Rachel Jane Andelman (@rajandelman) and “Thought Angels” on Twitter

andelmanRachel Jane Andelman is a writer, performer, and coach living in the Boston area. You can visit her website here, read her here, and watch her accost strangers here. If you are in Boston on March 2nd, she’s recommends you see this.

This week, Andelman talked to me about unexpected Twitter interactions, tweets vs. standup, and dreams of wordplay.

I like Mean Girls a lot! It’s a fun and pleasant movie to think about, and has a lot of memorable moments. I’m happy it has stayed alive in internet culture. (I really like Jamie Loftus’s take here.) My sensibility can run fairly dark, so I’m not surprised I had this idea while thinking about this scene. While shock factor propels the joke, I’ve always liked the idea that, at its heart, it’s about popular girls talking frankly about suicide, and, proposing that someone’s popularity will suffer if they *don’t* talk about suicide. I interpret it as a defiant little joke in a context where talking about darker thoughts usually leads to a loss of status, and suspect the same kind of thrust is behind the popularity of the Tide pods meme.

Of course, a couple of months after I wrote this joke, Logan Paul actually filmed himself going into the forest! That was so wild. I don’t know that it had even occurred to me that someone would go there to gawk at the people who had died. I guess I’m naive.

That’s insane that your tweet pre-dates Logan Paul. You got a lot of replies on this one — what’s the wildest Twitter interaction you’ve had?

My favorite interaction was with James Urbaniak. Last year I posted a thread where I decided to give all the white guys on SNL made-up names, as a protest against having to learn all their real names. That same day, he sent me a tweet where he’d recorded all the voices in the style of the SNL opening. It was completely unexpected and lovely. I was so happy he thought they were funny enough to use for a recording.

The other interaction that makes me laugh is the time my Christmas Carol tweet went viral and I had seemingly dozens of people telling me that it should read “four ghosts” because I’d forgotten Jacob Marley. I think it’s really funny when so many people decide to be wrong, in the same way, at once.

I think I’m drawn to tweets in this style thanks to my theater training. When I’m not on Twitter, I spend a lot of time at an improv theater (hey guys!). A common kind of scene I see there is a blackout scene. That’s a scene that’s only a few seconds long, and which typically features an action, and a response to that action. Successful blackout scenes are extremely fun to watch. You feel like you’ve witnessed something special.

Any tweet like this I write is probably inspired by the fact that I’ve seen hundreds of these kinds of scenes. It’s enjoyable to imagine complicated subjects or long stories as something as simple as a physical choice followed by a spontaneous response. If this tweet was on stage, two performers would jump up, mirroring each other slithering up a staff. A third performer would decide what they’re looking at, and, inspired in the moment, propose the invention of medicine. Then they’d get swept. I think there’s a lot of joy in this kind of play. I’m happy I have practice seeing the world this way.

Do you ever turn improvised bits or sketches into short tweets? Or take tweets to develop into sketches?

You know, I’ve actually been using my tweets as inspiration for standup! I love a good sketch. There are some amazing sketch groups in Boston. Currently my collaborative energies have all been going into improv. As a standup, I get to be the boss, which is fun. I don’t know that I’ve ever turned an improvised bit into a tweet. I really enjoy the process of starting from scratch.

This tweet got very popular! One thing I’ve tried to do in my tweets is not put more in them than is necessary. When I was writing it, the joke in my head was simple and noncontroversial: the “you had one job” meme is very popular, and millennials tend to have more than one job. Engaging in the comments of this tweet, I got to see how many people this joke had upset.

I think, to the extent this tweet makes an actual stand about anything, or that there were feelings behind it, it was a reaction to the laziness of the “you had one job” meme, which seems modeled after the idea that any mistake anybody makes is worthy of a nasty caption, and that this is naturally funny. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an example of this meme I liked, or where the meme-writer wouldn’t have been better off taking a nap.

Do you ever draft and edit tweets before sending?

I used to, but kind of gave up the idea of a drafts folder at some point. My old improv coach Ken used to talk about “thought angels,” which are the funny ideas or notions you have during a scene that you never get to act on because the moment passes. My feeling is carrying that attitude into tweet writing helps. If I can’t make a joke work after a couple of minutes, I’ll just discard it. Sometimes I’ll remember the joke later, along with a new idea on how to spin it. But I think it’s fine for that work to happen in your head. Especially since I tweet so much now, a drafts folder at this point just seems like it would be frustrating.

What’s a tweet you were really proud of but didn’t get much attention?

I really love Groucho Marx’s joke “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.” I feel like my Cronenberg tweet is the closest I’ve ever come to that level. One day, I want to write a tweet with wordplay so wild that the English language just gives up.


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

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