If you’ve been on Twitter for any time at all and you read jokes then you know @XplodingUnicorn. I’m excited to share this very candid and funny interview with James Breakwell, a.k.a @XplodingUnicorn, with you today. I’ve been following James for about a year and a half. He’s one of the first Twitter comedians I followed. Alright, let’s get on with it.
Facts about James
Name: James Breakwell
Living in: What I’d like to say is I live somewhere out west in an abandoned missile silo retrofitted to survive the zombie apocalypse. My wife vetoed that plan, so instead I live in a normal house in the Indianapolis area. She’ll regret that choice when the zombies come.
Graduated high school: This seems like a polite way of asking how old I am or perhaps a less polite way of casting doubt that I actually passed 12th grade. Admittedly, I did have some trouble for a few years there – preschool was particularly dicey – but I graduated high school in 2003 and college in 2007. For those who don’t like to do math because they also struggled in preschool, that makes me 29. I don’t throw that number around a lot because it hurts my street cred. People envision me as a middle-aged curmudgeon, but I don’t need years of experience to be bitter about life. I’ve been a crotchety old man since I was 8.
Joined Twitter: I joined Twitter in August 2012, so I was late to the party. Part of me wishes I had been on at the start so I could have millions of followers by now. But another part of me is glad I waited and had a few years when my hand wasn’t permanently glued to my phone. Divorces are expensive, so I had to lock in my wife with a couple of kids before I could ignore her forever in favor of the Internet.
Number of followers: Right now, I have a tad over 130,000. Once people get to know the real me through this interview, I expect that number to drop precipitously.
On to the Interview!
Tell us about your family.
I’m married and have three daughters: a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and a three-month old. That’s right: a real human woman consented to help me pass on my genes to the next generation. May God have mercy on her soul.
Why did you join Twitter?
I joined Twitter solely to whore out my blog. It was getting about one visitor a day, and I figured this newfangled social networking site was my ticket to the big time. Approximately 130,000 followers later, I’m still a nobody, but now I have a lot more witnesses for my adventures in mediocrity.
How do you decide what tweets to star/retweet?
I give stars and retweets if a tweet makes me laugh or if the person who wrote it pays me a huge bribe. Actually, it’s mostly just that second part. Feel free to mail me gold and jewels.
How did you share your humor before Twitter?
I started out in high school with group emails I alone found funny. After everyone I sent them to blocked me, I moved on to a college newspaper. I wrote giant half-page articles because there was lots of blank space to fill and no one cared enough to tell me “no.” I thrive on the apathy of others. Near the end of college, I started the blog so I could keep writing jokes for my audience of two people. When those two people filed restraining orders, I moved to Twitter.
I forgot my phone when I went to the bathroom. I think that counts as camping. — Exploding Unicorn (@XplodingUnicorn) June 14, 2013
What’s the meaning behind your handle?
One of the first group emails I sent in high school was an excerpt from a fake book of the Bible. Naturally, the passage focused on hydrogen-filled unicorns that exploded. Jesus dropped the ball by not including more of those in the real Bible. When I needed a title for my blog and later for my Twitter account, I went back to the exploding unicorn concept because thinking of new ideas is hard.
What do you do when you’re not on Twitter?
When I’m not writing jokes for Twitter, I draw artistically-challenged webcomics on JamesBreakwell.com and come up with the ideas for WombatDojo.com, a webcomic drawn by Jim Brown (@jbrown_west). He’s an excellent artist and I’m extremely grateful he wastes his talents on me. I also do collaborative writing projects with Will Rodgers (@williamrodgers), a comedian based in Hollywood. We’ve never sold anything, but we already have elaborate plans about all the bridges we’ll burn if we ever do. My wife still doesn’t understand why our garage is full of napalm. Finally, I blog at ExplodingUnicorn.com. I used to write five or six posts a week, but lately the site’s main purpose is to make me feel guilty about not blogging enough. It does its job very well.
I also have a full-time job as an anonymous cubicle drone and a wife and three kids. I squeeze those in between all the other stuff, time permitting.
Can you say what kinds of writing projects you’re working on with Will? Scripts? Books? Fortune cookies?
I wish we were working on fortune cookies. That’s where the real money is. Will Rodgers and I write scripts for TV pilots and movies. We mostly do comedies, but we branch out into other genres because we have short attention spans. Again, we haven’t sold anything – although we’d love to someday – so it’s just a hobby. But it keeps me busy and off the streets. Something had to fill the hole left by my former heroin habit.
Tell us more about the comics.
It takes me four or five hours to write a 1,500-word blog post. After years of doing that without building up much of a readership, it finally dawned on me that I could get just as much traffic for a stick figure webcomic that took me 10 minutes to make. Pictures, even badly drawn ones, trump words. If the Internet has taught me anything, it’s that people hate reading.
As for the other webcomic, Jim Brown followed me on Twitter and redrew one of my three-panel sets. Somehow, he did the impossible and actually made it look good. I immediately proposed we team up for a new single-panel webcomic. We named it “Wombat Dojo” because it was the only name on the Internet that wasn’t taken yet. Also, every man secretly dreams about training wombats in hand-to-hand combat.
Wife: What’s wrong? Me: I can’t decide who should get my Twitter account if I die. Wife: You’re an idiot. Me: *crosses wife off the list* — Exploding Unicorn (@XplodingUnicorn) January 14, 2014
Have you ever done stand-up?
I’ve never done stand-up, and no one who has met me in real life has ever suggested I should. By limiting my interactions with the public to 140 characters, Twitter shields people from just how awkward I am in real life. When I told my wife I was thinking about doing stand-up, she was silent for the longest moment of our marriage and finally said, “If you do it, I won’t watch you.” Being married to me is all the humiliation she can handle.
You have over 130,000 followers. Besides being hilarious, what’s your secret?
It’s easy to do what I did if you remember altruism is nonexistent on Twitter. Early on, the only way to gain followers is to satiate the narcissism of bigger accounts by following them first. Focus on people who retweet the kind of jokes you write and be prepared for constant rejection. It’s kind of like high school again, only you ask 1,000 people to the dance and 85 percent of them tell you to die in a fire. Twitter is a personality disorder disguised as a social network.
Daycare lady: Your 4-year-old pretended to be a Jedi and attacked a kid. Right answer: It won’t happen again. What I said: Was he a Sith?
— Exploding Unicorn (@XplodingUnicorn) May 21, 2014
You tweet jokes rather consistently. Do you schedule them? Or, are they off the top of your head?
I write jokes constantly throughout the day on a piece of paper I carry. It’s less obtrusive than a phone, so it makes it easier to slack off when I’m supposed to be working or spending time with my family. When I get to a computer, I type and edit my jokes to make them suck less, usually without success. Then I schedule them for the next day. The only downside to automated posting is sometimes I have a slate of jokes going when an unexpected event makes them totally inappropriate. That’s when I get comments like, “Why the hell are you still tweeting jokes? Didn’t you hear an asteroid just destroyed Ohio?” But that’s a bad example because no one would miss Ohio.
Do you ever go through comedy dry spells where you just can’t come up with anything funny to tweet?
Twitter is brutal. When I tell a joke, I don’t hear laughter. Instead, I get measurable number of stars and retweets that everyone can see and judge. Essentially, every joke is graded, and I flunk out all the time. I’ve sent 11,000 tweets, and every single one of them was a joke. You’d think by now I’d know exactly what people want, but I’m a slow learner. I typically send at least 12 jokes a day, and it’s not uncommon for five or six of them to flop. I keep an eye on them, so if it looks like they’re getting a Twitter-wide shunning, I pull them down. When you scroll through my timeline, what you see are the survivors of a heartless culling process that makes me die a little more inside each day. Twitter is not a place for happy, well-adjusted people.
Me: You sound like a broken record. 3-year-old: What’s that? M: It’s an old type of CD. 3: What’s a CD? Me: *moves into a nursing home* — Exploding Unicorn (@XplodingUnicorn) November 11, 2013
Have your tweets been featured anywhere?
“Reader’s Digest” published one of my tweets and two articles from my blog, which gave me the chance to be ignored by a whole new audience. Huffington Post Parents reposts my tweets fairly regularly, as do some other, smaller parenting websites. One of my tweets was randomly reposted as part of an article on Good Morning America’s website, and a follower told me a local news station in Florida mentioned my Twitter account on air. I googled them afterward and didn’t find any mention of me on their website, so it must have been a pretty minor reference to my account. That didn’t stop me from bragging about it. There’s a reason my parents don’t answer when I call. Clearly, I haven’t made it as a writer yet, but Skittles did send me a bag of candy after-the-fact for a tweet I wrote, so at least I’m officially a sellout.
You’re what some people on Twitter would consider “Twitter Elite.” What do you think when you hear the phrase, “Twitter Elite” in reference to yourself?
“Twitter elite” means “congratulations for trying too hard at something that doesn’t matter,” but I’ve made my peace with it. The alternative is to redirect all that effort into my career, and that’s not going to happen. Influence is hard to measure on Twitter. My follower count looks gaudy, but in terms of actual interactions there are many smaller accounts that are more powerful than me. Just like in real life, Twitter has cliques. The most powerful users form alliances and constantly retweet each other. It turns out the “social” part of social networking actually matters. I’ve never made it into the powerful circles of Twitter users, so I live out my days as antisocial lone wolf. It’s good to know my total lack of people skills is hindering me in yet another area of life.
I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty. As long as I can wash them immediately afterward with like three different kinds of soap.
— Exploding Unicorn (@XplodingUnicorn) October 12, 2014
How do you respond to haters?
I’d like to believe I have broad shoulders and respect all dissent, but in reality I block everyone who posts anything even remotely critical. I spend hours a day crafting jokes, webcomics, and articles that I put on the Internet for free. If you don’t like them, unfollow me. That’s what that button is there for. You have to be an especially terrible human being to go out of your way to criticize me for content you didn’t pay me for in the first place. I don’t owe anyone anything, and the second people think I do, I block them. I hope I never have actual power because I couldn’t handle it. I’d be the dictator who threw people in jail when they didn’t clap loud enough for how awesome I am.
Who are some tweeps whose tweets you love.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Honestly, what I’ve already said was more than people want to know about me. Sorry for ruining your site.
How would you rate most of your tweets (G, PG, PG-13, R, I’m kind of a pig)?
I bounce back and forth between G and R with nothing in between. I do too much family-friendly content for the young, hip crowd, but I swear too much for the mom demographic. The only thing consistent about my tweets is that no one wants to read them.
4-year-old: What happens when you die? Me: You go to heaven. 4: No, I mean when you die, do I get your stuff? — Exploding Unicorn (@XplodingUnicorn) October 2, 2014
Feel free to tell James how awesome he is, in the comments.
Next week on Beyond the Bio: @HousewifeofHell
In case you missed it, last week on Beyond the Bio: @SteveOlivas.
Read more tweets by @XplodingUnicorn and many other hilarious tweeters in the The Big Book of Parenting Tweets, available at Amazon.