Matt Grote (@feMANism) on Joke Structures, Garfield, and Being a Teenage Ira Glass

Matt Grote (@feMANism) is a human apology. He once did an impression of Michael Cera that was so spot-on that he spent half an hour holding the door for everyone at The Strand. He is a standup comedian and writer/actor with the sketch group CHUMBLE, co-host of These Are Not My Words, co-creator of webcomic The Ugliest Man Alive, and also Out of Things to Promote. This week, Matt and I talked about playing with joke structures and his favorite pop culture references.

Hello, welcome to me! While I was digging through the Fort Knox that is my Twitter account (BECAUSE IT’S FILLED WITH GOLD), I wanted something that was me in 140 characters. And this is only 49! You could read it on a diet!

This is my take on a classic joke structure. It is styled after the same misdirection as “You can lead a horse to water, but a pencil must be lead.” But I made it modern by peppering in uncomfortable sexual overtones. I am a hotter, blonder Groucho Marx.

What are some of your favorite joke structures? How often do you stray from them?

I don’t stick to structures often. A lot of my (thought out) jokes are tightly worded – for example: “Two months ago my therapist told me to quit my day job and pursue comedy, and today I’m proud to announce that we’re both unemployed.” That plays with grammar pretty heavily. (Sorry not sorry if it’s cheating referencing an extra tweet, I see rules as hurdles and I’m a goddamn track star.) Outside of the set up-punchline layout I let myself explore. I’m a fan of parody that’s only just ajar from its source material. For example, (I can’t be stopped!): “We need to talk about the lack of female representation among magicians.” That’s debatably not a joke, since there really are so few female magicians, but there’s something funny to me about how no one includes magic in the performing arts. As in, we talk a lot about representation in, like, film, but no one’s talking about an all-female line up at the Gothic Castle.

Garfield is the next big thing. It’s a cartoon about a rude cat with massive male entitlement who is gaslighting a sad idiot. It’s a sleeper hit. I’m telling you, this time next year, all the kids will be knees deep in lasagna. He’s a real up and comer! (Which is what we call anyone who’s been working for 15 years but just starting to get attention.)

But to be serious, the moment is ripe. Bill Murray is the Adam West of Garfield, and someday, I hope to be his Christian Bale. 

What are some of your favorite pop culture references to joke about?

Well, clearly, Garfield. I also love Naruto. Naruto is the War and Peace of our time, I will go down with that ship. I’m almost completely out of the loop on pop culture. My boyfriend was listening to “Jolene” last night and I didn’t believe it was Gaga because nobody told me she went country. What?! Where do people stay on top of this stuff? Twitter? Oh.

This is just a scientific fact. Tell me you know any gay man out of their twenties who is doing “just okay.” No. Their bathroom has a theme and it’s either “Summer at the Vineyard,” or “This Is Where I Sleep.” When she opened her mouth and a purse fell out, she stole the wallet and ran. 

Have you ever taken a tweet and developed it into longer comedic material?

Of course! I’ve even done the opposite. A couple of my tweets are one-liners I cut from sketches because they were distracting from the game. Like a lot of comics, I will workshop a joke by posting it up. For me, though, I’m not necessarily looking to see if it gets a response. Mostly I like the exercise of chopping a joke down until it takes up as little space as possible. I do think that’s why Twitter has made us better writers, not worse. We’re forced to shut up. Comedy is brief.

What are your favorite and least favorite things about Twitter?

Man do I have a bland answer for this. I love the attention. I love the interactive quality; I’ve had minor interactions with comedians and writers I really look up to. That’s cool. And I also love it as a joke-sharing platform.

I don’t love that the social aspects opens it to being weaponized. I’ve had friends who were doxxed and had their families threatened. Yikes. I don’t know how or why but I’ve avoided pretty much ever being antagonized on the internet. I guess because people have a hard time figuring out my deal. I mean, I am a gay Jewish college professor. I’m also a hairless blonde kid who likes wrestling and cartoons. I’m apparently a hard read. (Seriously, I was once featured in a Buzzfeed video called “Straight comedians kiss to protest Kim Davis.”)

Hopefully this article will out me for who I really am: Teenage Ira Glass.

Karen Chee is a writer/performer who contributes regularly to The New Yorker and McSweeney’s.

Matt Grote (@feMANism) on Joke Structures, Garfield, […]