Olga Lexell is a staff writer at Autostraddle and has written for McSweeney’s, Paste Magazine, and Reductress, and also works in TV. This week I asked Lexell to tell me a little more about three of her favorite tweets, and we talked about religious rituals, spelling “millennials” wrong, and injecting messages into tweets.
Lexell: When I run out of ideas I just re-purpose famous quotes, lyrics, or idioms until I think of something. I like that this still expresses the intention of the original quote.
Are there specific genres or subjects that you find most inspirational when it comes to tweeting? If so, are those the same kinds of things you find inspirational when you’re writing sketch/stand-up/etc?
Political things are always my go-to because there’s so much to make fun of but also, weirdly, my sketch group pointed out that pretty much all of my sketches are about demons and satanic rituals which I’d never noticed. I also have a pilot about that kind of thing. I think weird and obscure religious ritualism can be really funny, especially because most movies and TV shows treat it with the utmost seriousness.
Sometimes I test out jokes to see if they would work as sketches or standup bits but usually I like to be specific to Twitter and do jokes that wouldn’t work in a different medium. I’m also afraid of spiders. I like this one because it starts out posing as something relatable, gets your guard down, and then devolves into manic nonsense (which is something you could probably say about me as a person also). This tweet is my voice at its most weird and specific.
Where did you put your tweet-like thoughts before Twitter?
I used to have a Regular Person Twitter where I would just tweet about my day. I never wrote Twitter jokes anywhere else because you kind of have to train yourself to think in 140-character bits.
What makes something work on Twitter when it wouldn’t in a different medium?
I think a good Twitter joke works by using the 140-character rule in a creative way, rather than as just a constraint. There’s a unique writing style you can get away with on Twitter that you couldn’t really get away with if you were writing a mainstream bestseller or something like that – abbreviating words in funny ways and even just the way you set up dialogue is different because of that character restriction. You really have to pick your words carefully.
What are things that you find don’t work on Twitter, either personally or in general?
I don’t really like observational, generic “I” statements where you just complain about your day or traffic or other basic things. I don’t think those ever work. My rule of thumb is if it’s something someone else could easily think of and replicate because the wording isn’t unique and specific to you, people aren’t going to think it’s funny. I also feel kind of empty when people like something I wrote that is basic fluff. I try to inject a political or social message into all the comedy I do and when I tweet something extremely basic like “be the boys you wish to see back in town” and it does well I just feel like I wasted an opportunity to communicate something important to a large group of people. But at the same time, people don’t want to hear political things all the time so you really have to pay attention to how your readers respond and try to strike a balance.
Having a typo in your most popular tweet is the ultimate Twitter hamartia. I can’t believe I spelled “millennials” wrong. I think 50% of people who like this tweet find it relatable because eating at a dining table is synonymous with having your shit together and no one on Twitter has their shit together. The other 50% of people that like this tweet relate to it because they think millennials are helpless scourges.
Can you think of other times when people have liked one of your tweets but for reasons you didn’t intend, and what do you do in situations like that?
It’s hard to predict how people are going to react. Sometimes, like if you tweet low hanging fruit about Donald Trump, you can sort of predict that it’ll do moderately well but usually the only thing you can do is sit back and watch. I like to watch a tweet circulate through different communities. When a tweet of mine gets popular it always blows up with Journalism Twitter first, then Furry Twitter, then Gamer Twitter, then everyone else.
Jenny Nelson lives and writes in Brooklyn and works at Funny Or Die.