Originally from Britain and now located in New York, Siobhan Thompson performs and writes for the UCBNY Maude team Alamo, hosts and writes for BBC Ameria’s Anglophenia web series, and has appeared on various TV shows. On Twitter, Thompson goes by the handle @vornietom and has built up a delightful feed that ranges from flippant responses to trotted-out political conversations, adaptations of poems from elementary school, and well-constructed emoji landscapes. I recently asked Thompson to share three of her favorite tweets, and we talked about topical vs. standalone tweets, beauty tips for everyone, and where diving beyond people’s consciousness for a joke can go right or wrong.
Thompson: My general rule when talking about Twitter is "don't talk about a tweet for longer than the actual tweet", so this is very off my meticulously constructed personal brand. Like all very cool people, I take personal branding very seriously. Wait. No. Not my personal brand. Myself. I take myself very seriously. Gosh, there goes my silly little lady head getting all confused.
This is about as serious as I can get on the "are women funny" debate, because it's such a patently silly pseudoconversation that clickbait-driven hacks love to write about. It's so dumb. I also very much enjoy writing in the style of a 1970's faux Indian meditation guru, and do so whenever possible. Also also, I go through, like, so many hair ties. Where do they go? Is somebody taking them? It's impossible to know. I would read a blog post about missing hair ties in a heartbeat. It'd be much more relevant to my life than a thinkpiece on how Sarah Silverman's poop jokes are off-putting and unattractive.
Do you ever use tweets to develop sketches, blog posts, or anything on a larger scale?
Sometimes tweets turn into sketches, but more often I'll try to write a sketch and then realize that the idea is funnier as a tweet. This is a bad way of coming up with tweets but a good way of justifying having spent hours on a sketch whose central game isn't funny enough to carry it for four pages. 3/10 would not recommend.
Do you think it's important (like, Twitter "important") to do tweets that are topical and contribute to a greater conversation?
Not really. I mean, if you're the President I guess it's important that you should do those sorts of tweets. I just tweet what's in my brain. Sometimes it's topical but more often it's about dragons or puppies or coffee or something. I'm very easily distrac
In your experience do you have to make a real effort to think of topical tweets or do they come about naturally as a result of being on social media?
When I make an effort to be topical my jokes are less funny. The best jokes are funny because they're truthful. Or because they have a bunch of funny emojis in them. People love emojis. Emoji? Emojii? Guys, this new technology is crazy.
I have some actual real-life plums in my fridge right now, which made me think of this. I tried to make a "Robin William Carlos Williams" tweet but it was too sad. Go read a bunch of Robin Williams quotes if you want to go cry for, like, too long a time.
I think I listened to an NPR show a few years ago about how this poem is used as a writing exercise a lot in American schools. It might not have been NPR, it might have been the BBC, or something that I read somewhere. Anyway, I think part of the reason that people liked this tweet was because it's a reference that is relatively universal but isn't in people's consciousness very often. Also, Katt Williams would definitely eat his roommate's food, right? I mean, not that I don't sometimes but Katt Williams would all the time probably.
Are topical tweets more or less fun than writing absurd, standalone tweets like Katt Williams Carlos Williams?
Topical jokes are more satisfying because I'm normally angry when I write them. I have a very healthy relationship with my emotions, as you can probably tell by my being so good at Twitter. The weird stuff is more fun to write, although maybe writing is too strong a word because they normally just pop into my head. I never sit down to tweet, I just do it when I think of something funny. It's kismet, probably. Yeah, I've read books.
As far as "universal but not in people's consciousness"–is that a space you often get jokes from, and if so can you give more examples?
It's great when you can find it, but it's tough because if it's not in the public consciousness people aren't thinking about it and people includes you because you're a person. I had a sketch that went well a few months ago that was a reference to the movie Speed. Everybody's seen Speed, but like 10 years ago so it's surprising. It's also sometimes a challenge having grown up in England knowing what references people will get. I wrote a sketch a while back that was about Top Trumps, which is a trading card game that is huge in the UK. I didn't know until I showed it to Americans that Top Trumps wasn't a thing here. The sketch was not well received. Such is life.
A thing about me is that I love giving great advice. It's hard being a modern woman and balancing your time reading listicles about female comics who are almost as funny as some men with staying good-looking and normatively attractive. So part of my twitter is to give helpful hints and tips to all the ladies (and gents! I'm all for equal opportunities!) who want to live a balanced life whilst still having it all.
What are your favorite and least favorite things about Twitter?
Writing good jokes is great. It hits the same part of my brain as solving a hard chemistry equation, which is not something that I get to do as an adult but was very fun in school. I was a cool kid. My least favorite thing is strange people explaining my jokes to me, or answering rhetorical questions. Twitter is not an AOL chat room. Unfortunately. Those were the days, weren't they? Hashtag fun nineties party fun time fun yeah.
Jenny Nelson is a writer living in Brooklyn.