an audience like a room filled with friends, and we have a lot of inside jokes. I wanted to recreate that feeling with my fans as they watched the special, even though we wouldn’t all be together. I couldn’t believe that no one had put hashtags in their comedy specials yet, almost every other brand on earth has a hashtag. Dulcolax stool softener has a hashtag for God’s sake, so why not in stand up specials? I knew that if I was going to take the risk of editing in hashtags (remember when hashtags were called pound signs? Oh my God, remember having a land line?!) I had to respect two things: creativity and the viewer’s time. I couldn’t fill the special with #s every other minute and I couldn’t leave them up there for that long, because that’s distracting. I wanted unique hashtags on phrases I had made up, not common words. You can’t put a # before a word like DATES and expect to think all those # responses on Twitter are for you. I wanted them to flash on the screen so they were more like hidden surprises than a mandate to interact with the special. I also put the #s in so I could, well, stalk my viewers. I don’t get viewer numbers from Netflix so I felt built in #s would be my best way to be able to track if and when people were watching and I’d also get to, for fun, see what bits they liked the best.

What has surprised me the most is how many MEN tweet the hashtag #PumpkinEverything — I mean, this is a joke that is targeted at women, no question about it. I love that even though it’s a comment on the female obsession with fall, men feel included because, well I suppose any man that has dated a woman has felt the effects of our passion for autumn. Any man that lives with a woman has woken up to house ensconced in cinnamon sticks and pumpkin farts. When dudes interact with #PumpkinEverything the message to me is “oh my God, this girl understands my girlfriend” and when girls tweet it, the subtext is “oh my God, this girl gets me!” THAT, or secretly, dudes like fall shit too.

I blush a little anytime people retweet #vaginalPuppetry — it’s one of those jokes that sort of stands alone insofar as like, I don’t do “vagina” jokes. Minus the F bombs, it’s a clean act. My point in writing it wasn’t to gross anyone out or shock anyone, it was a commentary on the idea that men can do gross things with their penises and women have no recourse… Until now. I’d like to think that by inventing #RaptorVag I’m arming women (hypothetically, if you don’t count my behavior last night) with a retaliation strategy for anytime your boyfriend decides to show you the wonders of his flaccid penis as it slaps back and forth in rhythmic repetition against his thighs. Simple as that. It’s about equality!

By far, my favorite one is #PartyGoblin, this one has really taken on a life of its own. I’ve reveled in people sharing with me what their Party Goblins look like. People send me pictures, memes, descriptions… I hope to expound on her as a character in future projects. She’s already made an appearance on my instagram, @ilizas.

I think stand up is also about pointing out the obvious and making fun of it. Why is a fried shrimp even included in our emoji bank? No one has ever said, “Wow, I just can’t convey my feelings over text without a deep fried crustacean option!” I mean, I know why they have a fried shrimp, same reason they have a kimono and a Japanese flag in there, emojis are Japanese concept… That is, after all, a Panko fried shrimp, FYI. But still, as far as Western use goes, I thought it was such a funny little thing to have, I just wanted to see if anyone else found it ridiculous too, so that’s where #friedShrimp (there should be just the emoji of a fried shrimp there, we couldn’t figure out the technology on inserting in in this blog template) came from. To be fair there are tons of random emojis out there, but I think the word “shrimp” is always funny. There was a method to my madness. Also I love shrimp. Wow, that devolved quickly.

Another fun one has been #Flaahbread. People will share with my pictures of menus with “flatbread” on them, they’ll send me pictures of their flatbread, they’ll tweet me when they overhear people ordering it. I was at AOC in LA and, God this was so touching, the waitstaff sent over a flatbread because they were huge fans of the bit. Then they charged me for it. Kidding.

The most rewarding part is people sending me screen grabs of conversations where a friend will text them one of my jokes. To have my comedy be part of people’s everyday lives is so gratifying. It’s comforting to know that the thoughts that wake me up in the middle of the night are being put toward something constructive! It’s so fucking awesome.

And that’s what the hashtags are all about, the community it creates. A community centered around Freezing Hot! It’s a small dictatorship that I rule over, 140 characters at a time.

Iliza Shlesinger: Freezing Hot is available for viewing now on Netflix.

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.

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