When the website Twitter opened its doors in 2006, few could have guessed how popular it would become. In case you’re somehow unaware, tweets are now widely quoted in news stories around the globe, and various news agencies and websites annually post lists like “The Funniest People On Twitter” and “25 Twitter Accounts Worth Following.” Twitter accounts have been licensed for books, television shows, and films.
Twitter celebrity now has actual cache in our society, for better or worse. On Twitter, Popularity is the currency that buys Celebrity, and Funny is one of the fastest ways to popularity. Life sucks and people want to forget it for five seconds by laughing at a tweet. It isn’t right, it isn’t wrong, it simply IS.
So you’ve got a Twitter account and you want to be funny. But how do you do it? You look at all those popular accounts and you think, “There’s a secret code I can’t break. How do I step into the velvet shoes worn by the likes of Patton Oswalt and @dogboner?” I’ll tell you how.
But why those pesky three words at the end of the article title, “But Not Original”? We’ll get to the subject of originality eventually, but it simply comes down to this: funny isn’t just an algorithm. You can’t fake the funk or the funny, and people will know when you try and fail. However, if you use some of these ideas, at least you’ll have a starting point. Put tab A into slot B and see what happens. Why not? Come on, it’s only fucking Twitter.
Hashtag Riffs / “That Awkward moment When…” / Anti-Pickup Lines / RT If…
- @THEKarlaPacheco: Shit grits on Tuesday, buy a baby coffin on Thursday. #newfolksayings
- @ShittingtonUK: Imagine a small hammer. Something a pigeon could use. Now ask yourself: Why does your character fear change? #confusingwritingadvice
- @IamEnidColeslaw: That awkward moment when I tried starting a slow clap in the hospital after my uncle died.
- @mattytalks: Girl did it hurt when you fell from heaven? No, cool. Then let’s talk about who’s going to pay for my fucking roof
- @MarloMeekins: RT if you admire the restraint people have around you because of your insurmountable sexiness
These are the bread and butter of funny tweeting, the most basic level. If you’ve been nervous about making your humor move, try these on for size and see how it feels. They are the comfort food of funny tweets, like mom’s macaroni & cheese. They won’t challenge you or your readers too much, everyone’s familiar with them. They’ll take you back to those halcyon days of 2009, when funny tweets still seemed original and the world felt full of promise to you instead of walking around looking up all the time for that casket lid that’s slowly covering you in darkness.
- @MarloMeekins: someone un-retweeted me. I’m going to take a walk, skip some stones on a lake, stare at the lake and reflect on this grim experience
- @tartpop: No more applications or resumes, just tell your prospective employer your twitter account & go back to bed.
- @RexHuppke: Guys, stop “friending” me: Twitter is for people I like but don’t know. Facebook is for people I know but don’t like.
- @LarryBlanken: My parents didn’t retweet me enough.
- @HoneyUnhinged: Hey, elite Tweeters: Please be sure to rotate your body’s lying position on the couch every few hours to avoid bed sores.
Once you’ve been on Twitter for awhile, you’ll really start to see the patterns, the generic tropes, and the things that make Twitter what it is. That’s what led me to write this stuff in the first place. You may want to address some of these things in tweet form, like the people above. The difficulty ramps up every year, however, as more and more people become jaded to the system and they’ve probably seen dozens of Twitter-specific gags over the years. I’m not saying this comedy well is dry, but the water level is dangerously low. If you’re going to tweet this kind of thing, really polish that joke until it shines.
Toying With Corporations:
- @NeilHamburger: Intermittent Explosive Disorder. RX: mood stabilizers @Aeropostale: Hitting something that’s broken and expecting it to work again.
- @fart: some people have prosthetics you ass “@BurtsBees: Our lip balm is 100% natural, just like the people who use it! How are you 100% natural?”
Some of you reading this may be corporate drones hoping to “spice up” your Twitter account to get more followers who will spread the word about your product, blah blah synergy blah. This article isn’t really for you because of a very important truth: Corporate accounts are neutered. They can’t swear, they can’t tweet controversial opinions, and they can’t attack other accounts without raising the ire of the hive-mind. You can hurl abuse at McDonald’s on Twitter and they’re not going to bite back because it means bad publicity.
As you can see from the tweets above, corporate accounts want to interact with consumers but they’re so afraid of offending people that they frequently just post some inane question in an attempt to foster a “dialogue” (by which I mean, someone will answer the question and naturally have to re-tweet it with their answer, which means getting the brand into other people’s consciousness).
So I guess you could argue that @NeilHamburger and @fart have technically helped the corporations by reminding their own followers that the companies exist. But so what? It’s fun to rattle the cage and run. Anytime you can make corporate Twitter accounts look stupid, there’s no reason not to. There really isn’t a downside and if your retort is even vaguely humorous, you’ll give your followers a chuckle.
Fake Facts / Fake News:
- @nedroid: Geography Fun Fact: Canada was founded by John Candy
- @FREE_FACTS: Fish never sleep because they are so full of rage
- @barfcaptain: science finds birds to be dickheads. “fuck them” a scientist exclaimed
- @ChaseMit: Scientists say men who drink beer daily reduce their risk of heart attack. As for livers, scientists said “fuck livers” and then high-fived.
As you can see from these false facts and from Karla Pacheco’s hashtag riff above, you’re going to need to let your hair down a little bit and get silly. Well, not completely silly, exactly. People are going to hate you if you just tweet in Baby Talk. “Wisten evewyone, I just wuv to hug wadishes and womaine wettuce!” When I say silly, I mean non sequiturs. I know we’re jumping into the advanced stuff pretty quickly here, but you’ll have to master it eventually if you really want to turn heads in the crowded nightmare hellscape called Twitter.
Pro Tip: Try tweeting drunk. Did it come out funny or just super sad? If you wake up the next morning and discover that you got a bunch of retweets and likes because you tweeted funny observations about the people around you at the bar, or you hurled foul-mouthed insults at your houseplants, cool. Alcohol seems to be your friend on Twitter. But if you wake up and see that you just sent tweets to your various exes, pleading for another chance and included pics of your sobbing face? Then you may want to avoid the drunk tweeting.
Fake Advice (Giving or Requesting):
- @sixthformpoet: If you trip over in public, a cool thing to do is break into a jog, leave the country, have plastic surgery and change your name.
- @dril: if anyone knows what to do if you accidentally swallow an entire cigar while running on the treadmill please contact StogieLad@Yahoo.com
- @markleggett: Write the name of someone you hate on your body every day in permanent marker, so no matter how you die they’ll become a suspect.
- @BoobsRadley: To scare off a mountain lion, try to make yourself appear larger with your clothing, or just shout “I LOVE YOU MOUNTAIN LION!” way too soon.
- @bortflancrest: Is it normal for your right testicle to be larger than your other two?
- @amosvernon: Any tips for how to get a pesky carpet out of my blood vat?
- @virgiltexas: Teens often hide computer pornography in a folder called C:\Windows\System32. Delete this folder if you see it #ChristianParenting #Teaparty
Few things give me the satisfying laughter of a good parody. Fake advice is a great form of humor to use on Twitter because everyone is familiar with how advice columns work, so subverting it for comedic reasons will resonate strongly. If you need help getting started with this, just look at a real advice column somewhere and mimic the questions or the answers. I just looked at a couple questions from a Sex Advice column and this one sprung to mind: “I brought home a one night stand & he panicked when I pulled out the blowtorch so I had to knock him out. Do I have to pay for breakfast?”
Okay, so it’s not going to win the internet. But it took me all of 3 seconds to come up with it. Imagine the re-tweetable hilarity you’ll come up with if you give it a few minutes’ thought. Take note of how many of these tweets started out talking about one thing and ended up taking you in a different direction entirely. The more unexpected the punchline is, the more people will laugh. That brings me to the next section…
Illogical Conclusions & Misdirects:
- @gavinspeiller: The thing I love most about my children is that they don’t exist yet.
- @thepatrickwalsh: I throw you onto the bed and rip your blouse open. You’re mad. The blouse was a gift, and rather expensive. We quietly split a Coke.
- @Mickey_McCauley: Slipped something in a girl’s drink last night. It was a little note that said “You’re awesome and I respect you!”
- @Kendragarden: Still haven’t gotten over the fact that Pluto and Goofy are both dogs and that the babysitter showed me his penis.
- @cakemittens: I’ll give you something to cry about! *dies holding your hand 41 years later*
Boom! You were reading along and the ending came out of nowhere. If you didn’t find any of those funny, it’s okay. Humor is subjective and we’re not all going to laugh at the same tweets. But I have to say that those are some damned fine gags and deserving of their many retweets. In your quest to Tweet Funny, you need to at least find grudging respect for the craft those tweets displayed. The more open you are to different forms of humor, the better your luck will be at snatching those thought crumbs from the invisible sky loaf hovering just above your head.
Puns & Wordplay:
- @sixthformpoet: Short women hate being patronised, a little bird tells me.
- @Boco_T: James Dean is in movies. Jimmy Dean makes sausage. James Deen uses his sausage in movies.
- @tommchenry: Most egregious misuse of an organ: the music of The Doors or my penis?
- @Andy_Dutton: If only there was a modern technique for removing the h from the word “hairbrush”.
- @BrianFukushima: Sexy Kraft Singles are waiting to talk to YOU!
- @gavinspeiller: “All abhorred!”- Bitter Train Conductor
- @gerryboy67: there was a fight during the Far East table tennis karaoke after party. It was a Hong Kong Sing Song Ping Pong Ding Dong.
Uh oh, we’ve reached this part, have we? People seem to either love or hate puns. But even the ones that make you groan in exasperation can still elicit grudging respect from your Twitter peers. Besides, you probably have a dozen puns pop into your head every day, why not tweet the best of them? If you think you’re a punster and want to get into tweeting them, check out some of the above accounts. Take @BrianFukushima, for example. His account is a master class in how to make witty puns, portmanteaus, and other types of wordplay.
WARNING: If you start making puns and your follower count drops sharply, that probably means your puns are more corny than clever. Corny puns are the ones that give punnery a bad name. Get a second opinion if you need to. Corny will kill your Twitter Humor Reputation faster than that “hilarious” joke you’ve got about this morning’s natural disaster in the Caribbean.
- @BenariLee: “There’s Iron Man. She’s Catwoman. He’s Batman. There’s Daredevil & Elektra. Wolverine just won an award…”- me, watching the #GoldenGlobes
- @hodgman: Bradley Cooper wearing a moustache is like the first time you heard a frat dude singing a Pixies song. #Oscars
- @theleanover: “Being a millionaire isn’t enough. I want to read off a TelePrompTer during a show that preempts the Simpsons.” – #GoldenGlobes presenters
- @Richter_Andy: Was on a plane during the Oscars, but I still want to wish everyone self-congratulations.
This is another touchy subject along with puns. There are people who strongly endorse live-tweeting (watching a televised event and simultaneously tweeting funny things about it) and there are those who condemn it. If you’re already famous, this is a no-brainer, go ahead and live-tweet. Half of your followers are probably sycophants who will eat up any tidbit of “insider gossip” or any tweet that sounds like it. But if you’re an average Joe or Jane like me, tread lightly. One of my friends has a policy of unfollowing accounts that live-tweet because he doesn’t want to read 35 tweets about that awards ceremony you’re watching. Know your audience, know your skill level. Patton Oswalt can usually pull off a bunch of funny tweets during an episode of Downton Abbey. You may not be able to do the same.
Pop Culture Tweets:
- @peteec: If you really think about it, 9/11 was the Wright brothers fault.
- @juliussharpe: The advice “The Gambler” gives Kenny Rogers is at best really basic and at worst completely useless.
- @BrianFukushima: Are you there God? It’s a me, Mario.
- @EliBraden: Burger King’s full name was Burger Luther King Jr.
- @meganamram: WHY was Mario Kart not called “Mario Speedwagon”
- @lanyardtwerk: “If you can’t handle me at my Durst, you don’t deserve me at my Fredst.” –Fred Durst
Do you follow the news? Do you read books and magazines? Do you watch television and movies? Do you play video games or read comics? If you answered yes to any of the above, congratulations. You are amongst the elite 100% of people who are qualified to tweet about famous people and cultural properties. The more famous the thing is that you’re tweeting about, the better the chance that your audience has heard of it and they may even be fans. Commonality is a strong element of comedy and should not be underestimated. Do you have any idea how many Star Wars jokes have spawned popular webcomics, movie and song parodies, and gotten followers for Twitter accounts? Sit down and think about something you like. Maybe you have a witty Game of Thrones observation in your head. Maybe your love (or hate!) of a particular video game series will inspire a tweet so big that Favstar can’t contain it. Sky’s the limit, my friend.
Quotes (Real or Fake):
- @MarloMeekins: “love is like a fart: if you have to force it, it’s probably crap” -my great aunt
- @ShitMyDadSays: “There won’t be humans in 500 years. Enough people choke themselves when they jerk off we gave it a name. We ain’t a species made to last.”
- @vladchoc: Your first instinct is gonna be to spell “leopard” and “deaf” correctly. You’re going to want to resist that. — Best band manager ever.
Remember our friend the Fake Advice Tweet? Here is its sibling, the Quote Tweet. This may be something you overheard on the ‘L’ in Chicago. It may be some off-color thing your zany grandma said over breakfast. It may be something Napoleon never actually said but you think he should have. If it makes you laugh, tweet it. I’m not recommending opening a book of pithy quotes and just tweeting them all. The more obscure or unexpected the quote is, the better. And heaven knows, you don’t want to be known as That Twitter Account That Only Tweets Quotes They Found Somewhere. Unless that’s the entire point of your account, like Overheard In New York. But obviously, if that’s the case then the rest of this essay is pointless to you.
- @dril: “the ancient americans had over 20 words for sandwich but only 1 word for betamax. fucked up but real” says a future man to his crystal son
- @ShittingtonUK: “Aaand the blonde lady’s comforting herself with her fingers, bein’ her own husband for a spell.”—Old prospector narrates porn for the blind
- @ReptileClinton: SON what did I tell you about drawing ancient runes with your Etch A Sketch? Don’t apologize to me apologize to the Elder Thing you summoned
Pure imagination is a powerful thing. Combine it with humor and you could write Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. You might write The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Or you might just tweet a fucking hilarious miniature tale in 140 characters or less. There is a definite art to this. We’re into some Advanced Level, calculus-style Twitter shit now. You either have it or you don’t. If your brain doesn’t work like this, don’t feel bad. We’re finally dipping our toes into the murky depths of originality now. No more can you simply follow a flowchart to Laugh Town and wow your followers with a clever hashtag. From here on out, we separate the truly gifted Twitterers from the wannabes.
- @MarloMeekins: conveyor belt of grilled cheese sandwiches forever into your mouth
- @EliTerry: A condom with a synthetic skin tip so you can still use your penis to play your favorite iPhone games.
- @drugleaf: A chia pet that grows cooked spaghetti out of its holes instead of grass
As we move further into the territory of imagination, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Conceptual Nouns on Twitter. These ideas may come to you when you’re lying around thinking or when you’re staring at an actual object somewhere. I can’t begin to tell you HOW to come up with these tweets, just be aware of what your brain is doing. Daydreaming is great, you just need to write down or type out your funniest ideas when they hit you because there’s no guarantee you’ll still remember that idea about “a car with four steering wheels so everybody gets to fight for their own destination” when you get home from work.
Complete Absurdity (“Weird Twitter”):
- @wolfpupy: rat city isnt big enough for us regular size people [trips over cardboard rat building, destroying hundreds of rat businesses]
- @dril: WHO SUMMONE D WRESTLERS TO MY YARD. I DESPERATELY NEED STOMACH MEDS AND IM AFRAID TO GO LEAVE HOSUE. MY BIRDBATH HAS ALREADY BEEN SUPLEXED
- @drugleaf: when i die rig my coffin to blast Slayer at full blast when opened. grave robbers will be too busy headbanging to steal my sexy crystal eyes
Did I say puns are polarizing? Weird Twitter is full of the kind of humor you get in Adult Swim cartoons on Cartoon Network. Sometimes it’s so brilliant you feel like a new thought pathway just opened up in your brain. Other times you’re laughing because it’s a tweet so dumb you need to be high to “get it.” Sometimes you just have to shake your head in confusion and move on to the next thing in your Twitter feed.
The “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” nature of these tweets is such that not every tweet will be hilarious. These accounts from the Weird side of Twitter often tweet dozens or hundreds of times a day. Their followers are used to that and expect it. Is this the humor you want to try? Think hard about it and get ready to say goodbye to the “normal” folks on Twitter who probably don’t want to see your tenth tweet today about pooping razor blades. I’ll admit that I’m old and it’s not really my type of Twitter humor, but I sure am glad somebody’s still out there being strange.
Stand-Up Comedy (including Autobiographical):
- @joshgondelman: Birth was literally my greatest athletic achievement.
- @RobDenBleyker: who is this Rorschach guy and why did he paint so many pictures of my parents fighting
- @johnfreiler: if i owned a pornography store, i’d display all my dildos on a hot dog roller from 7-11
- @wheatnik: My bucket list is just the words “afford things” written in orange crayon on a paper towel.
- @fart: i saw an ad on craigslist once that said “free firewood, u collect it” so i wrote the guy and said “bud you just wrote an ad for the woods”
- @DannyZuker: I’m constantly amazed at how different my twin daughters are. Lisa is so much more positive & confident than her sister Hog Face.
- @robfee: My dad explained sex to me by putting a tape in a VCR & ejecting it over and over until he had an orgasm. It was weird.
- @ladybirdj: If someone says they’re only human, give them a second look. That sure does sound like something a robot would say.
- @GreenishDuck: Crabs always look like they’re walking themselves out of an awkward situation.
- @almightygod: “To most Christians, the Bible is like a software license. Nobody actually reads it. They just scroll to the bottom and click ‘I agree’.”
- @NotDeakins: I’m beginning to think the wireless mouse was invented just so there was one less thing to hang yourself with at work.
- @CandyWarhole: “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is an awesome phrase, but it’s a horrible way to tell your kid they’re adopted.
- @AmberDonn: It’s weird how Alzheimer’s makes Granddad forget his pants all the time but he never forgets he’s a racist.
Well, we had to get here eventually. Standup comedy is just as popular on Twitter as it is in real life. The only difference is that the jokes are incredibly short, potent shots of funny, barely more than a punchline sometimes. I consider this to be amongst the most difficult ways of being funny on Twitter because you can’t fake it.
There isn’t some funny hashtag you can riff on, some funny portmanteau you can make by jamming two words together. You have to understand the mechanics of how comedy works: the setup, the punchline, and whatever that shit is in between. The funny idea has to come from your own brain, it has to be somehow different from the joke everyone else is making about the same thing, and you have to know which words to put in which order to maximize the laughter potential. It’s easy to screw up and it’s why so very few people get paid to write funny things. There’s nothing I can say to help you with this one except to tell you the same advice new comedians get in the clubs: keep practicing, trust your instincts, and hone your craft.
I’d like to leave you with a reminder that you don’t actually need to “choose” one of these Twitter humor styles. You can tweet a hundred different things and have them all be from entirely different comedy disciplines. I simply wanted to write a few of these genres down so you’ll be aware of what’s out there and why it works. Stay ridiculous and happy tweeting.
Disclaimer: Tim Hulsizer is not a professional comedian, he rarely gets retweeted, and it took him three years to crack 100 followers on Twitter. His account is @glamcrackers.