Karen Chee is a writer and performer who contributes to sites like McSweeney’s, The New Yorker, Reductress, and CollegeHumor. She’s a rising senior at Harvard, where she studies History & Literature and spends most of her time writing and performing comedy. You can visit her website for more info. This week Chee spoke to me about three of her favorite tweets, plus frustration and tropical jokes.
Chee: It’s frustrating when women get asked/valued/judged on their romantic interests, as though the best thing about them is how they relate to men. Extra annoying when it’s done within the context of her accomplishments. I tweeted this because I love the idea that someone would have the nerve to ask this question of a doctor as she works to literally save lives.
What are other emotions besides frustration that you find lend themselves to writing tweets?
I don’t know if there are specific emotions involved, but usually I notice something a little odd and try to seize it to see if there’s a joke buried somewhere in there. In general, my humor writing stems from either something frustrating that I want to take apart or something just silly and absurd. But my tweets, by virtue of the length and medium, are less serious and much dumber.
What kind of issues [i.e. political/social ones] are you most interested in writing jokes about?
I love live-tweeting political events, like the RNC. So much ridiculous stuff happens and the artificial pressure of “I have to think up something fast for it to stay relevant!” is fun and productive and lets me be creative without being critical. I also love political satire more than anything, so it’s fun to try and do that on twitter. My friend pointed out recently that I tweet a lot of jokes about women’s issues, which I didn’t realize but makes sense because I’m a WOMAN!!!
You actually can learn about me from the names of my iTunes playlists. I’ve one called “WOW IT’S MORNING” that’s filled with Simon & Garfunkel to calm me down when I get too excited about a new day. Pretty much all my playlists start with “Woo” or “Wow.” This tweet isn’t real though. The playlist doesn’t exist. But if it did, it would be factually correct.
Since you mention this tweet isn’t real—how often would you say that your tweets are real? Do you think people know (and does it matter to you that they know) when they are real vs when they’re not?
Most of my tweets are based on reality, and the stranger ones usually still stem from an exaggerated version of some aspect of myself. I’ve referenced not doing drugs, which is real because I’m a total square, but I’ve also tweeted about being pregnant which is absolutely not true, Mom. I really like tweeting from the perspective of an awkward person who just abhors parties and social interactions – this is sometimes true for me, but in general I’m pretty outgoing and I genuinely enjoy meeting new people.
It doesn’t really matter to me whether people know that my tweets are real or not, as long as the joke works. As long as my perspective makes sense, it’s fine.
This idea is so dumb and so funny to me. I’d love for this to happen on a date, where I accidentally butt dial someone and they yell into the phone. It would be so awkward and I’d just really milk it, like “oh my god! I forgot to let them out!!” If the person goes out with me again after this, we’re getting married.
Are there any people that you followed early on that set the tone for you on Twitter?
I followed a lot of accounts that were stylistically very different, so I ended up just being delighted by the medium and feeling comfortable tweeting whatever I liked. I love Megan Amram’s account. Mike Schur’s Ken Tremendous. Carrot Facts. The fake Epcot Centre is so funny to me.
I first made a twitter because I wanted to practice joke writing, and having them published online provided a healthy pressure of trying to make the jokes as good as possible. I didn’t have an audience, probably like one follower (hi again, Mom!), but the idea that someone else could see the tweets still made me want to make them good.
Do you prefer writing topical tweets or more evergreen ones? Which do you prefer reading?
Totally thought this question said “tropical tweets” and got very excited. I love tropical things, except pineapples. They make my tongue feel weird and tingly, you know? Anyway, I don’t have a preference; I don’t put in as much thought into what I’m tweeting in a larger, structural sense. I guess I love topical and evergreen tweets? Is that allowed? I’ve got a lot of love to give! Just not for pineapples.
Jenny Nelson lives and writes in Brooklyn.