Tessa Strain is a writer living in Brooklyn (“like everybody!”). This week Strain walked me through three of her favorite tweets she’s written. We talked about French women, dumb nonsense jokes, and trying not to labor over tweets.
Strain: There are some tweets that I write because intellectually I know they’re funny or well phrased, but the ones that really truly make me laugh are goofy nonsense like this. I love that it can’t really be replicated as a verbal joke and would look labored as a visual gag. It lives and dies as this dumb tweet.
Are your processes very different when tweeting nonsense vs. more intellectual jokes?
Totally! I think part of the reason the silly jokes are dearer to me is because they tend to occur to me fully formed, so there’s not a lot of labor or ego behind it. Whereas I’m embarrassed by how much thinking and careful phrasing often goes into a joke that I’d consider more “written,” although those are the ones that tend to get a bigger response.
Once you tweet something is it off-limits for other conversation/writing, or is there some overlap?
I’m sure my friends wish that were the case. A lot of times tweets will come out of conversations I’ve already had, or they’ll be things I cut from an essay or screenplay that I like but didn’t really find a home in the larger piece. It works in the reverse, too, where a lot of ideas I’ve developed further have come from tweets. It can be a nice way to test the waters when I’m working through an idea to see if it’s funny or worth exploring. I met my screenwriting partner, Aubrey Bellamy, through Twitter, so it’s always been a big part of our creative communication with each other.
This tweet landed like a thud, but I still love it. I will never tire of poking fun at the mystique of “French women” as a monolithic, smooth-complexioned, scarf-wearing construct. There’s this vision of France as a country populated only with Jane Birkins, like the Twilight Zone with more Breton stripes.
Can you usually tell if a tweet will land or not? Are there certain topics or kinds of tweets that you’ve noticed perform better than others?
I usually have a pretty good idea, but over time I’ve started caring a little less. This one, for example, was a Saturday night tweet. I used to be much more calculated in how I tweeted, very careful about the timing and topicality and relatability of a tweet. Over time, that just started to seem like a weird and over-labored approach to something that ultimately belongs to me, and now I just roll the dice. I love it when a tweet resonates with a lot of people, but I take a perverse pleasure in writing something that I think is really funny and goes mostly unnoticed.
What are your favorite subjects to tweet about?
How I think there should be a remake of the movie Indecent Proposal and that I should be the one to write it.
I’m proud that I was able to pack a shallow confession that I want to be prettier, the smarmy implication that I already think I’m funny, an indictment of both those things, and a regretful reminder of the steep trade-offs that come with being a woman into this little tweet. It does it all!
Do you ever struggle with packing things into one tweet, and has that changed over your time on Twitter?
If I’m struggling to cram too much into 140 characters, I usually admit to myself that a tweet is probably not the ideal form for that particular thought to take.
Jenny Nelson lives and writes in Brooklyn and works at Funny Or Die.