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Jared Freid

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The Problem with Jenny Johnson

Posted: 11/29/2012 3:24 pm

Jenny Johnson used to be just Twitter-famous. Now she's real-life famous because, over the weekend, she picked a fight with Man-of-the-Year, Chris Brown. But I'll come back to that. Jenny Johnson got Twitter-famous because she is very funny. She has an anarchic, rebellious kind of humor. It's intentionally confrontational, and part of her success is that we read it and like to imagine her targets -- overbearing soccer moms, tattooed teenagers, aging hipsters -- see this and feel as though someone just picked them apart so thoroughly in 140 characters that they'll just melt in shame, their molecules liquefying from the exhilarating truth of it all. Take these chestnuts for example, all written within the last 48 hours:

If your screen name has emoticons in it, there's a 100 percent chance you have Mardi Gras beads hanging from your rear view mirror.
If you have a weird, obscure name, don't arrogantly correct people when they pronounce it wrong. Your parents f**ked you over, deal with it.

Many of her best tweets are patterned in this way: find an annoying tendency, then associate a larger and off-kilter (and somewhat dubious) significance to it. It's not new or different, especially on Twitter. She just happens to be better at it; her view of it slightly more askew and her criticisms more pointed:

If your key ring is full of keychains with clever sayings, plus a stick filled with glittery water, I know you had a baby in high school.

What separates Jenny Johnson from other Twitter-famous comics like Rob Delaney or Shelby Fero is her confrontational nature. she's not just making wry observations, she's attacking -- that's part of the draw; and part of the drawback. She's a voice of our petulance, a symptom of growing up with food on the table and low-interest college loans (snark is, after all, a luxury of the upper classes). I pick on Jenny Johnson, but this is truth across most comedy writing (I'm guilty of it as well, and I can't even do it as well as she can). Our blessed generation can publish or read something in an instant, and so our need has grown with that. There's more available, so we consume more -- we consume more and so there's more made available. And nothing epitomizes that more than Twitter. Comedy becomes diluted as a tsunami of jokes -- 140 characters a piece -- surge into our eyes and brains and we trade meaning or relevance for wit, because the bottom line is: can you make 'em laugh and can you do it fast? The easiest path is through snark, but aren't we all kind of dicks now?

And so, over time, it stops being as funny and starts being a little cheap. Of course -- I know -- tossed off comments about people's differences make the world go 'round. It's natural for us to snicker at a middle aged man in a fedora, perhaps as an extension of our own fears of growing irrelevant. But to write it down, over and over in small increments on a public forum creates a wholly different reality, one that lacks the germinating seed of self-awareness: tolerance.

We like to imagine Jenny Johnson's Twitter take-downs as little victories over all that annoys us in life, but in fact, they're not. They're passive barks to a waiting audience, some fire-and-brimstone for the nodding choir. No one she antagonizes reads or acknowledges her; well, at least not until this last weekend when the most public sociopath on Earth traded barbs with her. It all made for good Twitter theater but the net result was a loss. No one's mind was changed, Jenny Johnson received death threats from some very confused young men and women, and Chris Brown -- a little boy with a messianic complex -- was fed more lies about his relevance and place in this world. And some animals, whether it's good or bad, just want to be fed.

Well, there was one upside for her -- the publicity skyrocketed Jenny Johnson's Twitter followers to over 350,000. It was low-hanging fruit, but good or bad, some animals just want to be fed.

Jared Freid is a New York City-based comedian. follow him on Twitter @jtrain56 for videos, columns, and more thoughts on Chris Brown's candidacy for Man-of-the-Year. You can also subscribe to his Facebook page here.

 

Follow Jared Freid on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@jtrain56

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