When I discovered there was a documentary titled Funny Tweets featuring Andy Richter, I was all in. I’d followed the Conan writer/Conan O’Brien sidekick/Arrested Development’s Donnie, Chareth, Rocky, Emmett and Andy Richter for years on Twitter. Why? Because of tweets such as this: “My body is a temple, but it’s one of those temples in Thailand where they let monkeys shit all over the place.”
A feature-length documentary that mines one brilliant comedic mind such as Richter’s would have been fine with me, but Funny Tweets is so much more than that. The theme throughout is how relative unknowns parlayed their Twitter one-liners into paid writing gigs and entry into the tight-knit community of online humorists.
Writer/director/producer Laurie McGuinness, whose lone imdb.com credit is Funny Tweets, uses as her his main subject Dan Duvall, whose two imdb credits include associate producer of the same documentary. He used to be a cashier manager at a Victoria, British Columbia, pharmacy when he began posting tweets to combat boredom. Duvall developed a sizable Twitter following that included struggling comedy writers who would let him crash on their couches during visits to Los Angeles.
Short stays became longer and more frequent—Duvall now bounces between Canada and Hollywood—as he acquired a writing partner, sold scripts, began doing standup and lent his voice to cartoons. With wide-eyed wonder, he says during a talking-head segment that a dream he had never even fathomed while in the Great White North came true because of Twitter.
Comedy veterans such as Richter and Family Guy writer/producer Alec Sulkin explain to McGuinness’ camera that jokes limited to 140 characters have become the great equalizer, breaking down show-business walls that blocked unknowns such as Duvall from getting noticed.
Yes, funny is funny, and countless writers managed to eventually get recognized for that despite rejection after rejection. But think of how many more gave up their dreams. As one wag puts it in the film, in the past, there was always a production’s gatekeeper who either let the writer in (rarely) or kept the writer out (almost always). Thus, it was always up to one person to judge funny. The twitosphere opened the process up to a whole community of judges whose opinions get the attention of Hollywood players.
Such a rise is embodied by Rob Delaney, who is not interviewed for the movie but is referenced. The Bostonian was a relatively unknown standup when he started posting on Twitter in 2009, back when others refused to give away their jokes for free on the internet. But Delaney’s sick-and-twisted one-liners, many of which involved his dick, caught the eye of Irish writer/director Graham Linehan, who co-created Father Ted and The IT Crowd. Linehan began responding to Delaney’s tweets, which brought the Irish-American more followers.
In 2010, Paste magazine named Delaney one of the 10 funniest people on Twitter, and in 2012, he became the first comedian to win the Funniest Person on Twitter Award at The Comedy Awards hosted by Comedy Central. He now has 1.53 million Twitter followers and parlayed his fame into roles in Deadpool 2 and the hilariously dark sitcom Catastrophe, whose fourth season dropped Jan. 8 on Amazon.
The film takes the funny tweet origin story back to the stream-of-consciousness standup of Emo Philips, Mitch Hedberg and Bill Hicks. (I’d toss in Steven Wright and Henny Youngman, who died eight years before Twitter was founded in 2006.)
Speaking of historical significance, you must stick with Funny Tweets long enough to hear Modern Family writer/producer Danny Zuker’s summation of his Twitter exchange with Donald Trump. Or Sulkin climbing from Twitter obscurity to climbing the breasts of a comedy national treasure. (Hint: She loves America.) Or how the platform has, despite the trolls, elevated influencer Elijah Daniel, whose rap alter ego is Lil Phag, and actress/standup Amber Tozer, whose tweets led to a book deal (Sober Stick Figure, Running Press Adult).
Seconds into introducing those who appear in the film, McGuinness effectively displays their bonafides by posting representative tweets. I did the same here, but please read them again during Funny Tweets.
Funny Tweets was written and directed by Laurie McGuinness. Now available on digital from Upstream Flix.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.