Rachel Van Nes on Writers’ Brains and Low-Stakes Social Rejection

Rachel Van Nes. Photo: Garrett Palm

Rachel Van Nes is a Los Angeles–based improviser, writer, and almond farmer’s daughter. She currently performs on the UCB Mess Hall team Powerline, indie teams Dock Ellis and Gossamer, and her sketch team New Hotdog. You can read her comedy writing on the Belladonna website and find an example of her voice-over work, i.e. horrible singing, on a PayPal commercial somewhere in the dark reaches of the internet.

This week, Van Nes talked to me about writing jokes, loving improv, and obsessing over dogs.

Sometimes when I’ve safely locked myself into my Mazda 2 after being followed or yelled at by creepy men, I like to imagine what it’d be like if they were all just really helpful instead. Then it makes me sad that everyone being well-intentioned is a joke, but I tweet it anyway.

Why did you join Twitter? What do you get out of it?
I joined Twitter for three reasons: to get better at writing jokes, to be exposed to more writers’ brains, and to practice low-stakes social rejection. I still have no idea of what makes a joke work on Twitter. I’ve been inspired by so many talented and funny comedians, and I don’t take it as hard when someone unfollows me. All in all, it’s been a huge success!

I run to 7-Eleven at least two times a week when I forget to bring lunch to work. Every time I don’t buy two bananas, the employees become so frustrated and make me feel like I’m letting them down. After doing this for six months, I’ve embraced my role as the store rebel and enjoy the ritual of it.

What kinds of comedy do you do in addition to writing jokes online?
Improv was my first and most intense comedy love. I’m an extrovert and a verbal processor so it triggers all the right synapses in my brain. I’ve also been writing and performing sketch comedy for the past year and love it more and more every day. It’s difficult in a good way and satisfies the hole in my heart that college papers used to fill.

I try to eat healthy but am in a constant battle with sugar, so I have to remind myself that muffins are just cupcakes without frosting. After repeating this mantra one Sunday morning, the image of the muffin makeover popped into my head and made my heart melt because I love the idea that inanimate objects can feel good about themselves. Muffins are also beautiful the way they are!

Do you prefer topical or evergreen tweets?
With all the news podcasts and articles I read, you’d think I’d be writing more topical jokes, but for whatever reason I almost exclusively write evergreen tweets. I live in my head and my ideas typically emerge after I’ve been zoning out. There are certainly topical subjects that interest me, but my go-tos are more abstract and include other very important things like wordplay or bathroom social norms or wondering if numbers can be sad.

I know dog obsessions are basic, but everyone needs to understand that puppies have the best scent in the world!

Is your voice online similar to your voice in real life?Considering most of my tweets are about dogs and food, subject-wise, probably. I pride myself on bringing joy and silliness into my work, especially after years of trying, and failing, to write like a hyperintelligent Oxford robot. For me, humor is best when it comes from a place of empathy and celebration, even if it’s from something terrible like 12 of my dogs dying by the time I was 12.

What does your Twitter feed look like?
At first, it was mostly news and local comedians. Then, almost subconsciously, I started following all of these cute animal Twitter accounts and now they make up at least half of my feed.

Karen Chee is a Brooklyn-based comedian who writes for The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, and Shondaland, among other cool websites.

Rachel Van Nes on Writers’ Brains and Social Rejection