I have the hilarious James Breakwell, a.k.a @XplodingUnicorn back in the H.O.T. seat today. I interviewed him three years ago, but a lot’s changed since then. He’s now the dad of four daughters, ages 7, 5, 3 and 1, wrote a book, gained close to a million followers and now has a pig for a pet. Let’s see what else he’s up to!
Me: How was your day?
5-year-old: I didn't cry.
More than I accomplished.
— James Breakwell (@XplodingUnicorn) August 17, 2017
The last time I interviewed you three years ago you had 130,000 followers. Now you’re pretty close to one million. What happened? How’d you do it?
I built my way up to 230,000 followers the old fashioned way. Then, in April 2017, Buzzfeed wrote an article about me. Suddenly, I was everywhere on the internet. That’s how I hit 500,000 followers. From that point on, different sites would write articles about me, and I’d gain bursts of followers. That bumped me to 700,000. Then, a few months ago, a random person shared screen caps of 40 of my tweets on Facebook. It went viral and kicked off a new round of media interest. That’s how I broke 900,000. Now I’m closing in on 1,000,000. I’m looking forward to the day I hit seven figures and win the grand prize of absolutely nothing.
Right? When you have a small account you look at the big accounts and think they must be raking in the dough. I’m at 25k and not raking in anything, but the leaves on my lawn. So you have all these fans now. How do you keep up? How do you try to stay connected?
I read all the direct messages I get, which is only a few a day. People don’t want to interact with me directly, which I understand. My awkwardness is legendary. As for comments people make on my tweets, I read many but not all. If I think people are mad about a joke, I just sigh and scroll past. Honestly, that’s how I deal with most of the internet.
You’re Internet famous. I’m sure you get your share of trolls, not only on Twitter, but anywhere on the Internet. And they can be mean and cruel. How do you deal with them?
I don’t get as many trolls as you might suspect. I think it’s because I’m so self-deprecating. It’s impossible to be harder on me than I am. Even the trolls feel bad for me.
Me: I’ll do literally anything to lose weight.
Wife: Eat less and exercise.
Me: Except that.
— James Breakwell (@XplodingUnicorn) August 20, 2017
Last time we chatted, you were working full-time in a cubicle at an office job. Are you still in your cubicle or are you writing full-time now?
I’m still in the cubicle and writing on my own. I’m essentially putting in full-time hours at both. I’m getting to the point where I’ll need to pick one or the other or I’ll have a nervous breakdown. That’s a fate I’d like to avoid, even if it would be fun to live-tweet the meltdown. Which career I stick with will depend on how well this book sells. If it flies off shelves, I might be able to quit my day job soon. But if it sits on bookstore shelves and doesn’t move, I’ll die in a cubicle. No pressure.
My book is called Only Dead on the Inside: A Parent’s Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse. There are countless parenting books and zombie survival guides out there, but there’s only one zombie guide specifically for parents—or one parenting guide specifically for the zombie apocalypse, depending on how you want to look at it. It features tons of comics, graphs, and flowcharts spread over twelve chapters of critical survival advice. If you like my humor for 140 characters, you’ll love it for 40,000 words—I hope. My future literally depends on it. If you buy this book, I’ll save your life, and you’ll save my career. Let’s help each other out.
How do you find the time to write multiple tweets, three webcomics a day, and now a book, when parenting four young daughters?
Let’s just say I don’t sleep much and leave it at that.
My 3-year-old called a burp a "throat fart" and now I have to update my entire vocabulary.
— James Breakwell (@XplodingUnicorn) August 15, 2017
Have your tweets evolved much since you first began tweeting?
I’d like to believe I’ve always been funny, but I reread some on my early tweets and I can’t believe anyone followed me. Over the course of 16,000 tweets, I’ve gradually figured out how to make my tweets suck less. My jokes are shorter and simpler than they used to be. I also dropped awkward pauses and stopped swearing. Not in real life, just on the internet.
I’ve got a pretty good sense of what will work and what will fail miserably. I try not tweet the bad ones in the first place, but sometimes I can’t help myself. Twitter is a dangerous place for people with poor impulse control. Just ask the president.
Before, you regularly deleted tweets that you felt didn’t do as well as you hoped. Do you still do that?
Absolutely. If I’m unsure about a tweet, I’ll put it on my timeline for 60 seconds. If it does well, I’ll leave it up, and if it doesn’t, I’ll delete it to limit the scope of my shame. Even then, thousands of people see it before I can get rid of it. No wonder no one wants to hang out with me.
Do you still retweet others’ jokes? Do you even have time to read tweets anymore?
I still retweet, but I take them down after a while. People complain if I retweet too much. Or not enough. Or exactly the right amount. But I’m used to no one ever being happy. I have kids.
How have your wife’s feelings toward your time on Twitter changed over the years?
As long as I look up from my phone once in awhile, she’s generally supportive. When we go on trips, she drives so I can write—or pretend to write while I stealthily take naps. She also helps wrangle the kids when we shoot pictures or videos for an ad. I couldn’t do it without her. Don’t tell her I said that.
Marriage is mostly just sending each other memes while your kids destroy the house around you.
— James Breakwell (@XplodingUnicorn) August 6, 2017
I have to admit I’m jealous of your success. But I also have to admit that I haven’t worked even a tenth as hard as you have (I’m probably also not a tenth as talented, but I like to dream). How have you kept your drive going even in those times before you went viral?
I really, really want to escape that cubicle. Writing is my quickest—and probably only—path out. Desperation is a powerful motivator.
A lot of online writers refuse to post pictures of their kids, but your kids are front and center. How did you decide to move forward with posting pictures of your kids on the Internet?
Showing my kids helps people remember there’s a layer of truth to all my tweets, even if the final joke is exaggerated or made up. While I think my children are the cutest kids in the world, every parent thinks that about their own offspring. The truth is my kids look a lot like most others kids their age. We’ve never been recognized in public, so we’re not as famous as I’d like to believe. My wife’s main social media rule is that I can’t get the family murdered. So far, so good.
What impact on your parenting style do you think tweeting about your kids has made?
I either want my kids to behave themselves or to be so bad it’s funny. I aspire to live in those two extremes. Moderation is a disappointment.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone new to raising daughters?
Never give away good advice. Put it in a book and make people pay for it. Maybe add zombies or something.
You have a unique pet, tell us about it. How’d you go about deciding to get it?
I was born on a hog farm. I still have great memories of chasing piglets, although the piglets probably remembered it less fondly than I do. My dad hurt his back and sold the farm when I was three, and I’ve wanted a pet pig ever since. My wife wouldn’t let me buy one because she’s a normal, well-adjusted human being. But I found a loophole: She never banned me from getting one for free. I contacted a mini pig breeder who agreed to give me a pig if I could get them enough likes on Facebook. I put the request out to my followers, and they immediately got on board. They love anything that can get me trouble. Two weeks later, I was the proud owner of a brown mini pig named Gilly. Despite all the warnings of doom from my followers, she hasn’t destroyed my home or my marriage—yet.
I recently came across the Wrong & Wronger podcast that you do with Steve Olivas (another of my favorite tweeters) and I thought it was great! Short (for the mom in me that’s constantly surrounded by my kids) and funny (for the mom in me trying to escape those kids). Tell us about the podcast and how it came about.
Steve and I have been following each other since my early days on Twitter. Earlier this year, I was a guest on his podcast, The Commute. We hit it off immediately. And by “hit it off,” I mean we trash talked each other mercilessly the entire time. We had chemistry. A few months later, he was in Indy on business, so I met him at a bar. I pitched a comedy podcast to him where the two of us would argue over something harmlessly controversial for 15 minutes at a time. He was on board. I made it very clear that I didn’t have time to start it right then, but I would be ready to go six months to a year down the road. A week later, we recorded our first podcast, and we haven’t missed a week since. I can’t stop. Proving him wrong is too addictive.
It’s already paid off. The publisher in charge of the audiobook version of Only Dead on the Inside planned to hire a professional voice actor to read my book. Then they heard me on Wrong and Wronger and hired me to read my own book instead. That’s not something audiobook publishers do very often. I hope I don’t make them regret it.
Wow! That’s so cool and very exciting. It really is a very entertaining podcast.
5-year-old: *puts a lightsaber in her backpack*
Me: You don't need to take that to school.
5: Will they give me one there?
— James Breakwell (@XplodingUnicorn) August 10, 2017
Are there any celebrities you’ve interacted with on Twitter, or anywhere else, that have made you giddy with excitement?
I run a Star Wars parody account called @VeryLonelyLuke. The real Luke Skywalker, Mark Hamill, retweeted it several times and replied to my direct message once. I’ll put that on my tombstone.
Let’s get to know the real James Breakwell. What’s the most embarrassing song you secretly like to listen to on your phone right now?
I must admit I don’t change the station when a Taylor Swift comes on the radio. Please don’t take my man card.
What advice do you have that might help people grow their Twitter accounts?
Practice the type of jokes your readers respond to and fail a little less every day. Or just make a career out of being bad at parenting. That’s what I did.
Who are some comedians (or comedy shows/sitcoms) who have influenced you?
Growing up, I never missed an episode of The Simpsons. I haven’t watched it in years, but I’m convinced that show will outlive us all. Today, I think South Park and Rick and Morty are the funniest shows on TV. As for my own TV ambitions, my goal in life is to be a guest on Drunk History. My family would be so proud.
What advice do you have for someone who’s trying to get better at joke writing on Twitter?
Twitter is the right place to learn. Try every day, even if you don’t feel like it. It’s really just trial and error. Get ready for a lot of errors.
Name five tweeters whose tweets consistently make you laugh.
Tell us something about yourself people on Twitter may not know.
I’m not really a unicorn. Sorry for letting everyone down.
What does the future hold for James Breakwell? What are your long-term comedy writing goals?
I want to write two books a year, so I better sell some copies of the first book or that plan will fall apart fast.
Is there anything else you’d like to say/share?
For every book you buy, my kids will kill a zombie in your honor.
5-year-old: *gets out of the pool*
Me: You look tired.
5: It's a lot of work to stay alive.
— James Breakwell (@XplodingUnicorn) August 19, 2017
Thanks for the interview, James! Really enjoyed chatting with you again! Good luck on the sale of the book! Click here to order a copy of Only Dead on the Inside: A Parent’s Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse!
To find everything James Breakwell, visit his website: Exploding Unicorn.
In case you missed it, last time on Beyond the Bio: @obscuregent
A butt-load of the funniest parenting tweets all packed into one place (including some of @XplodingUnicorns)! – The Bigger Book of Parenting Tweets, available on Amazon. Or try the original, The Big Book of Parenting Tweets. They make great gifts!