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'Retweets equal laughs': Why comics can't get enough of Twitter

With a format tailor-made for one-liners, Twitter has become the world's biggest stand-up comedy club. TV comedy writers and an original "SNL" cast member tell Crave why the tweet's the thing.

When God closes a door, the saying goes, he opens a window, an occurrence that leads comedian Rob Fee to make a plea: "Our heating bill is outrageous and six raccoons got in last night. Please God, this has to stop."

"I hope Twitter doesn't go away," says stand-up comedian and "Conan" writer Josh Comers. "I can't start over with a new social-media bullhorn." John Morrison

Find that joke funny? So did the 6,000-plus Twitter users who retweeted it and more than 8,600 who favorited it. Back in the olden days, before March 2006, comedians gauged the success of their jokes in chortles and eye rolls. Then the microblogging site showed up and offered metrics unprecedented in their immediacy.

"Twitter is like another stage, one that you can hop on instantly," Josh Comers, a stand-up comic and "Conan" writer, tells Crave. "Favs and retweets equal laughs. It gives you the right kind of feedback in that way."

It's probably one reason Twitter, with 284 million monthly active users worldwide, has become such a hub for comedians -- from big names like Ricky Gervais, Stephen Colbert and Steve Martin, who have more than 5 million followers apiece, to countless television comedy writers and novice stand-up comics floating material for a sense of what works. No online interaction, of course, can replicate the thrill of live laughter or the sting of pained groans, but Twitter can provide valuable data for anyone looking for a read from the funny meter.

"If something gets a good response, I'm more likely to give it a try onstage," says Comers, who has almost 33,000 followers on the site.

Call Twitter a comedy lab of sorts. Or not. "You call it a lab for comedy, but I'd say it's more like a gym," says another "Conan" writer, Rob Kutner. "Everyone's trying to work out stuff, without worrying how they look in public, sweating through ideas and quips, and frankly sometimes just a lot of angry grunting. Plus, the stench."

Kutner, who's also written for "The Daily Show" and "Dennis Miller Live," works out all manner of stuff in his tweets, most of it tied to the news. Recent favorite topics have included Charles Manson's newly announced engagement to a 26-year-old and the growing list of sexual-assault allegations against Bill Cosby, with a little Uber and Ferguson, Mo., thrown in for good measure.

"I tend to use Twitter for pointed political jokes I wouldn't submit for 'Conan,'" the author of the books "Apocalypse How" and "The Future According To Me" tells Crave. "But also really, just any weirdness that pops into my head that there's no other place for. In the past, they dealt with this more sensibly -- by drilling a hole in the skull."

Like Kutner, Comers had plenty to say about Bill Cosby and Charles Manson in 140 characters or less recently, along with his usual brand of random observations ("Can't believe it's been 20 years since two decades ago," he shared).

"I'm sure if you went through my timeline a strange pattern would emerge," Comers tells Crave of his tweets. "Like, you'd discover I really have it in for King Joffrey and spatulas."

If there's one arena that highlights Twitter's impact on the public's consumption of comedy, it's current events. It used to be that the world had to wait for late-night or weekend TV shows for comedy's take on cultural happenings. Now, anyone can get Kim Kardashian-butt jokes, dozens and dozens of them, on demand. Follow the right people on Twitter and it's a comedy show, 24-7.

"I love the immediacy and reach of Twitter. So much more vast than Facebook," Laraine Newman, one of the original "Saturday Night Live" cast members, tells Crave. "What I dislike, and this is probably because I'm relatively new to it... is that I find it really hard to understand conversational threads. I don't know how to locate their source and I don't understand the order of them. I'd also like to get f***ing verified for f**k's sake."

Newman also loves how Twitter democratizes comedy.

"What is really fun for me," she says, "are the hashtag wars from @Midnight," a popular daily event where the late-night Nerdist game show tosses out a hashtag, sees what gets tossed back and retweets a couple of its favorite responses. "Everyone can participate and it allows people who aren't necessarily performers or comedians to be acknowledged for writing something clever."

It's even precedented for someone who's not necessarily a professional comedian to get noticed, and employed, because of funny tweets.

Take "Parks and Recreation" writer Megan Amram, author of the new "raunchy, crazy" textbook, "Science... for Her!" She has a Twitter following of more than 445,000 and appears often on lists of the funniest people on Twitter.

"I really was hired for my first job in television based in a big part on the strength of my Twitter feed," she told Crave's Amanda Kooser in a recent interview about her new book. "It helps you practice writing all the time and responding to the world through jokes and that's really great for writing a longer thing like a book or a TV show."

"If there was a word for 'the opposite of science,' it would be 'Twitter,' says comic Rob Kutner. Lee Miller

But don't expect too many of these rags-to-professional-writer stories, cautions Fee, who writes for "Ellen," MTV and Playboy, among other outlets.

"I think people make the mistake of thinking that Twitter will get you jobs, which mostly isn't true," he tells Crave. "It will, however, get you the opportunity to connect with people that you'd never normally have a chance to connect with and from there, you could be able to submit a writing packet for a show or send out scripts."

Nor, he says, should comedians mistake the experience of pressing "send" on a joke for that of sweating it out in front of a roomful of cynics -- though exposing oneself to the notoriously shrill catcalls of the Internet masses brings its own risks. "Twitter feels more like telling a joke at dinner and getting a laugh, except the dinner is with thousands of strangers and a few of them are going to question your sexuality every time you speak," he opines.

Fee, whose favorite topics -- "Home Alone" and pro wrestling -- haven't changed much since childhood, says he started writing because of Twitter. He now has a following of more than 86,000 who enjoy his one-liners on everything from Ninja Turtles to New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning. And his tech tips: "Your password must contain a number, a capital letter, a Roman numeral, 2 Michael Cera movies, & a paragraph of Game of Thrones fan fiction," he advised last year.

"Anyone who says you don't get a little excited when a tweet starts getting a lot of attention is, and excuse my language, a fibber," Fee says.

But as intoxicatingly ego- and joke-affirming as Twitter can be, Fee says it shouldn't be any comedian's defining measure.

"There are really funny people whose tweets may barely get any attention at all, while others are completely hacky and do really well," he says. "It's just not a good idea to base your comedic talent off of Twitter interactions, in either direction."

Kutner, who recently co-produced a comedy-music album, echoes the sentiment: "I am consistently able to draw zero conclusions from responses to apply to future tweets," he says. "If there was a word for 'the opposite of science,' it would be 'Twitter.'"