Is Twitter in fact bad for comedy? Depends on whether you're using an upper case or a lower case C. If we're talking about having funny stuff to laugh at through the course of one's day, Twitter is a godsend. But good for Comedy, the Art Form? In a word... egads. Don't get me wrong, I adore Twitter. I also adore KFC, Maker's Mark, texting-while-driving and lots of other stuff that will eventually kill me.
A fellow comic recently mentioned that he'd nearly missed out on an audition because the casting director said he didn't have enough Twitter followers. This was for an audition for a TV hosting gig, mind you. You know, one of those jobs where you read lines written by other people? That doesn't seem even a little bit absurd?
There are two reasons why this happens, of course. First, decision-makers have come to see Twitter as a source of free labor. In addition to being funny and professional, any comedian who scores an on-camera gig should now also expect to serve as de facto publicist and unpaid marketing guru. Therefore, a guy with 50,000 followers is going to deliver more promotional bang for a low-rent production company's non-existent buck than one with 500, talent be damned.
More importantly, Twitter gives us a lazy formula with which to determine a comedian's worth. More Followers = Better Comedian, simple as that. That's swell if you're pithy and (let's face it) connected enough to parlay your Twitter feed into a writing gig on Parks and Rec. But god help you if you're comedic sensibility isn't best expressed in 140 character comedy farts.
Take Louis C.K., the undisputed Best Comedian in the World circa 2012. If you follow Louis (and if you're reading articles on HuffPost Comedy, let's assume you do), you know that he doesn't often use Twitter as a creative medium. He interacts with fans and gets the word out about his various projects (without Twitter, it's hard to imagine that his recent PayPal experiment would have been such a game-changing success). But he doesn't seem terribly interested in flooding your world with retweetable chuckle-bytes because that's not his "thing." In spite of that, Twitter works for him because, well, he's already Louis C.K. But what about a younger comic whose sensibility skews towards knobbier, more monologue-y stuff -- the future Eddie Izzards and Janeane Garafalos? How fucked is a young Cosby-esque storyteller, now that the world expects him to dole out tiny joke-lets as if they're dog treats?
Make no mistake, I dig me some bite-sized comedy. Heck, I spent four years as panelist on VH1's Best Week Ever, the show that can be credited with (blamed for?) the rise of ADD comedy. But I always knew that wasn't the only kind of comedy out there -- at least, it didn't use to be. Now, every comedian is expected to be either a bitchy talking head or a neo-Hedberg. Here's a comedy nerd argument starter: If a young Mitch Hedberg started comedy in 2012, would he make any impact whatsoever? Now that we're up to our collective nuts in surreal one-liners, would a shy, self-effacing dude with no discernible interest in self-promotion be able to cut through the white noise? Even one as brilliant as Hedberg? I go back and forth on that one...
So what does the future hold, if Twitter remains America's unofficial Arbiter of Comedy? On the upside, the Jimmy Fallon writing staff will never go wanting. But what about live comedy? Part of becoming a real comedian is learning how to present your material in a public setting, in front of people who weren't convinced of your genius before walking in the door. Entertaining a room (or theater!) full of humans isn't something that most people can just get up and "do." It takes practice -- years of it. You learn things: the proper pacing of a joke, how to improve it over time. You learn that waiting exactly 1.82 seconds before saying that certain punchline makes the joke ten times as funny. You know all that sordid "performance" stuff comedians feel icky talking about but is, in fact, every bit as important as the jokes we've written.
Understand it's not an either/or thing. Todd Barry's feed is hilarious and it's made even more so if you hear Todd's unique vocal cadence in your head while you're reading. What will the Comedy Superstar of 2018's voice sound like? Will anyone even know? Will the average person think of the funny people he/she follows on Twitter as living, breathing individuals, or will comedians be reduced to glorified "content providers"?
More funny people, fewer great comedians -- that's probably what we're looking at, folks.
Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go see if anyone RT'd my hilarious takedown of Smoothie King.