LET'S GET TO KNOW @jonnysun!
I'm going to put all my cards on the table. I know, without a doubt, that you are one of the most gifted writers and nicest people I've "met" through Twitter. This interview might go more in-depth than previous ones because I am so curious as to your writing process and I think that sentiment is shared online. I have questions for both Jonny and Jomny. Let me start with Jonny (feel free to chime in anytime though, Jomny!). HI! Let's start with the most obvious question: Who are you and where are you from?
Hi! First off thanks for having me! I'm honored that you've asked me to do this, and thank you for the kind words you've written to introduce me. I love reading the interviews you've done with other wonderful folks and it's really awesome how much thought you put into these questions. I'm gonna try to answer these questions as openly as possible and hope I don't draw any hate from anyone. But sorry if I do. It’s going to seem like I take myself or twitter too seriously but I’m really just trying to answer everything as honestly as possible.
jomny: thamk u sam im lov u ok bye for now i wil wait nicely for my turn :]
My name is Jonathan! I'm Canadian!
How old are you and what do you do for a living?
I'm 24 and I'm a student currently doing a master’s degree in architecture.
How long have you been on Twitter and what made you join initially?
I've had twitter since high school. A circle of my friends all got it at the same time - right as we were graduating from high school and all going our separate ways - and we wanted to use it as a hip, cool, new way to keep in touch. We lost interest in it pretty quickly though because we didn't know how to really use it or what to use it for. People have found my first post on Twitter and it's something from like 2009 that says "japanese money looks so badass" because my friend showed me some Japanese money and I thought it looked badass.
Whatever the heck it is that I'm doing now on twitter started somewhere around the fall of 2012. I had just moved to the States to start my graduate program and, because I have never been good at adjusting to new places or meeting new people, I felt pretty lost. I also had no experience in architecture (I did my undergrad in engineering) and I was now in architecture school, surrounded by architects and architecture students. It was a big change. I was overwhelmed. I felt like a complete outsider.
When I moved, I also became disconnected from my sketch comedy family from Toronto, and so I had no creative outlet. Comedy (as well as theater and art and music) had been a huge part of my life up to that point. I think it's healthy to have multiple things going on at once - especially when they are all different from each other and can offer balance to each other. But in a new school, in a new city, I didn't have any of those outlets anymore.
While that was happening, I also stumbled upon this loosely-connected group of people on twitter posting weird jokes and things and I just loved it. I'd never seen that flavor of humor before - it seemed raw and genuine and different and strange and honest and it made me laugh a lot. I had posted random jokes on my twitter before, but I used to kind of just put them out there. Now I saw that there was this amazing community and I wanted to play, so I started writing jokes and trying to connect with people there. At some point, I drew a quick cartoon avatar and switched my personal account to a "character" account - I thought an alien would reflect my own feelings of being out of place at the time. So that's where “jomny” came from. It became a safe place for me to record my own thoughts and to try to make myself and other people laugh.
Just as a side note to an already super-long answer (sorry - and it's only the second question!)... I'm pretty fascinated with the idea that people relate more to a character or an imagined persona than to a "real person" on twitter. I know that when I started reading jokes on twitter, I found it a lot easier to laugh at something posted by an evil Homer Simpson or an 8-bit ghost with sunglasses than it was to laugh at some bro-guy wearing a baseball cap. I guess for me I always sensed that those “serious favstar comedians” were trying to use twitter to become a famous comedian or something and I was put off by that kind of… desperation? Narcissism? I don’t know how to describe it. It just didn’t feel like it came from a genuine place… (I’m in no way saying everyone who has a profile picture of their real face is like this… but I think everyone’s kind of familiar with that type of comedian on twitter). Anyway, I found that when there was a joke coming from a crab or something, it took that level of selfishness or self-promotion away and I found that it was easier to connect and laugh. I think as a reader, it’s also easier to project what you want someone to be like the more abstracted they are from a real person. Also, I think there's a sense that the person writing behind that can have more freedom with what they write because it's not directly linked to their face. That freedom of some level of anonymity can be a good or bad thing, but it definitely helps I think with the amazing absurdity of content on this end of twitter - some really cool things come out of that.
Are you always happy?
No. I try to be. But I feel like I'm usually not happy. I worry too much about everything. But I really do try to be happy. I think most people would describe me as a happy person so I guess that’s working. Having an outlet through twitter though where I can pour positivity and happiness and joy into is really nice. Also having the same outlet to pour worries and doubts and fears into is equally nice. They're two sides of the same coin to me.
Do you see Twitter sticking around for a long time?
Twitter as a platform? I don't know. I hope so though. People seem to like it. And I think there's a lot of depth to it - to how people use it, to what people can do with it. As long as they don't change the basic and simple formula. It's within that simplicity and constraint that so much can happen with it.
I think it’s a really, really great writing exercise and tool because of that constraint. It forces you to be economic (economical? econo-comical?) with your words, which ultimately strengthens your writing because it teaches you to intensely value words and structure.
Another great lesson I’ve learned from the constraints of twitter is for establishing the platform – or the “set-up” – of the joke. The platform is generally the least-interesting part of a joke but it’s also absolutely essential… so twitter teaches you to be able to set up a joke really quickly so you can get to the tilt or punchline faster. That’s why joke formats are so popular on twitter – they are really easy and econo-comical set-ups. For better or for worse.
What are your long term comedy goals?
All the comedy I've had the chance to do so far in my life (twitter, writing, sketch, improv) is personal to me and at its essence, I think, it's an emotional survival tool to make myself laugh and to find people who can make me laugh. I come from too much of a practical family to really entertain the idea of doing comedy for a living. There’s a saying that goes (and I’m paraphrasing here): "If you can do anything other than comedy that can make you happy -- go do it for god's sakes!" but more and more, I'm starting to think I wouldn't really be happy doing anything else. So we'll see. I'm still trying to psych myself up to trying to do comedy full-time or even part-time. If anyone would be willing to help me out or could give me some advice, please do! I would be very grateful for it. I think in my perfect world, I would be writing comedy for TV or film.
How often do you write tweets?
Purely as a self-discipline exercise, I try to post at least one joke on twitter every day. It doesn't sound like much but when school and life get really busy, it's easy for me to lose track of time and this is a way to ground myself I guess. I also just like putting stuff out there on twitter… there’s that huge dopamine release to getting instant feedback on something. It’s like having a constant lab of ideas that is always open to work with. But in terms of actually WRITING stuff, it’s a more constant process and-- oh, that's what the next question is about.
How do you come up with them? Do you have a process?
Okay: in terms of actually WRITING stuff, it’s a more constant process and less scheduled. Basically I keep a giant note file on my phone of every idea I have that I think might have potential, and I've gotten pretty disciplined about writing literally every idea down in this file. It's not just for twitter jokes - it's any idea that I think I could turn into something in the future. Whenever I can, I just go through this huge list over and over: editing, deleting, elaborating, rephrasing, tweaking whatever idea sparks something when I see it again on the list. Over time, ideas get polished into something that I can either write a sketch about or write a joke about or a script or a story or anything. Eventually ideas will get deleted if they've been on the list too long and nothing wants to happen with them.
I try to be really aware when my brain generates a thought or a phrase, or when I see or hear something interesting… I'll write it down on the go. It will go on the list just as "potato time" or something, and eventually I'll be able to look at it again and work on it later. The constant revisiting of the ideas on the list means eventually everything that gets written down will be looked at again and again at a later time, which, to me, takes a lot of pressure off of coming up with fully-formed ideas on the spot. A thing that everybody says about writing is that it’s easier to edit than to create, or that editing is where the magic happens, or that editing is the hardest part about writing. All of that is probably true.
The other big thing I try to do is just constantly take in different things: read a lot of things, watch a lot of things, do new things, talk to people about things, and so on. And not comedy things. Anything and everything. I'm not the best at it but I try. The way I see it is: your brain generates ideas by drawing connections between things, and so you need to constantly feed your brain new things to draw those connections out of. The more that goes in, the more that can come out.
What frustrates you about Twitter?
I mentioned the freedom of being able to post things online anonymously. I guess the most frustrating thing about twitter is the negative energy that comes out of that freedom sometimes. But that's really tricky too because everyone thinks they are doing the right thing and I understand that people need to vent and react to things too for their own reasons. I try not to get wrapped up in it. When I first started getting haters on twitter I would get really upset. I still do. So if anyone who doesn't like me on twitter is reading this... you win.
What really makes you laugh?
I don't know. If there's a way to get the entire audience to feel like they are in on a really personal inside joke - that's gold. That's one of my favorite things. Usually that means I tend to like the less-well-known “underground” things that are a little too clever or a little too subversive - things you have to "get" before you can enjoy them. That's probably pretentious. But I do think there's a huge pleasure response that you get when you feel like you are part of something – part of a group. If you can create something that makes people laugh but also makes them feel smart - like they've figured something out or that they’re part of the group that "gets" it - I think people like that.
In that category I guess people like Mitch Hedburg, Jack Handey, a lot of British comedy, and just the whole realm of satire (for better or worse) operate on that level I think.
The danger, or the flip-side of that type of comedy is purely reference-based comedy, which I think operates on that same kind of “I get it” mechanic to the audience but comes from a shallower place. Instead of “I get what they’re doing or what they’re commenting on or what mechanics they are playing with”, it’s just “I get that reference”. It just becomes a test of pop-culture knowledge without any depth or truth or commentary.
I also really like comedy that also explores other emotions - where the end game isn't just to get someone to laugh, but it's to get someone to think about or feel something greater. Laughter is this amazing human response that really is definitely maybe possibly about diffusing danger or threat, I guess. So comedy is a great tool to safely address, maybe, some bigger issues or deeper emotions without feeling threatened or in danger. Out of these deeper emotions you can also get a lot more truth and then reach something even deeper and funnier. It's a lot more of an emotional investment but more of a reward too. That’s also in the same area as the “getting people to feel like they’re in on a secret” because when you have some sort of true honest emotion, you don’t really think that someone else could have that same emotion. You think it’s unique and maybe embarrassing or shows weakness so you don’t want to share it. But of course everyone feels things all the time and that feeling of being able to relate to someone else’s honest genuine emotions is that same “eureka” response.
People who do that… well, I'm a big fan of the Irish playwright Martin McDonagh - he's a genius. His work is amazing. He made “In Bruges” and “Seven Psychopaths” and wrote a bunch of amazing plays including “The Pillowman”. And his brother John Michael McDonagh is also amazing - he made this brilliant film called “The Guard” with Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson (his latest one Calvary was also hilarious and interesting). I used to be a drama kid so a lot of my inspiration comes from theater - David Ives is also really brilliant and I like Eric Bogosian as well. Louie is a great show too.
"Weird comedy" fits really nicely into both of these categories to me because there is a lot more mental investment you have to make to laugh a weird stuff, I think. You have to "get" it before you can laugh at it. And you have to let your guard down. Weird stuff is inherently threatening because it's different and naturally subversive. It’s doing things that aren’t normal. But it's a great example of a “benign violation” (a benign violation is something perceived to be a threat but in reality is safe… it’s a comedy theory I’ve been reading a bit about lately).
The humor on twitter – when it’s unique – is really unique. I think it partially has to do with the level of anonymity on twitter (even if you’re tweeting from a personal account, somehow, there’s still a feeling of anonymity because it just goes out into the internet). Sometimes that creates horrible, horrible bad evil things on the internet. But sometimes that allows people to be honest and vulnerable and really open and genuine. And weird. And that’s when it’s really interesting and special. Even the really strange, weird twitter tweets have some sort of personal, confessional aspect to them, I think. And that’s cool because it’s this form of content that hasn’t been vetted by someone else. It’s really pure and personal. It’s even different from, say, any piece of media produced by an individual author, because the stuff on twitter isn’t really filtered through an audience either. It’s not molded into something that an audience is supposed to respond to… or at least it shouldn’t be. It just exists as this rough, unpolished thing from some person’s brain or soul or heart or butt. It’s raw. When stuff is good on twitter, it’s often because it feels like it wasn’t really written for an audience because why would there be an audience for what some person puts on twitter. But of course there is always an audience for anything. I think “weird twitter” is getting a bad rep lately because people have adopted the “aesthetic” but are losing that genuine quality of it… it’s maybe starting to be too audience-based. I have definitely been accused of that too though, I guess. But I don’t think I am… but that’s not really for me to say, I guess. I always try to write for myself and try to figure out what makes me laugh though. I’m just glad other people think it’s cool too.
What are some of your favorite books?
I’m not a big novel-reader… Let’s go with Hurakami’s “Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World”, “The Life of Pi”, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime”. You’ll notice all those books came out roughly at the same time. That’s because I didn’t invest in reading enough after high school. I get a lot more joy out of reading plays and theater though… Samuel Beckett, Neil Simon, Ionesco, that’s the kind of stuff I started reading in high school. Some of my favorite playwrights are Martin McDonagh, David Ives, Eric Bogosian, Craig Pospisil, Christopher Durang, Daniel McIover, Steve Martin. Aside from that, I’m starting to read more screenplays… Obviously, the Coen brothers write amazing screenplays (seeing how they describe their films in words is beautiful). I like e.e. cummings a lot and I think I’m partially influenced by his style and other poets like him. I like Demetri Martin’s books, and Jack Handey is obviously a legend. Jack Handey is amazing. Actually I just want to scratch out the rest of this answer and say Jack Handey.
You have insight beyond your years. Are you from another planet? Did Jomny come to you one day? Please tell us about his arrival.
Thank you Sam… to respond directly: I don’t, I’m not, and I’m not sure. I just worry a lot and stress myself out and think too much, I guess. But it’s nice to have an outlet for that.
I’ve talked a bit about where the “jomny” character came from earlier, but one more thing I’ll add is this: I’ve tried to explain the misspellings to people before and I think it’s something people either accept or don’t. And that’s fine with me. To me, that is all about creating a voice and character in a medium that’s purely textual… I’m also interested in how you can affect the idea of comedic timing through those misspellings. Forcing a reader to slow down just for a millisecond because they are tripped up over a typo I think creates a delayed delivery that kind of translates to the actual time-based element of telling a joke in real life.
Do you consider yourself a part of "weird twitter?"
Yeah… and it would be an honour to be considered a part of that. I know it’s gotten a bad rep lately – I mentioned that earlier – but the type of “weird twitter” that “weird twitter” was when I started playing was beautiful. It still is, I think… but I would also understand how it’s an aesthetic that’s been “appropriated” a bit now.
Are there clear divisions in different "types" of Twitter, in your mind?
Sure… but I think the really genuine and interesting people don’t fit into clear categories. I think if you’re trying to define yourself too much with a specific “type” of content, you stop being interesting. You’re trying too hard to fit into something you think people want, and are losing the truth and honesty. But I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that – people accuse me of that all the time.
Who are two super-talented people that are under followed that you'd like to mention now?
Oh man… there are too many that I’d feel bad by just naming two… I can’t do it. Follow everyone. Just explore and follow whoever you want and whoever you like. Follow people I retweet and people who I follow. If you want. People on twitter are just so great.
JOMNY! THESE QUESTIONS ARE SPECIFICALLY FOR YOU, WHY AM I SHOUTING?
I DOMT KNO MAYBE U AR HAPY. IM HAPY BC I SAW A SNAIL TODAY AND I TRIED TO WAVE TO HIM BUT I THIMK HE COULDMT WAVE BACK BC HE WAS CARRYIMG HIS HOUSE.
How old are you?
I DOMT KNO NOBODEY TOLD ME
Your writing is very impressive but your control of the English Language is almost unprecedented, who are the greats that you studied under? Or is everyone as smart as you, where you come from? Also. where do you come from?
i had to teache myslef omce i got here… peopel seem to understamd me. i domt kno where im from but i like to be here now and make friemds and thats the most importamt thimg right now!!!!!
Are you hopeful for humanity?
ya!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! i wana b part of humanitey too adn im tryimg as hard as i can
What makes you giggle the most?
Jonny: Garp is an amazing puppy that crushingbort was taking care of for a while. Bless Garp.
Do people make "PHONE HOME/TWEET HOME" jokes all the time when you go out?
ya but then i do phone home and i say hi to my mom adn then i say “my friemds told me to call u” but then my friemds stop laughimg
Sometimes you get a little darker than people expect, is there death and sadness where you come from?
samn, there is death and sadness evrywhere!!!!!!! but don’t worry its goimg to b ok.
Is comedy a way you cope with life on this planet?
ya bc i learned that peopel like me mor if i can b funy
If you could be any animal in the world are you still able to introduce me to ALF?
i domt know if i can be able to do that if im a pigeon!!!!!!!!!! maybe if i can draw words with a pen then i coud convimce both sam gribtner and alf that i hav turned into a pigeon & then i might hav a chamce. but domt worry sam!!!! i wil fimd a way to make it hapen!!!!!
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers/weirdos out there?
write a lot about thimgs that interest u and do what is importamt to u!!!!!! dont wory abot what other peopel think and want bc only u know who u realy are. but dont be bad
I tip my hat to you because not only do you write consistently perfect jokes and beautiful thoughts, you do it in OUR language. That takes so much time and effort. It is noticed. Last question, have you ever held a star? If so, tell us what it felt like.
thamk u sam!!!!!!! i like to read ur jokes and thoughtes too yay!!! it is hard for me somtimes to type because my fimgers are so fat :[ a have never held a star bc a star is GIANT!!!!! hav u ever seen one?!?!! theyre so big!!!!! but i have HUGGED a star befor!!!!! and i hav hugged the plamnet earth too its easy u just lie face down on the floor and spread ur arms wide and congrats ur hugging the plamnet now
Does being a nice guy/alien pay off?
YA i like to make friemds and i hav made lots of very nice friemds who are very amazing and interestimg and smart and fun, including…… SAM GRIBTNER!!!!!! yay!!!! thamk u for this verey nice interview!!!!!
i want to fill a museum with every smile youve ever made
— jomny sun (@jonnysun) February 15, 2013
a girl told me "ppl dont look at the sky anymor" so i walked around looking up & it was beautiful & i bumped right into a kid lookin at bugs
— jomny sun (@jonnysun) July 18, 2014
kick back, relaaaax *takes potato clock out of desk* ur on potatoe time now
— jomny sun (@jonnysun) March 25, 2014