Twitter Wit Brilliance in 140 Characters or Less
Edited by Nick Douglas
With a Foreword by Biz Stone
Foreword Introduction Begin Reading Acknowledgments About the Editor Credits Copyright About the Publisher
It’s easy to assign less weight to a pun than a poem—after all, laughter lightens the load.However, the significance of humor as a delivery mechanism for important information should notbe underestimated. Satirist Stephen Colbert called Twitter “the answer to the question youdidn’t know you had until you had the answer.” In poking fun at this new form ofcommunication, Mr. Colbert highlighted the very essence of innovation; breakthroughs likeTwitter often occur by happy accident.
In the past decade, something interesting has been happening. People have been moving theirelectronic communication from closed systems like e-mail to open systems like social networks.There’s more value in messages shared publicly because more opportunities arise. A kind ofsocial alchemy takes place when a seemingly valueless message finds its way to someone for whomit strikes a chord. Lead can be turned into gold on an open communication network.
Simple, rudimentary exchanges of information between individuals in real time enables a flockof birds to move around an object in flight as if they were one organism. Speed and simplicitywork together to create something of beauty. There are over a billion Internet users on thisplanet but there are four billion people with access to mobile texting. Twitter blends thesenetworks with speed and simplicity and opens the combination to development. That means moreopportunities for beauty—and well-timed zingers.
The first weekend we began experimenting with the concept of Twitter, I was tearing carpetingfrom the floor of my home in Berkeley, California. It was a hot day and my back was aching. Myphone buzzed in my pocket. It was a tweet by my friend and long-time collaborator EvanWilliams: “Sipping pinot noir in Sonoma after a massage.” The striking difference between ourtwo activities in that moment made me laugh out loud. When I realized our experiment was makingme laugh, I knew it had potential.
We’ve seen people use Twitter to help each other during disasters, to break incredible news,to raise money for charities halfway around the world, to organize protests, to fightinjustice, and simply to have fun. Through it all, there has been quickness, grace, simplicity,and humor—there has been wit. No matter how sophisticated the system becomes, it will never beabout algorithms and machines. Wit is a powerful reminder that Twitter is not about the triumphof technology; it’s about the triumph of humanity.
However, Oscar Wilde famously wrote, “It is a curious fact that people are never so trivial aswhen they take themselves seriously.” As powerful as this system has the potential to be,we’d be nowhere without a good dose of funny. Humor makes life worth the effort. If everyonewere serious all the time, I’m pretty sure we’d never get any work done. We’re hiring prettyaggressively at our company these days, and key factors we look for are a good sense of humorand an active Twitter account.
Some of my favorite tweets are those that make me laugh all over again each time I revisitthem. My friend Philip is an incredibly brilliant person. He’s a musically and mathematicallygifted serial entrepreneur with a goofy laugh and an impressive array of idiosyncrasies. He’salso very tall and quintessentially geeky. In the middle of the night he Twittered, “Taking abath. Come over if you want to learn about water displacement.” It wouldn’t surprise me tolearn that he was prepared to discuss fluid mechanics with anyone who responded.
Wit is a wonderful word to associate with something that may turn out to be a favorablemutation in the evolution of human communication. Sharp, quick, inventive, and intelligent,with a natural aptitude for words, ideas, and humor: The very definition of wit brings to mindthe people with whom I share my days. The heart of Twitter is the small team of folks workingout of a loft in San Francisco, but our soul is made up of everyone around the world sharing,discovering, and building on this service.
A spark of genius from my friend and cofounder Jack Dorsey has transmuted from a simple idea tosomething mysteriously powerful. Given a limit of 140 characters, people consistently reaffirmthat creativity is a renewable resource. It’s easy to dismiss this simple new format upon
first introduction, but tune in to the right frequency and you’ll enter a world this book’scurator wanders as a curious explorer. Keep your wits about you and enjoy this collection ofTwitticisms. Nick worked hard to harvest the best.
Biz Stone (biz), Cofounder
“Twitter,” said user Henry Birdseye—or, on Twitter, tehawesome—“is that friend you canturn to and say, ‘This is bullshit,’ when there’s no one else around.”
Of course, Twitter is plenty more. Technically, it’s simply a social network where millions ofusers send text-message-length status updates to a list of “followers.” As a simple platformfor sharing messages of up to 140 characters, Twitter makes no demands of genre or intent.Since it began in 2006, the only guideline on the site is the prompt, “What are you doing?”
The most interesting users ignore that. The Twitter format serves a few forms of informationparticularly well: on-the-spot news updates, or questions like, “Anyone know a lawyer?” It’sparticularly great for whining or bragging. But the perfect use of Twitter, what the platformis practically destined for, is the witty one-liner.
Comedy always takes too long. The easiest way to improve any joke is to shorten it. And Twittermakes you do that. Even the British comedian Russell Brand (rustyrockets) has snipped out thespaces between words, struggling to fit a three-sentence joke into 140 characters. One of myfavorite Twitter gags is just seven words long: “You know what this guitar needs? Lessons”(Tony_D). Twitter is the modern haiku, albeit with fewer cherry blossoms and more wisecracks.Brevity is, here, the soul of wit.
The tweets in this book came from hundreds of users. Anyone can write one particularly funnytweet. That’s the democratic beauty of the one-liner. But some people turn Twitter wit into anobsession. They hit the star next to other people’s funny tweets, so the tweets show up onthird-party sites like Favrd and Favotter. Every day Favrd shows the most-starred tweets, drawnfrom a growing pool of hundreds of star-conscious Twitter users, not just as a popularitycontest but as a way to find more wits to follow. The Twitter wits chasing these stars oftenmeet in person. Avery Edison and Abby Finkelman (aedison and clapifyoulikeme) met on Twitter,then got engaged over it. Scott Simpson, Merlin Mann, and Adam Lisagor (scottsimpson, hotdogs-ladies, and lonelysandwich) started a comedy show online called “You Look Nice Today.” And,of course, this book wouldn’t be here without the contributions of hundreds of wittyTwitterers.
The Twitter wits don’t consider themselves an Algonquin Round Table, no matter how many timesI try to label them as such. But Round Table member Dorothy Parker’s assessment of New York’scasual club of comedians applies to funny Twitter users as well: “Just a bunch of loudmouthsshowing off, saving their gags for days, waiting for a chance to spring them.” Of course, thenMs. Parker says, “It was the terrible day of the wisecrack, so there didn’t have to be anytruth.” That’s not true of the Twitter wits. During the 2008 presidential election, theyspread a populist kind of political commentary. When Sarah Palin announced her daughter’spregnancy, John Gruber (gruber) Twittered, “The press should only pay as much attention tothis story as they would have if, say, Chelsea Clinton had gotten pregnant at 17.” These back-row-of-the-country remarks, which feel like Jon Stewart’s Daily Show commentary in real time,
climaxed in Scott Simpson’s verdict on the second presidential debate: “That won.”
Of course, in daily life, the one-liners aren’t anything more than a joke and a stressreliever. The Office’s Jim Halpert has a camera to grimace at. The rest of us have Twitter. Wecommiserate about our families, our jobs, our personal foibles. Even celebrities find arelease. Comedian Stephen Fry (stephenfry) is a particularly masterful whiner. Plenty ofBritish comedians found a new and loving audience on Twitter. But Mr. Fry is the only one sofar to entertain tens of thousands with live updates about being stuck in an elevator, whilehis cross-dressing colleague Eddie Izzard (eddieizzard) has explained to his followers thebalance between Girl Mode and Boy Mode.
Some users take on an alternate persona, like the whimsical TheLordYourGod, the sarcasticHotAmishChick, and the self-assured FakeSarahPalin. Some craft elaborate fictions, likeFireland’s tweet (my personal favorite): “Why should I be the one to take the kids to seetheir psychologist? I don’t even love them!” Most wits simply draw from daily life, using a
hiccup or a bad fortune cookie as an excuse for a joke.
I now follow more than eight hundred people on Twitter. I don’t recommend that—there’s noway to keep up—but it’s satisfying to bathe in the site’s rich variety of comedy, and whomcould I un-follow when everyone’s so entertaining? I can’t read everything that pours into myTwitter feed, so I’m dumping it on you. This book, three years in the making, covers the wholehistory of Twitter from its early days as a geek hangout to its current golden age as theworld’s hottest social network. It shows how clever a simple sentence can be, whether writtenby a renowned comedian, a college student, or a stay-at-home mom. And it’s a chance to sitback from the torrent of tweets online and read a few that deserve some extra attention.
This is no exclusive club. Anyone can follow the hundreds of contributors in this book, readtheir tweets, and star them to show their appreciation. And anyone can use Twitter a littlemore sharply, turning a mundane status report into a witty aside. When you do, be sure to letme know.
What’s the deal with deaf people? Like, HELLO?
My half-brother has spent twenty-five years saying “Marijuana’s not addictive!” Now he’sshortened it to “Where’s my phone?”
It’s the postproduction phase of eating fast food that takes the experience all downhill.
I attribute most of my good days to a couple of people with voodoo dolls canceling each otherout.
Bummer: Found out today the faithful dog I had as a boy was only CGI’ed in.
London city airport. Where form meets function. AND THEY HAVE A FIGHT.
I haven’t had anything left for Lent since 1993 when, at Arsenio’s urging, I gave it up forMarlon Wayans.
That’s ok. I’ve been meaning to clean that table with a full glass of water for a while.
I wish LA was really as pretty as they made it look in “Blade Runner.”
It’s happened: I have developed real emotions for my iPhone. Actually, it’s no surprise,because I was raised by a TV and a microwave.
I get really uncomfortable when people ask embarrassing questions about sex. Like: “Is thatit?”
They should really start teaching young girls in school just how valuable their virginity isand the websites where you can legally sell it.
My 9yo hopes Santa brings a PS3. He’ll be comforted to know the box of disappointment underthe tree has another year of free rent inside.
Haven’t shaved in so long that I scratched my cheek and an ex-girlfriend tumbled out. No,that’s a tapeworm.
Whenever I see the word “Chicagoland” I envision a cold theme park where everyone is eatingsausages and looks like Mike Ditka.
Doc says I’m as healthy as a horse. Well, a horse that smokes. But still.
I GET THE IMPRESSION THAT THE FAT ACCEPTANCE MOVEMENT IS MORE ABOUT ACCEPTANCE THAN IT IS ABOUTMOVEMENT.
Fauxboes: The annoying kids on Haight Street that endlessly harass you for money.
I’m sure the gin we drank last night was off. Feeling a bit ill this morning. The tequilamight have been off too. And the cocktails.
I’ve got my health! Woo-hoo. (My grandmother was totally right.)
I am talking about music, which is a series of sounds they put behind television advertisementsin your country.
I fell victim to a Fonzie scheme. My financial advisor kept flashing me the thumbs-up andsaying “Aaaaay!” And calling me “Richie.”
Every morning I wake up and think, “Don’t let it slip about Darth Vader being Luke’s dad.”It’s hard having a 5 yr old who doesn’t KNOW.
“Did you just fart?” “Well, I didn’t *just* fart; there was pageantry and tradition.”
So many input boxes. Ever go to search for a girl on Facebook and set her name as your statusinstead? Yeah, I just did that.
We are men of coffee, sleep does not become us. aragszxki
Oh so we have to be all cryptic and call them “magic” brownies but we can come right out andsay pot pie?
Dear McDonald’s: I don’t care *who* sings it, there is no such thing as “that McNuggetslovin’.” Ew ew ew ew ew.
This is embarrassing, but I didn’t even know there was a country called Madagascar 2.
The word “goodnight” makes my 1-yr-old cry, so I’ve had to rewrite some bedtime stories.“Howdy, Moon!”
I always cheer myself up by crushing poor people’s dreams at the last second on eBay. I can’tthink of a better reason to steal an identity.
Doctor this afternoon: “Ever have thoughts of hurting yourself?” Me: “Nope.” Doc: “Anyidea why not?”
The face-painting at the birthday party this morning was subpar. One girl asked for Tiger andgot Surprised Basketball instead.
Trust me. You do not want to see how a sausage fest is made.
You can pretty much sell anything to me if your commercial uses the words “soothes” and“penetrates.”
Congratulations. You fulfilled your biological imperative. Now make it stop touching me.
Stop coming by unannounced. “Drop by anytime!” is just one of those things you say but don’tmean, like, “You look great!” or “I love you.”
OUR LAST WEEK OF SHOWS BEFORE A BREAK. DAVID BLAINE WILL BE IN THE AUDIENCE TONIGHT-I GUESSHE’LL BE BURIED UNDER THE HOUSE SEATS.
A modest proposal: Will you kind of marry me? zdarsky
If you step in a pile of warm cat puke with bare feet, be prepared to clean up two piles ofwarm puke, only one of which is from a cat.
Until they produce a sweeping epic called “Canderel,” “Sweet and Lowdown” has to be thefilm that sounds most like a sugar replacement.
During sex ed in Catholic school, I was told an orgasm feels like how you feel just after asneeze. This cold is great!
Uggs: the onomatopoeia of footwear.
I fought the bra and the bra won.
The conference room I booked for a meeting just accepted. Is it wrong to reply, “I lookforward to being inside you soon”?
Today’s efficiency level is stuck on “trying to scrub off a freckle.”
I have a theory. Close your eyes, walk into Whole Foods, and put random items into your cart.It always comes out to $45 a bag.