Spoiler warning: this interview contains a brief reference to an event at the beginning of Game of Thrones season 6.
So – what kind of online communities do you interact in? Social media, or maybe the comments section of your opinion pieces?
Just Twitter and Facebook. On Facebook, I’m a person and a page, but not entirely sure what’s up with the page. I never read the comments on my newspaper column.
I enjoy reading other comments sections – and that’s how I know not to read my own.
Is that a conscious decision?
Conscious decision not to read comments, yep. I don’t want to get drawn into troll fights, or I’ll just get bummed out. I suppose I miss out on compliments too, but there you go, swings and roundabouts.
Do you read other comments sections?
Yeah, I enjoy reading other comments sections – often instead of the article. And that’s how I know not to read my own.
Do you ever comment?
Never – sometimes I’ll upvote something, but commenting seems to require registering etc, so I can’t be bothered… if there’s something I’m burning to say, I’ll tweet it or save it for a column.
So you have two Facebook profiles – is that to separate public from private personas?
Well no, actually. It seems to be mistake. I never put anything personal on FB. I was a person, and when I hit 5,000 friends, I thought it made sense to become a page. But I still had to be a person in order to use FB at all, so my personal page had to somehow come back from the dead, like Jon Snow. (Game of Thrones in case anyone wonders.) So yeah, it’s a mess because when I migrated to being a page, my personal page lost friends, and probably insulted a lot of people! I thought it would be straightforward, and it’s a process you can’t reverse once you realise it doesn’t work.
The thing I’ve noticed recently on FB is the number of sexbots or whatever that ask to be friends… and I simply don’t understand what’s in it for them.
Sexbots?I don’t get sexbots…
So they’re not real people, but they have a profile pic that’s a good-looking girl – then when you click on them, their main post is some sex site. So weird.
I guess the algorithms only go after nerds.
Are you a nerd?
I would say so. I’m a nerd, as opposed to a jock. Or the other types on the Breakfast Club.
Are people generally either nerds or jocks, do you think?
There’s probably five or six types. Jocks and nerds are easy to spot, because they’re opposites.
I could be entirely mistaken on my world view.
You joined Twitter a while back – 2009. Why did you decide to join?
Yeah but even then I wasn’t an early adopter. By the time I joined, I remember Ashton Kutcher had 1 million followers, and that was the most of anyone.
For the longest time I couldn’t see the point – the 140 characters, just the ephemeralness of someone having to be actually online at that moment to see your tweet. Even now I’m not sure I see the point.
You have over 7,000 followers.. you must be doing something right.
I don’t really tweet a lot though.
Twitter can make you trim a joke beyond where it’s funny. It’s a good discipline up to a point, and then you realise you’ve lost all conversational warmth.
With so many followers, do you ever worry about what you say – or is this something that as a performer you’re kind of used to?
Well Twitter does create firestorms… certainly I can say things on stage with much more cruelty than I can on Twitter, because the tautness of Twitter makes everything so blunt and terse. You can’t develop a rhythm on Twitter.
I had a firestorm a few years ago, and it was fine because I was comfortable with what I’d said and all the over-the-top reaction gave me a lot of material.
Twitter can make you trim a joke beyond where it’s funny. It’s a good discipline up to a point, and then you realise you’ve lost all conversational warmth, and the joke needs the space of an FB post. And I can’t be bothered doing two versions.
Twitter and Facebook are now as much about declaring what tribe you belong to now.
What do you mean by that?
Whenever something happens, people declaring political beliefs with things like rainbows or “Je Suis”… it’s that whole thing where you realise people are only seeing views they agree with.
Like an echo chamber…
Yeah, people live in silos. Which is obvious I guess.
People love to tweet angry.
Do you think you’re in a silo online?
Pretty much… it’s possibly why I think people online are so indignant about social issues, it’s a reflection of who I follow.
I noticed today that I only follow one gun nut (after the Orlando thing) and it crossed my mind to unfollow, but I decided not to. If something political happens, I can see so much anger I quickly lose appetite to comment on it myself, because it already feels done.
Twitter is shrill, because of the 140 character limit and because people love to tweet angry. And it shapes your focus too – so after the Stanford rape, I followed a couple of American women, and now, obviously, my timeline becomes that much more American… and more and more American concerns will crowd out New Zealand ones.
I gather social issues are pretty important to you… do they form a big part of who you are?
Well, it seems that way right? But maybe that’s been formed by me following a few people who are totally into that, like human rights watch, or something, and nek minnit, that’s all you see on Twitter.
I wonder: how much of who I’m seeing online is also what you’re all about offline?
It’s a good question. I think I should work to be more entertaining in both arenas.
You mean you’re not entertaining?
Real spoiler: no, not really.
I notice people give you some nice encouragement sometimes. Does that affect what you post next?
It’s nice to get retweets and it’s nice to get compliments. Nicest of all is new followers… and sometimes that’ll all come just because of a column I wrote, not because of a specific tweet.
Do you get many trolls?
I get some, but I’d say not much really. Some people will be snarky in a way where they’re inviting debate, but you know they’re not really. I don’t engage.
Hecklers are different at a show. A show has bigger stakes, the audience has invested more just to show up… Online, a troll wants to show off.
Are online trolls much different from hecklers at a show?
Hecklers are different at a show. A show has bigger stakes, the audience has invested more just to show up. They want to enjoy what you do. Online, a troll wants to show off.
Hecklers are rare. Online reaction is constant. And a lot of the reaction is positive, and clever.
I wonder actually if seeing my name colours how people read my tweets.
Remove your name and your image from your social media profiles – do you think people you know offline, in person, would recognize your online self?
I don’t think so – I don’t think people who know me in real life think of me making witticisms all the time.
I wonder actually if seeing my name colours how people read my tweets. Someone seeing my name might give me credit for a tweet being funny, where they might not think it’s funny if it was just sitting there.
The internet is like a really addictive drug which doesn’t give you much of a high… it’s like a super crappy drug, like smoking cigarettes.
Has social media changed your work as a comedian, or as a commentator, afforded opportunities, or changed how you have to do certain things?
I guess it has for me – in fact, half my job wouldn’t exist without it. The internet is like a really addictive drug which doesn’t give you much of a high – a little red ‘like’ or an RT – so it’s like a super crappy drug, like smoking cigarettes.
I don’t think social media has led to any work for me… people will approach me via my website to do gigs, and often that will be because of a column I wrote. A column is much more substantial and immersive than a tweet.
I do think of making web video though, but haven’t gotten round to it.
Fun! Or a podcast?
I’m probably the last comedian not to have a podcast. I don’t have an idea for one. I did buy a podcast mic though, so it must be on my mind. I prefer the idea of web video because it demands more attention, where a podcast could just be background noise.
Don’t get me wrong, I have binged podcasts hard out, but I don’t think it’s a medium that calls to me.
Would you do sketches or a story, or more of a talking head to camera type thing?
More talking head to camera, because that’s quite close to a column or stand-up routine… but then I worry how that would turn out. I’ll give make-up tips and become a YouTube phenom!
(in real life, I never exclaim)
You mentioned a Twitter firestorm earlier…
The background is during the rugby world cup; trains were late to the opening match. My basic joke was that Germans are the one race that we’re allowed to be racist about.
People saw my tweet as being this big thing… but it was one tweet among many, many tweets. But that’s not how the media saw it.
People get into trouble for stuff they say on Twitter quite a lot…
When the media ring you first thing in the morning, and ask what you were thinking when you wrote a certain tweet… “it’s a joke about World War 2” (what, too soon?).
Some readers complained. It was being blown up out of proportion. But if you read closely, a lot of the mail is in support of me and it got me a ton of new followers and support.
So, you were in hot water, but ultimately the controversy created new content for you and broadened your following?
Yeah, it was scary but it was so unfair I wasn’t lynched. The media didn’t get their way. The public saw through it (and enjoyed the joke).
Be part of the project!
Share your experiences with us – we’re always looking for more people to talk to about who they are online. There is no story too big or too small!