How Twitter Is Transforming the One-Line Joke

A tight group of 140-character comedians finds a large community that can relate.

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A composite of one-line jokes from Twitter users that have seen a surge in followers thanks to their brand of 140-character humor.

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Following Alexx Rodriguez around the campus of the University of Central Florida, no one would get the sense that the 20-year-old is, in at least one small microcosm of the world, sort of famous. Hardly any of the strangers she encounters daily in her classes recognize her.

She's a triple major, studying molecular and microbiology, biotechnology, and psychology, and hopes to one day become a reconstructive plastic surgeon. Born in Puerto Rico, she's the daughter of conservative, Catholic parents (she says her father's very close to the Romney campaign) and shares many of their political views; she describes herself as both fiscally conservative and pro-life, though she does support gay marriage.

When people do recognize her, it's often with a sense of perplexity, the kind you get when you come across some minor celebrity and can't quite place where you've seen her before. "I'll be sitting in class and I'll notice someone staring and looking, and they never say anything," Rodriguez says. "But if I pull up Twitter on my laptop and they see it, I hear an, 'Oh, that's where I know her from.'"

Rodriguez counts herself among a small, elite group of Twitter users who have amassed a large following on the site through the use of humor. While many celebrities can lay claim to multimillion-follower counts, this group has secured its influence with little outside fame, relying almost solely on a daily barrage of wit, absurdity, and surrealism, all delivered in 140-character snippets. With such limited character space with which to work, the group has been refining and transforming the one-line joke, taking it down a darker path of self-deprecation, one devoid of political correctness and propriety.

Given her conservative upbringing, you might be surprised by the blunt raunchiness of Rodriguez's tweets. "If somebody hates you for no reason," she wrote in one tweet, "give that mother f---ker a reason." Here's another: "The weirdest part about working in a tanning salon is getting hit on by guys who don't know they're gay yet."

The sardonic, quasi-autobiographical persona Rodriguez now adopts on Twitter has evolved over time. When she opened the account, soon after graduating high school in 2009, her tweets centered mostly on the mundane happenstance of her life.

Though now the account is semi-anonymous (her first name and picture appear on it, but not her last name), at the time it carried her full name and was connected to her Facebook account. Eventually, however, her interests began to gravitate toward the burgeoning humor community on the platform. "I started following some funnier people," she says. "One guy in particular, he was just hilarious. He was the funniest person I'd ever encountered in my life. I followed him on Twitter, and it was through him retweeting other users that just kind of introduced me to the world of comedians on Twitter."

[Check out our gallery of political cartoons.]

Rodriguez began to experiment with observational humor, testing out political tweets that reflected her conservative ideology, but as she became fully immersed in college life—and the partying and hijinks associated with it—she adopted a profanity-laced, sexually charged alter ego.

"I want to say my Twitter is maybe 40 percent of who I really am as a person and 60 percent exaggerations and things I would think are funny," she says. "They're maybe things that happen to my friends but my friends don't have the following to tweet it so they tell me to tweet it. But there's still a little bit of me behind every tweet."

Though growth was slow at first, Rodriguez got a boost when her favorite Twitter humorist—a guy named Craig Sinkwich—followed her back and began to retweet her stuff. From there, she quickly gained momentum, amassing sometimes 1,000 to 2,000 new followers a day earlier this year. On some of her biggest days, she'd gather as many as 10,000 new followers. Today, she's leveled out slightly above 70,000, and she says she's reached somewhat of a plateau recently.