Our minds are boggled…

by Brian McKim & Traci Skene on June 30th, 2012

Saw the following tweet from a club owner, who shall remain nameless:

Really great show at the club this weekend. Comedian you may not be familiar with but should be.

And he doesn’t even tweet the comic’s name! And he had characters left! Not so much as a link! Stunning in its stupidity. (Was it meant to be coy? Coyness in social media is, as the kids say, an EPIC FAIL.)

Might there be a reason we’re not familiar with this comedian (whom, we are told, we should be familiar with)? Might it be because goofy club owners issue far too clever tweets like the one above?

It’s social media malpractice. And it isn’t just club owners.

It’s all around us. Like the comics who use Facebook to promote their (local) gigs and don’t include the city. Shotgunning an invitation about your upcoming gig (including date, showtime, ticket price, etc… but not the city) merely annoys your FB friends.

Often, if the offenders include the city, it’s nowhere near where we are at the moment. It’s an open mike in Des Moines or a charity event in Salt Lake. Do the math: The chances that your breathless announcement might get anyone through the door are slim to none. If you have a social media circle that is geographically compact, then you have a slightly better chance of driving someone to the gig. But it’s still weak. Even so, can you please figure out a way of doing so without driving the rest of us batty? (Oh, sure, we suppose we can tweak this or that, or “opt out” or “decline” or “unjoin” but why would you want to make us waste our time doing so?)

And can we stop tweeting (and status updating) that we “crushed,” “killed” or “destroyed” on every show? You are lying. And you are wasting your energy and diluting the impact of your message stream. It’s probably beneficial to occasionally trumpet a pleasant onstage experience. But wading through a constant stream of triumphant blather is getting to be tiresome, annoying and rather embarrassing. You’re not fooling anyone. (We’ve been to some shows across standup America, seen a mediocre response, then gone home and been treated to a fantastical, chest-thumping and clearly fictional account of the evening’s events. It’s macho posturing at its worst.)

The internet is powerful, but its power is diffuse. Social media like Facebook and Twitter can be refined and targeted and somewhat localized, but it’s still rather imprecise.

Are we too sensitive? Are we cranky? Perhaps. But we regard social media as a gift to comedians. We remember a time when there was no such thing as Twitter or Facebook… or even the internet. We remember when we had to print out our schedule, fold it three times, stuff it in an envelope, put a stamp on it and mail it to various points across the country in order to promote our upcoming dates and solicit even more. (And, yes, we had to walk ten miles in a snowstorm to get to the comedy club!)

But we always look toward the future and we’re fearful that the abuse of social media will dilute its impact and usefulness. (It’s already happening!) Of course, we don’t claim to be using these media perfectly. We know it’s difficult to entertain or interact with a diverse group that might include fans, bookers, childhood friends, nieces and nephews. But we are judicious in our use. We try not to annoy folks.

When we actually had something legitimate to promote (our book!), we were careful to strike a balance. We were practically apologetic in some cases, because we knew that, in order to promote the book properly, we ran the risk of becoming pests. We attempted to do so in an entertaining or interesting way.

If social media morphs into something that is worthless to us as comedians, the loss of social media as a promotional tool will be lamentable, but not as much as the loss of social media as a communication tool. We recall all too clearly a time when comics felt (and actually were) isolated from one another. We utterly failed when it came to communicating– the good and the bad. We site this isolation, this atomization, as one of the contributing factors in the collapse of standup in the mid-90s. (And we site this isolation as one of the main things we sought to demolish with the launch of our magazine in 1999. And, indirectly, we hoped that such communication would perhaps prevent a repeat of the collapse.)

To be sure, there are some success stories out there. And there are some folks who use social media wisely. But it seems that most people take a rather ham-handed approach. We’re not going to tell you how. There are plenty of articles out there about how to/how not to use these wondrous tools. Some of them are insightful and useful, some of them are merely cantankerous and/or fascistic (or pedantic or pedagogic or preachy– take your pick!). But none of this is a secret.

Let’s get out there and try to use these media wisely. Whaddya say?