John Sabine is a writer and performer in Chicago. He is a freelance contributor for Onion Labs and you can see him perform with The Second City, and at iO with The Late 90’s and The Improvised Shakespeare Company. He writes with his writing partner and buddy Asher Perlman at Asher and John Try Comedy.
“How’d you meet?” “I was buying toilet paper, and he was the cashier, i had a chip card and in the time it took to work we were in love.”— John Sabine (@jsabine214) June 14, 2016
Chip cards are so funny to me. I think 95 percent of my tweets are chip card related. Chips took the beauty out of transactions, there was something so cool and sexy about swiping. Now you just shove it in and wait. But now we have this nice little 1.4 seconds as it’s processing that’s just between you and the cashier. One time I was at a Walgreens and as it was processing, Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby” was playing, and me and the cashier locked eyes – it felt like the world stood still.
Do your tweets mostly stem from regular interactions, or do you take time to think up new ones?
Ooooo not to cop out, I think it’s a mixture of both. I think sometimes you are in an interaction and afterwards something sticks with you and you might be inspired. There have also certainly been times I have stared at Twitter and been like, “Come on John, think of something, you Trash Idiot!” Then I remember that literally no one is asking for me to tweet. Which is is always a good reminder. Like, literally no one.
“Oh well good for you…but MY son got into a Private prison!” (Sips white wine) — John Sabine (@jsabine214) February 25, 2017
Twitter is a perfect place for a white dude with privilege to make a criminal justice reform joke, right? For real though, I don’t understand how private prisons exist. It’s insane. Like their goal is to make money. It’s a prison who has like shareholders. You could go buy stock in a private prison right now. Like a judge could buy stock in a prison and then personally create more demand. Ok I am done I am sorry. Chip cards so funny!
Are there any topics that you feel either you can’t joke about, or shouldn’t be joked about?
This is a question I think about all the time! So philosophically, in a perfect world with peace and harmony, everyone should be able to make all of the jokes and we’d all have single payer healthcare, but in reality, context matters. I think I try to realize that the joke is coming from me, and who the messenger is can change how the message is received. Not to GET TOO REAL, but I remember after that heinous weekend in Charlottesville, a bunch of people were posting that picture of those Nazis (note: not “Alt Right,” because “Alt Right” isn’t a thing) with the torches screaming and then putting like funny captions. So I realized when the messenger was someone like me— white straight dude – who posted those pics with jokes, it really made me feel uncomfortable, but when others did I liked them and thought they were so funny. Like it felt weird/wrong to get “comedy points” with people attacking marginalized groups and myself not having any risk of being attacked. Does that make sense? Also with regards to context is the medium. John Oliver has like 30 minutes and can do a thoughtful and careful comedic piece, that would probably have a little more nuance and sensitivity than just throwing up a picture of Nazis with torches saying something like “WHEN I DON’T GET MY RICK AND MORTY SAUCE.” (Topical.) So yes, there are jokes and topics I would never and should never make because it wouldn’t feel right or be constructive.
“Your an idiot!” “Its *you’re.” “It’s *it’s.” “Joan?” “Brad?” “Oh god I miss you!” “I miss YOU!” “Wear have you been??” “*Where”— John Sabine (@jsabine214) March 20, 2017
I am very bad at grammar and proofreading. Like irresponsibly bad. It is something I am working on for 2018. (Another goal is to be on my phone more.) I also think it’s so funny when people get in arguments on Twitter and someone makes a mistake in grammar or spelling and people just pounce. Like no matter what the argument’s content is, if you make a mistake, you’re just toast. I think it would be hard for two grammar police type people to fall in love…but I still hold out hope!
This is an amazing tweet that works perfectly online since it depends on recognizing typos. As a writer and performer, do you set out writing with a specific medium in mind, or do you write it and then decide afterward whether it’s best for a tweet, or a long form piece, or the stage?
That is so funny that you ask this because it actually came into play with the private prisons tweet. I tried to write a solo piece (I know, I know. I am not proud of it) about private prisons and then I realized “Oh this is probably just a tweet.” I think for me, the medium informs the writing. It helps when I know the constraints. I find it easier to try write for the specific space/medium as opposed in a vacuum then editing it to fit the space/medium.
Your tweets are often based in dialogue, which is really fun to read. Where does that come from? Do you have a sketch writing background, or do you naturally prefer dialogue?
I DO think having a performing background pushes me to writing more dialogue-esque things. Another great question because I have never thought about this but I think you are totally right! I have a theater degree, and I got started working for The Second City, which is mostly dialogue. I also think I am just naturally more interested when two people are talking as opposed to one person monologuing. Karen, you cut to the core of me!
I cut to the core of John!!
Karen Chee is a is a writer/performer who contributes regularly to The New Yorker and McSweeney’s.