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Being Other People

Around seven years ago, I was waiting for my friend to get off work so we could go camping for the weekend. With a smartphone and nothing better to do, I was browsing the internet, and encountered a blog post or news blurb about "Fake Michael Bay", a Twitter account dedicated to impersonating the director as if he were some explosives-obsessed madman in his day-to-day life. It was a pretty funny account at the time, and with the Transformers movies releasing, it was pretty popular.

The idea of pretending to be an overblown satirical impersonation of somebody famous appealed to me. Being a bit of an internet nerd, I'd heard of Twitter, but never really had a good reason to be on it. Impersonating someone as a joke proved to be exactly the catalyst I needed to kick off my Twitter experience, though, so that afternoon I made an account to parody my university's famously stoic football coach.

Judging by my limited reading of Fake Michael Bay, I quickly determined I needed a "hook". It's not good enough to just pronounce yourself the "fake" whomever it is, you need to be interesting in some way. Seeing as the football coach I had chosen to impersonate was famous for never showing emotion on the sidelines (or ever, really), I quickly decided his fake persona was going to be an unrepentant emotive, heart on the sleeve, shouting from the rooftops of the internet.

I had two things going for me: 1 -said coach had almost zero online presence (just a twitter account that had never tweeted) and 2 - it was the football off-season after a big bowl win, and fans were apparently desperate for some sort of content or interaction. Things started off slow, but I kept at it, followed some local media sources to generate my content off of, and generally just plugged away with bad rivalry jokes.

Over the years, the online following grew, the style got sort-of refined, and I found out that live-tweeting during games was instant popularity if you had some feel for comedic responses to the events. I developed a few rules, mostly from making mistakes:

- CLEARLY DIFFERENTIATE YOURSELF FROM THE REAL PERSON. This should be beyond obvious, but you'll find out people are stupid, and you need to take every precaution to not be perceived as the real deal. Most social media services have rules about this, but just generally remember you're a parody, not a replacement. Make it clear.

- Find a "voice", play the character on that account. Voice consistency and character acting are essential. This means having a rough outline of what your parody entails, and how you are going to communicate online.

- Have a personal account for personal things. People may like to know who's behind the parody, but they don't want the parody to also be explicitly you. Having a separate space for your life also helps protect your privacy somewhat, and maintains your parody's voice/character.

- Avoid mentioning the impersonated person's family unless it's indirect. You're making jokes as one specific parody, not trying to draw in more fake or real personas. When jokes backfire or are taken differently than intended, you want to limit your scope of damage to just one parody person, not other people.

- Be open to good feedback. If someone contacts you with a legitimate concern, be aware, respond appropriately, and don't be an ass. Sometimes jokes backfire. Sometimes you'll post dumb shit. Fix yourself if you get called out and they're right.

- Not every joke is a winner. I'm sure this is comedy 101, but you gotta kinda feel your audience and play to what works. Take risks, but know that just because they found something you said funny doesn't mean they'll laugh at everything. Don't try to keep working a flat joke, just let it go.

- Utilize the medium's strengths. Twitter allows for 140 characters of communication, and trying to stretch that will not play well unless it's perfectly executed. Single-tweet jokes or live tweet sessions during big events will play better. Just find a feel for what works with your medium's delivery.

- Jokes play well, interaction plays better. You should have both to maintain audience interest, but nothing builds a smaller audience like interaction. It is "social" media, after all.

- You don't need to produce something every day. Especially for sports parodies, context is important. One-off jokes in the offseason can be funny, but being related to current events makes you more interesting. It's important to not go *totally* idle, but not necessary to be constantly active.

At this point, I've developed something in the realm of a dozen parody accounts, but not all of them became a "success". Having a good character/voice, an interested audience, and commitment to producing some form of content will distinguish good parodies from bad ones. Sometimes accounts play out their useful life when the real person leaves the audience you have, and it's usually not worth trying to develop a new audience unless your parody is fairly popular. This is especially true with coaches, and the transient nature of their jobs can make it hard to make parody accounts more than a temporary novelty if you're tied too closely to a particular personality.

I'm by no means an "internet celebrity" beyond a very, very small scope of local college football fans who are on Twitter, but I've been decently successful in that limited realm. Just remember to have fun to be funny. People are attracted by a good time, nobody likes forced jokes, and memes are forever.


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