Social media has changed the game for aspiring comedians and funny writers. Instead of languishing at five open mics a week and praying a booker for a late-night show sees them, aspiring comics can now tweet, Vine, make YouTube videos and create their own podcasts.
One professional funny person who’s taken advantage of the Internet to build her online following is Julie Klausner. The New Yorker has 68,800 Twitter followers; a hugely popular podcast; two books and quite a few paid writing gigs.
She’s also a finalist in this year’s Shorty Awards for social media in the #comedian category. We caught up with her to talk about her active online life and her feelings on being a nominee for the unconventional awards, which are scheduled for next Monday, April 7.
What did you want to be when you grew up, and how did the ascent of social media and the Internet change that?
Well, I always wanted to be… I guess a more vulgar adjective for it is famous. As I get older I sort of appreciate it as “to be heard and appreciated and validated by strangers,” which is another way of saying famous. I also wanted to be appreciated for being funny. So my aspirations are pretty consistent even though they’ve manifested in different ways, which is to write as a form of comedy and pay my way doing it, in addition to having an audience that likes and appreciates what I do.
You were active as a writer before your podcast and before you became so big on social media. How do you think your career would have gone if you hadn’t embraced new forms of media like Twitter and podcasts?
It’s hard for me to even remember a time before social media. I was on Twitter right when it came out. I’ve always had a blog. [Without social media, my career would have gone] terribly, I imagine. I probably would be in law school or something equally horrible.
Do you find social media gives you more control over your creative output?
I do write things for other people. I make a living as a TV writer, so I am used to doing that. As far as what I get out of social media, it’s really fun. It’s really, really satisfying to broadcast myself or tweet a joke without having to wait for someone else to say, “Yes, this is acceptable, we’re going to use it,” or “We have some notes on it,” or whatever else. It’s an immediate way to connect with people and I find it pretty addictive and pretty stimulating.
As far as how it’s changed my actual career, I can’t tell you I’ve gotten any jobs because of my Twitter. I haven’t been hired, as far as I know, by people who say, “Your Twitter’s great. Come write for our TV show or host this event.” I get hired for things because I work really hard and I have samples of things that I’ve done, and I will write a packet or I’ll bust my ass writing a spec script or have someone see what I can do. Twitter helps and it raises my profile a little bit, but nobody ever paid rent being Internet famous — at least, not for longer than a year. Except for maybe the “Chocolate Rain” guy.
But doesn’t it help that you’re famous online while also being a great writer?
I don’t think I’m famous. I’m not delusional. I don’t even think I’m particularly Internet famous. I think people follow me on Twitter because it’s free and because I’m a pretty consistent and frequent tweeter. People listen to my podcast because it’s free and I think I’m a pretty entertaining podcaster. It’s a matter of consistency and frequency. I’m not putting myself down; I know I’m funny and I know I’m talented. But I don’t think I’m like Tavi [Gevinson]. She has a whole empire. I’m not even close to someone like that. I’m not necessarily someone who creates on the Internet.
My podcast came from my desire to do a podcast. I wanted to be heard. I wanted to have a regular outlet during which I could talk to whoever was listening about stuff that was going on in my life, so that it wasn’t as sad as it is when you’re experiencing it, and hopefully in its retelling it can be funny. My instincts are often therapeutic, not only for myself but for people listening. I want to make sure people can take something away aside from just a distraction. Social media has made it easy, if not lucrative, for me to do that now.
Was there a defining moment when social media really tipped the scales for you and changed your life?
When Julianne Moore started following me on Twitter. It was late last year. [Then,] I interviewed her for the podcast… She’s a very beautiful, famous, talented actress.
How has social media changed the way you find new people whose work you want to follow? How much does the Internet affect your entertainment diet?
It’s definitely the main course in my media diet, no question. I spend more time on the Internet and social media than pretty much anything else. It’s pure dopamine. Especially as a writer, there’s nothing more compulsive than rewarding yourself after writing a sentence or distracting yourself after not being able to write a sentence, than going on Twitter. I definitely see a lot of really, really funny people on Twitter that I ordinarily haven’t heard of in comedy or TV or performance. There are people on Twitter who are so, so, so funny.
Do you think it’s comparable to when people used to predominantly discover new talent by, say, watching late-night shows?
Yeah, but I don’t know if I get to know [the people I find on Twitter] as much as I just enjoy their work in that context. Like, if you’re scrolling and you read a really funny joke, it’s like, “Oh, that’s great,” as opposed to making an effort to go out and watch their whole set.
Let’s talk about the Shorty Awards. You’re nominated for best comedian.
[We talk about who else is going for a minute before getting back on track.]
I’m up against Patton Oswalt and someone else who’s insanely talented and famous and established, Albert Brooks … I don’t know who half these people are but I know that Albert Brooks is a legend, so that’s weird to be nominated with him. The fact that he has a Twitter account is, first of all, very funny, and second of all, puts him in a position to be nominated next to me? It’s extremely silly and very random. I’m not saying I don’t like it, but it’s very funny. Modern Romance is one of my favorite movies of all time.
Having a social media awards show just seems like a fun mashup of old, traditional ways of appreciating things like awards shows, with new technology. So how we reward people for being famous or funny online is still yet to be determined. But this seems like a fun way of doing it, why not? If you invite me to something and there’s free food and free drinks and you’re saying I’m being honored, I will come. I will show up. I will be there. I don’t leave the house that frequently, but if you’re gonna say, “Hey, you’re really great,” I will probably go out. It’s a good way to trick me to get me into that environment. I’ll be there. I will show up. If I don’t have anything else to do. But I probably don’t have anything else to do.
When we talk about social media now, we’re talking about so many forms of entertainment, news and information-gathering, and the Shorty Awards’ categories reflect that. There’s a fitness category, for example. What are some other things you use social media for?
I’m very, very angry I wasn’t nominated in the fitness category. Furious.
I really like following sort of D-list celebrities. I also like following pretty much any celebrity that does her own tweeting.
Cher I love. I love Cher on Twitter. I think she does a great job on Twitter.
I saw a great one you retweeted from Ramona Singer today.
She was holding up a purse in front of a poster of a starving African child. Her point was that she went to a benefit for hunger in Africa, but her smile and the way she displayed her purse next to the kid’s face — it was the most tasteless thing I’ve ever seen. It was like Christmas.
Andie MacDowall I love retweeting. She has such a pure heart. She’s like vanilla, but a person. Just a pure heart and there’s just really nothing going on upstairs. She’s not a critical thinker — she’s an abstract thinker.
Do you watch “Real Housewives” or just laugh at what they do on Twitter?
I do watch, sometimes I do. They’re not terribly informative [on Twitter] because they’re not allowed to talk about the show outside the show, unless they talk about it with Andy Cohen. I enjoy seeing what kind of crazy bull shit Kelly Bensimon is doing on a Wednesday afternoon. It was satisfying to see this last season in Beverly Hills. It was interesting to see Lisa Vanderpump implode because she’s used to being so loved on that show. So when they supposedly ganged up on her, she had a little meltdown on Twitter. That was fun.
I love when people tweet from corporate accounts because they have so much responsibility to convey the message that their boss and their boss’s boss and their boss’s boss’s boss want to get across, so whenever they try to be funny or try to be respectful, it backfires and comes across as tasteless. It’s sort of my favorite thing in the world. I follow Mrs. Dash. It’s like a spice. They were trying to rebrand to make themselves a little hipper. They were looking for “dashionistas.” So I try to keep my eye on certain corporate accounts.
Are there any industries that you think would benefit from having more of a social media presence?
Hmmm… Just to like, find more sex. People having more sex. Having more people solicit me for sex.
Have you tried Tinder?
I’m fine with online dating in general. Do not get me started with Tinder. I just don’t want to talk about it.
Okay. Anything else you’d like to add?
I love to tweet and please follow me on Twitter. And one day, figure out a way for me to be paid for it. I don’t want to do anything gross — I mean, no tweeting ads. Only things that I approve of. For example, the new Annie with Quvenzhané Wallis. I will never promote that.
Because Cameron Diaz is playing Miss Hannigan in it. I think it might be one of the worst things that ever happened to America. It looks like an abomination.