The Austin Chronicle

Queens of Comedy

Twitter opens doors for some traditionally marginalized groups

By Ashley Moreno, February 28, 2014, Screens

Brevity is the soul of wit, so it's no wonder many comedians adopt Twitter as a main social network. But can 140-character quips launch a career? Does it really contribute to the comedy landscape? At their SXSW panels, Jane Pratt, Jenny Johnson, and Josh Hara will tell all.

Online platforms as a whole afford emerging voices opportunities they did not have in the past; just about anyone can now self-publish in any medium. But as Jane Pratt, editor-in-chief of xoJane and speaker on the panel "Fearlessly Funny: The Women Changing Digital Humor," points out, this uniquely benefits traditionally marginalized voices. "The Internet provides a stage, a platform for anyone – people who aren't who the comedy clubs have necessarily been looking for in the past, which would be more men and particularly white men," says Pratt. And while different comedians adopt different platforms, Twitter can provide women a particular advantage. "Twitter is great for female comedians because it's a much more level playing field," says Pratt. "It doesn't have to do with how you look or how you present yourself while you're expressing the joke. It's very straightforward."

The entertainment industry places so much emphasis on appearance, perhaps unduly on women. A platform that takes appearance out of the equation means more jokes from ladies – even if they don't meet traditional expectations. It also means a comedian can decide whether sex (or any other physical attribute) comes up at all. That's great for comedians today, and, in a very small way, could set an example for how we talk to girls about comedy in the future.

Comedian Jenny Johnson, known on Twitter as @JennyJohnsonHi5, has more than 423,000 followers. She's also a co-speaker alongside fellow Twitter comedian Josh Hara (@yoyoha) on the panel "How Twitter Humorists Landed Sweet Real World Gigs." When asked in an email interview about the role of women in comedy and how it's changing, she had this to say: "Sarah Silverman said it best in her last HBO special. [Silverman] said, 'We should stop telling little girls they can be anything they want to be.' I loved that. She said it because if you keep mentioning it to girls, the seed that they're different because they're female is planted in their heads. Don't mention it, and it won't be a thing."

Twitter's format provides a level of anonymity, at least early on, that mitigates stereotypes about comedians and frees them to experiment. In an email interview, Hara explained another benefit: Twitter's 140-character limit inspires sharper and tighter writing. "It takes a lot of work to achieve simplicity," says Hara. "But that simplicity carries so much more impact than something that is perfectly described. All the work it took to get there is invisible, making it appear effortless. And when a person sees it, it strikes them immediately. Great tweets do the same thing." Twitter requires concision – a decided advantage in comedy. Hara explains: "Twitter is a perfect place to create comedy ... to create moments that look effortless, but have taken tons of practice to perfect."

Pratt's panel showcases women comedians who have strong online presences through an improv discussion on everything taboo. (She says to feel free to come drunk!) Johnson and Hara's panel focuses specifically on Twitter, and how they launched successful careers in comedy through the medium. In this way both panels highlight how online platforms (even Twitter) contribute to making comedy more accessible to both fans and budding comedians. Which is important, because as Johnson says, "Comedy is for everyone. Except people who call frozen yogurt 'fro-yo.' Those people can go fuck themselves."

Related Events

How Twitter Humorists Landed Sweet Real World Gigs
Friday, March 7, 5pm
Austin Convention Center, Room 12AB

Fearlessly Funny: The Women Changing Digital Humor
Saturday, March 8, 5pm
Austin Convention Center, Room 18ABCD

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