@SamuelMoen and the Surreal Jokes That Work Better on Twitter

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@SamuelMoen just finished his master’s in architecture at Harvard but says he didn’t mean to. “Aside from Twitter,” Moen, who lives in Boston, told me, “my only major creative outlets are writing brutally honest Craigslist furniture ads and writing approximately one paragraph of a million spec script ideas and then going to get Sour Patch Kids and eating them until my tongue turns raw and sheds.” I asked Moen to expand upon three of his tweets, and he talked to me about the “summer camp friends” you meet on Twitter, favorite themes to explore and revisit in his tweets, and the kinds of jokes that work better online (all of them).

How did you first get into Twitter, and have you noticed the way you use it change over time?

Like many, I wanted a venue to complain and Twitter was supposed to be that. But you end up being followed by more strangers than friends and most of your friends don’t really get Twitter anyway. So instead you stand in awe at people like Rob Delaney who can say whatever they want and it’s funny and they access a level of immediate gratification that you lack. Eventually, you can access this, too, only to realize that you never needed it to begin with, Wizard of Oz style. But if anything it teaches you to look for humor in the unusual. The usual has been done and only people who like to say “bazinga” are going to laugh at a joke about comic sans.

What are some of your favorite things (formats, topics, etc) to do in tweets?

I avoid formats. There are too many formats and not enough fresh takes on them. That’s why I stick to idiosyncratic observations. But I do have my favorite subjects that I like to hit back on time and again: my encounters with goat-blood-thirsty, violent chupacabras that do not reciprocate my affection; the frailty of Nancy Reagan; my organ clone who is at once my key to living longer as well as a huge loser/nuisance; destroying over and over a Claire’s Accessories with medieval war machinery; you know, stuff like that! I call them “volleyball teams” after Bridger Winegar’s long-running, adversarial volleyball team antics. But essentially it’s a joke about something specific that you (and probably only you) found funny so you just do it over and over again until it’s simply woven into the fabric of your persona and becomes more of a long game than a short punchline.

What are your favorite and least favorite things about tweeting?

Favorite things? All the “summer camp friends” you meet. Those people who you’ve barely talked to directly, if at all, but with who you’ve developed mutual respect and admiration for the way you both express yourself or the odd thoughts that you both have. It’s incredibly comforting to have concrete evidence that you and I are not that weird and if we are that weird then at least we aren’t alone.

Least favorite? Topical humor. Current events are but a long game of musical chairs where 100,000 people are vying for ten chairs so when the music stops, they all tell themselves they had one of the ten jokes first and none of the jokes are funny to begin with because we’re already exhausted by the inescapability of whatever topical thingy spurred the joke land-grab. Hard pass.

One thing I like about your tweets is how you incorporate images and do so kind of frequently, which I don’t see all that often. What gave you that idea?

I enjoy the humor to be found in very banal things so most of the images I put up are things I find in my occasional sweeps through Tumblr. Most of them are just funny in and of themselves for whatever uncomfortable aesthetic they have. But others I’ve started pulling out for running series such as images of the Cheshire Cat grin of Giada DeLaurentiis and whatever hyperspecific thoughts might be running through that oversized head. It feels more organic when I hit on fun modes of visual jokes like that when I realize I’m not trying to make a specific audience laugh or put anyone down, just use them as a prop for banality.

Can you think of jokes that work better on Twitter than in person?

I haven’t come across a joke yet that didn’t translate better on Twitter. That’s also because, in person, I’m not very funny in general. Just chatty and sweaty.

Anything surreal pretty much is only going to work on Twitter. People read and process surreal images in their own way and sometimes your dictation limits how it forms for them. And I’ve tried many a-time to convince someone of the hilarity of a surreal idea that must be elaborated upon more and more in order for them to then pretend to laugh. So I guess one of the beautiful things about Twitter is people can’t really ask questions. You take it for what it is. If you didn’t get it the first time around, you won’t get it if someone explains it to you because by then no one is amused.

Jenny Nelson is a writer living in Brooklyn.