One of the advantages of the Internet is its promise of anonymity. Careers can be made—and lost—without anyone ever knowing who was behind that blog, or Twitter account, review, or website.
But with that fame—and infamy—come concerted attempts to unmask numerous pseudonymous characters, from the author of the Secret Diary of Steve Jobs to the narrative storyteller composing foul-mouthed tweets for the @MayorEmanuel Twitter account (often when these figures eventually unmask themselves the guesses turn out to have been wrong, making the revelations anti-climatic).
But the person who runs the @pourmecoffee account assures Whispers that he keeps his anonymity intact for purely boring motives. "I'm a middle aged guy," he says via instant message. "I stay anonymous for non-fascinating reasons—I have a buttoned-down job for which I think some of the humor and politics stuff would not be a positive."
Some have theorized that he's a Congressional staffer, but he assures us he lives outside of the D.C. area.
Launched in 2008, the @pourmecoffee handle became one of the most-watched accounts by political junkies on Twitter, mainly for his hilarious posts. As of today, he's amassed more than 83,000 followers. Whispers sat down for an online chat about what it takes to be funny within a 140-character limit and how he first gained traction on the platform (the interview has been edited for clarity).
— pourmecoffee (@pourmecoffee) July 11, 2012
I'd love for you to tell me what you can about the launch of your Twitter account. When it was. What the original goal of it was.
As for how I started, it was during the runup to the 2008 elections. Like everyone else, I was really tuned into politics. I used to comment at TIME's Swampland a lot and that was my Internet politics fix. It was kind of clunky and time-consuming, and I was about to quit when I noticed Twitter. This was perfect for me—EXTREMELY easy, very low time commitment, and suited to my way of thinking.
Were you known for wry witty humor on the TIME Swampland site? Like were you a regular that people knew of?
Yes, when I moved to Twitter the way I first got noticed was from mentions by Karen Tumulty and Jay Newton-Small (who I've since met on a D.C. business trip) and also Ana Marie Cox and Michael Scherer.
They knew you from Swampland?
Yes, although "know" is a strong word.
Today in 1889, the Wall Street Journal was first published but was totally bored until 1913 when it could complain about income taxes.
— pourmecoffee (@pourmecoffee) July 8, 2012
What were the early days on Twitter like? Was the account just like what it basically is now or were you doing anything differently back then?
Very much the same. I have basically three sets of interests—politics, science and sports. I felt like 99 percent of people online were jerks and that if I tweeted funny and/or interesting things I would be in the top percentile.
So how did the account start getting traction/following? What were some of the really early boosts you were getting?
It was crazy fast. Again, I credit Karen, Ana Marie for the first notices. You get a sort of stamp of approval from someone with credibility. But the growth was very quick. Twitter is like everything else in that it's all about affinity circles—I picked up a lot of people interested in politics.
Just 19 days until the Olympics, a wonderful opportunity to learn about other countries without invading them.
— pourmecoffee (@pourmecoffee) July 8, 2012 Can you talk a little about what it takes to maintain a funny political Twitter account? What does it take to be funny in 140 characters? How timely do the tweets have to be?
Twitter is about what's happening NOW, so the best tweets are current. For instance, a tweet I liked by someone I don't know at all was exactly when the power went out in D.C., and they tweeted (paraphrasing) "BREAKING: Thousands of DC residents without Congressional representation." I love that, and it's not funny a few hours later.
So do you find you're at your best during breaking news or live events like the healthcare ruling or debates?
There's a difference between best and reach. I stopped counting followers around 10,000. I turned off the notices. That was enough to feed my ego. So I'm not trying to get attention any more. I lucked out and have it. If you are focused on reach, the "best" is whenever the Internet's attention is rapt—debates, SCOTUS ruling, Tebow game, big TV show—a good joke then will take off fast.
Today in 1898, the US annexed Hawaii as part of Obama's plan to fake his presidential eligibility.
— pourmecoffee (@pourmecoffee) July 7, 2012 Do you feel like now that you've been doing this for awhile that your brain is sort of trained to automatically drill down to the absurdity to anything occurring in politics?
Yes, and it was before. I want it to be fun, not some kind of chase for followers or [picking] fights. I want to have some fun online, feed my ego a little, interact with smarter more interesting people than I would otherwise be able to do. People think otherwise, but the smartass-to-earnest ratio of my tweets is way lower than it seems.
Are there any plans to move your Twitter fame beyond Twitter?
No current plans, I'm busy but if I got some ridiculous opportunity I'd obviously listen. You get a lot of offers to work for free, and that's not going to happen. I built my own audience for that.
Romney: Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what other country can do for your marginal tax rate.
— pourmecoffee (@pourmecoffee) July 6, 2012 Do you sometimes feel limited by the 140 character limit on Twitter, in that you have a good joke but just can't seem to squeeze it in?
No. I have real life commitments and I chose Twitter precisely because by nature it neatly limits the uncompensated time I spend online.