Patti Harrison (@Party_Harderson) on Song Parodies and Dumb Points of View

patti-harrisonPatti Harrison (@Party_Harderson) is a comedian, actor, writer living in Brooklyn. Her television credits include appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Broad City, and TBS’s Search Party. Her work can also be seen on MTV, Comedy Central, Billboard.com, VICELAND, Conde Nast’s The Scene, and Seriously.TV. She can be seen cohosting the monthly live comedy show It’s a Guy Thing at Union Hall. This week Patti and I looked at some of her favorite tweets and discussed song parodies, characters, and a gorgeous mom.

This tweet is of course a parody of “Life is a Highway,” by Tom Cochrane. I love song parodies, especially when they’re very dumb, and I tweet them a lot. This one just resonates with me particularly because it’s personal. I grew up in a house on a very busy road and people drove way too fast. People, including me, were always getting their pets run over and killed. It was very traumatic growing up, but now I can joke about it! Ha! Ha! Ha! L! O! L! The singer in the original song is so empowered, fun, and positive, and in the tweet, he is very realistic and literal about what a highway is actually like. 

Your song parody tweets are always so good. Have you tried doing them outside of Twitter – i.e. onstage or in longer pieces? Have you ever used a tweet to develop longer material?

I have! I do some music in my live material and think dumb songs are really fun to do. I haven’t sang tweets specifically, but there have been others. And I have definitely used tweets as the starting point for live bits and characters. I usually don’t tweet something unless it really strikes me as funny or exciting in a way, so that’s usually a good sign to me that there’s more there to flesh out.

This is an older tweet, but I still think about it sometimes and laugh because it is…well… dumb!  I like to write from the POV of dumb characters who are clearly in bad situations and making the best of it or believe they are in a good situation. This person lives a weird life, and the subtext can be read that it is a bad life. They use an inappropriate analogy and put themselves in the dumb situation of having to clarify that they are not a pedophile.

Since you mention writing from the POV of someone else, do you try to maintain a consistent POV?

There was a time when I really wanted to have a “distinguishable online voice” or shtick or something online. But I’m very scatterbrained and cannot maintain consistency with anything, so that quickly disintegrated, and my tweets are definitely all over the place. So much so that I think my voice/POV is that I am all over the place. There are some recurring patterns and themes that have been established just in what I naturally find funny: graphic descriptions of sex/violence, being dumb, being horny, being sad, typing with inflection, dogs, etc. etc.

Do you ever worry that people will mistake the “dumb character” for the real you?

People who don’t know me very well sometimes reply to gross things that I post thinking it’s real. I sarcastically posted something pro-Trump, something extremely dumb about how I voted for him like 14 times through a legal loophole, and someone DM’d me asking how as a trans person, I could be a Trump supporter. I think that’s just the nature of the internet. There’s always going to be someone who just doesn’t “get” you. Which can sometimes be part of the fun of it. In live shows, I like to sometimes do material that combines my sincere feelings very subtly with something very dumb or objectively bad, and then the audience kind of has to negotiate what is real and what is not, and it makes people laugh nervously sometimes which I think is soooo funny, but not in a mean way, I think everyone is having fun? I hope? Or you know what, maybe I am just born to kill people. THAT’S what I should be doing.

How do you come up with original characters or points of view?

Usually inspired by horribly dumb things people say to me or something I overhear someone say. Usually strangers. Not always dumb or bad stuff though. I saw a gorgeous mom walking her baby/toddler in a stroller the other day and she was talking to him, and he was kind of leading the conversation and she was giving him pretty mechanical answers. Like this 2-year-old going “Mommy we goin to go to da store?” and she would be like “Hmmm you know I was originally planning to go to the market because I really need chia, but it honestly might be smarter for me to wait and just order it online…Unless you wanted to stop by the park or something. We could do that? Do you want to just do that?” and I just thought it was so weird and funny that her baby was basically functioning as a planner for her. 

Another song parody tweet. This is kind of an old tweet from when I had recently moved to New York City and was actually thinking of living here and then thought of that Plain White T’s song. I guess this is funny to me because that song is just so sweet and pretty and BAD, so it makes me laugh imagining the lead singer cooing about literally being over-punished/launched by rocket into outer space for committing some weird sex crime presumably too shocking to name. 

Did you always write song parody tweets?

I do!!! I love music as a comedy tool. It is such a fun and easy vehicle to deliver stupid jokes. Online it’s hard for like the lyrics to an original joke song to adequately land with people because they can’t really imagine the melody you’re typing in, so parody is easy to do on Twitter.

How has the kind of stuff you write for Twitter changed over time, if at all?

Yeah it has changed a lot. If you go back into my college tweets, they are insanely unfunny and sincerely sad. I also wasn’t angling to use Twitter as a tool for comedy really so there’s a lot of me updating what I’m actually doing. “On my way to class! Finals are hard!” and other worthless shit like that.

Has Twitter ever led to real life connections or friendships?

Hmmm there’s people I’ve talked to on Twitter that led to us kind of conversing regularly on Facebook and Instagram, but I don’t think I’ve ever met someone in person from Twitter. After the Fallon thing happened, I got some congratulatory DMs from some of my comedy heroes which felt unreal and was a moment where I thought “Oh… Twitter can be… good? It’s not just people persuading me to… die????” Hopefully someday I’ll meet someone online. Maybe my doula? Who really knows? Ha Ha I am kidding of course. God knows.

Photo Courtesy of Patti Harrison.

Karen Chee is a writer/performer who contributes regularly to The New Yorker and McSweeney’s.

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