"look. life is bad. evryones sad. we're all gona die. but i alredy bought this inflatable boumcy castle so r u gona take ur shoes off or wat"
This is the most famous tweet by jomny sun, weird Twitter's resident alien. It has been shared over 30,000 times. It's a kind of non-joke joke. There isn't a punchline, and while I know the statement is funny, I couldn't quite tell you why. That's the type of humour that Jonathan Sun, the man behind the jomny sun white-alien head avatar, thrives on. "It's important to me that while I write silly, weird, and strange jokes, I'm also able to address more serious issues without sounding too self-serious. I don't know if comedy is philosophy, but I think they are both ways to try to understand and unpack the human condition."
To date the @jonnysun account has over 175,000 followers. At times its reach has even gone beyond social media. A made-up anecdote about Will and Jada Smith was reported as fact on many gossip blogs. Websites claimed that @jonnysun's three monkey's poll divided the internet. For any writer that kind of attention would be a huge success, but Sun's talents go beyond the internet. The Twitter personality has a bachelor's degree in engineering from the University of Toronto and a master's degree in architecture from Yale. He is currently a PhD candidate at MIT and a fellow at Harvard's Berkman Klein Center. He keeps busy.
The latest of Sun's many projects is a piece of theatre called Dead End. The show is part Waiting for Godot, part Shaun of the Dead. It centers around two friends trapped in a room with a zombie, a bullet, and a granola bar. Recently we sat down with Jonny Sun to talk about the play, twitter, and his upbringing.
VICE: You've said you started the @jonnysun account because you were feeling isolated while starting at Yale.
Jonny Sun: I think the most important thing that @jonnysun did was allow me to stay connected and invested in some form of writing and comedy. In Toronto, I had become part of a great and supportive comedy community of writers and performers, and that was what I missed most when starting a new life as an architecture student. Twitter became my primary focus because it provided an instant and direct creative release. It was something that was always there whenever I needed it. It got me out of isolation.
The @jonnysun account is often seen as a character. You're a human, while Jomny is an alien from outerspace. Is talking as a character easier?
At the time, when I switched the avatar from a picture of my face to the jomny image that it is now, I didn't give much thought to the metaphor of the alien. I thought it made sense to me as a comedic perspective. So much of comedy is about differences in context and understandings, and what better way to represent that than through an alien? I hesitate to call it a "character" too much because I don't feel like @jonnysun is a character—it is all my personal thoughts and feelings, but just filtered through a stylized voice. Through the voice I've been able to be explore a lot more than I would from a more directly personal twitter account.
You've stated before that you couldn't pursue comedy full time because you come from a traditional background. What do your parents think of your success?
It's funny because they are both the most apprehensive and wary about a life in the arts, but also the most supportive and celebratory when I can find any small measure of success in it. My mom follows me on Twitter through a private account and likes all my tweets, and texts me basically every night about what she likes and what she thinks I should delete or change. My parents went to every sketch comedy show I was in when I was performing, and my dad still quotes lines from sketches I wrote in 2009. So they are definitely supportive, but I've always seen the arts as something I need to forge into on my own, because it's a completely foreign world to them.
Your play Dead End is premiering in early October in Toronto. Can you tell us about the script?
It's my favorite format—a few people trapped together in one room. It's kind of based on plays like Pinter's The Dumb Waiter, Albee's Zoo Story, Sartre's No Exit—those are all kind of like TV bottle episodes—and this is my stab at that genre. That really is, though, a format or a setup to allow three characters (two human and one Other, the zombie) to interact. Most of the play is conversation, and it explores dynamics in language, and power. The situation also allows me to explore how people process death and mortality, as well as the concept of the Other, in a context that makes it immediate, dark, and fun.
One of the things I admire about your comedy is that it goes beyond jokes and points to philosophical thought. Is this important to you?
I see comedy and humor as one extremely powerful tool for exploring the human condition. I don't really see my work as ever being strictly confined to comedy—rather, comedy is one tool I really enjoy leaning on to explore our common experiences as people who will one day die. That exploration lends itself to a lot of not-so-comedic tools as well. At it's best I'm interested in exploring how people work.
Follow Graham Isador on Twitter.