Patrick Monahan is a standup comedian and writer living in Manhattan. He co-produces a show called Bad Karma every first, second and fourth Friday of the month at Karma Lounge in the East Village. On Twitter, Monahan goes by @pattymo, and this week I spoke with him about three of his favorite tweets, plus Frasier photoshops and being upset at inconsequential things on Twitter.
Monahan: A common image of Twitter is just people vomiting their thoughts into their phones as soon as they pop into their heads. That can definitely be true for me—a lot of what I post is joke commentary on dumb celebrity news or riffing on whatever entity everyone has decided to be furious at for the day. Those jokes are inherently disposable, and, without context, might not even make much sense weeks or even days later. However, sometimes I get an idea, usually a silly one, that merits a bit more effort. I wouldn’t dare call it “craft” because, as I said, more often than not I’m firing off 69 jokes or paparazzi photos of Kelsey Grammer at the beach (note: this will not be the last time I mention of him in this piece). Even “effort” is probably too strong a word - some ideas are worth cursory editing. This was one of those ideas. I don’t remember, but I was probably watching Houseguest on HBO when it came to me.
How has the way you used Twitter changed over time? Did it take you a while to get the hang of it or develop a style?
I read a lot of tech news, so for some reason I decided to join Twitter extremely early on, long before there was really any comedy culture - it was more about San Francisco bar Foursquare check-ins back then. As a result, for a long time my “style” was essentially “Simpsons quotes and unfunny observations hurled into an unlistening and uncaring void.” I think I only really started getting the hang of it and developing anything resembling a voice was when I started socializing and becoming friends with people on there. Now, it’s simultaneously a joke machine and a way to catch up with people I am friendly with but may never meet in person. So, now I’ve got more of an “unfunny observations hurled into a sometimes-listening, vaguely-caring void” thing going on, which is nice.
Ideally would you prefer for your tweets to have lasting power rather than not make sense days/weeks later, or is that mostly unimportant?
I don’t particularly care - I’ve never been very obsessive about joke curating, deleting replies or tweets that bomb (though I have always been and will continue to be obsessive about typos). Something like a presidential debate or bad movie live-tweet isn’t even going to make sense the next morning, but it’s fun at the time, and I don’t think anyone with literally anything else to do should spend their time scrolling back through more than a few hours of someone else’s posts anyway.
A lot of my standup bits deconstruct pop culture, which can be risky because if the audience doesn’t have working knowledge of, say, Scooby Doo, they’ll probably sit in silence for 90 seconds until the bit ends. That’s why on stage I try to stick to broad reference points rather than going for anything niche. Online, I can be more confident that at least some people will recognize a given reference, and sometimes that can be more rewarding. Here, I didn’t actually name Ghostbusters, but I trusted that people know Slimer and know that he’s just this weird green blob, unlike the rest of the busted ghosts, which tend to take on actual human shapes. It’s an obvious question, but only in retrospect, and I was practically outraged by the time it came to me. Being upset at inconsequential things like that is extremely funny to me.
So far you’ve mentioned both outrage and fury, what do you think is it about Twitter that makes those emotions so prevalent?
Let me just preface this by noting that I’m coming purely from a comedy perspective here – I wouldn’t presume to think anything I do online is more substantive than that. That said, I think it’s due to a few things. First, like all social media, Twitter is quietly but undeniably competitive – everyone posting is doing it hoping someone hears it and reacts, whether they’re saying something silly about American foreign policy or something serious about how hot dogs are sandwiches. For better or worse (worse, definitely worse), people want to have the hottest “take” in the same way they want to have the most passive-aggressively liked vacation and wedding photos on Facebook. Second, people riffing on a bad thing that people are mad about can extend the life of the madness by making sure more people hear about the bad thing throughout the day and get mad about it. Third, the fact that people can yell directly at the person or entity they’re mad at on Twitter by tagging them means that more people are going to do it. That’s why virtually all brand accounts are 1% bad memes and 99% apologies.
Are there other things about Twitter that make it easier to communicate compared to standup?
I really enjoy being able to communicate visually, writing a funny caption for a picture I took or photo edit I did, and that obviously doesn’t translate at all to a standup stage. Some experiences can be repurposed from photos into actual bits, but a picture of an advertisement with a groan-worthy pun tagline isn’t worth the time trying to describe it. I also have cobbled together a pretty consistent core audience, so I (probably unknowingly) use jokes and shorthands that wouldn’t travel from, say, one bar show to the next.
This one is an example of some of my favorite Twitter things: Fraser, Frasier and Photoshops. At some point in the past couple of months, Kelsey Grammer became a core element of my online presence - earlier this summer I came across a couple of Daily Mail photosets of him frolicking on the beach with his (very much younger) wife and immediately started coming up with excuses to post them. Even now I can’t even look at them without chuckling. The fact that Frasier is streaming on Netflix has only intensified this, as multiple friends have started texting me screenshots that they think would make good memes. I’ve probably never gotten more value out of any technology purchase than I have out of this one photo editing iPhone app that lets me swap heads and superimpose Wario, Pharrell hats, vape pens and Google Glass onto images. Most of the time I make myself laugh doing it. These types of posts are more for me than for anyone else, and isn’t me-first narcissism what social media is all about?
Have there been any other themes on your Twitter that friends have gotten involved in or especially encouraged you how they have with Frasier ‘shops?
The only other one I can think of is that for a few months, I was putting pretty much everything into either an oversized or tiny Pharrell hat. People asked for it a few times on things, but because my sense of humor is often one that beats jokes into the ground for other people well before I get tired of them, that quickly ran its course. I still try to sneak a picture every time I see someone wearing anything resembling that dumb hat, though. It will never not be funny to me.
Jenny Nelson lives and writes in Brooklyn and works at Funny Or Die.